University of Nevada, Reno students spend Thanksgiving Eve flying UAS



Two classes of graduate students at the University of Nevada, Reno spent the Wednesday before Thanksgiving getting hands-on experience flying UAS as a tool for research at the university’s UAS testing field in South Reno.

The students were led by Geology department professor Scott Tyler, and department chair and professor Wendy Calvin.

Tyler teaches a class that explores how UAS can be used for remote sensing in hydrology and environmental science. The course is one module of six in a national virtual university course that also includes the University of Wisconsin, Madison; Michigan State University; the University of Delaware; the University of California, Santa Barbara and the State University of New York, Buffalo. A video of the day's class was broadcast to those universities.

The virtual course was launched for the first time this 2017 Fall semester by the Consortium of Universities for the Advancement of Hydrologic Science (CUAHSI), which Tyler served as chairman on.  

“The driving rationale for the course is that most hydrology programs have a limited number of faculty and expertise, and by combining multiple universities, we can offer concepts and topics that many universities cannot provide due to limited staff,” Tyler explains.

“The University of Nevada, Reno is one of the few schools using drones for hydrology, so we offered a module in drone remote sensing.”

The photography captured by UAS can be interpreted and turned into a topographical map that is accurate to within one centimeter, which has a lot of potential uses according to Tyler.

“We can use these stitched-together photographs to create accurate topographical maps for things like landslides, or before and after big flood events to figure out how much sediment moved around, or how much motion there might be on a fault,” Tyler adds. “All from simple photography using a drone.”

Calvin's “Advanced Imaging Spectroscopy Remote Sensing” class is mainly focused on interpreting aircraft and satellite data. To give her students the chance to work with, interpret and validate UAS imagery, Calvin joined with Tyler’s UAS module for the month of November. Calvin’s class used research tools of their own on the day of the flights, including a portable field spectrometer.

“The portable field spectrometer measures the sunlight that is reflected as a function of wavelength, from colors that our eyes can see all the way out to the near-infrared that our eyes can't see,” Calvin says.

“We have the students doing a field calibration activity where they take a measurement of the sun and measurement of a target in the field to get a surface reflectance measurement that we can compare with pictures taken from the drone.”

Each student got the chance to fly the UAS and use the field spectrometer.

“It's (a) great opportunity to have two graduate level classes out here together,” Tyler says. “It's an opportunity for students to see and use different tools they haven't had access to before.”