How Fixed-Wing Drones Revolutionized Environmental Research Methods for UNCW

Fixed-wing drones, such as senseFly’s eBee platform, have become an essential method of gathering data for the environmental sector.

Meet Dr. Narcisa Pricope

For Dr. Narcisa Pricope, an Associate Professor of Geography at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, the eBee Plus fixed-wing drone has revolutionized the way she works in terms of the quality and amount of data she’s able to collect for environmental research.

Pricope and eBee

“I use remote-sensing, GIS and spatial analysis modeling to understand how changes in the environment and landscapes are influenced by humans versus natural causes, and how those changes in the environment affect people’s livelihoods and their ability to be food-secure or water-secure,” Dr. Pricope said.

Pricope, her drone and her work

Dr. Pricope has been an advocate of fixed-wing drones since 2014, though it wasn’t until 2016 that she received one of her own.

Prior to acquiring her first senseFly drone, Dr. Pricope spent two years convincing and educating her colleagues on the benefits that fixed-wing drones could have on her research efforts.

In January 2016, Dr. Pricope finally acquired an eBee Plus for her lab, but her senseFly arsenal doesn’t end there. She has since purchased a multi-spectral camera, a senseFly S.O.D.A. 3D, an RGB camera and a Parrot Sequoia, followed by UNCW purchasing another eBee and a thermoMAP.

“We’ve had access to basically all the various cameras, so I’ve engaged in a wide variety of projects.”

Those projects have included work in not only North Carolina, but in Southern Africa and Peru, where the projects have revolved around mapping vegetation, different types of land covers, urban heat signatures from homes, pollution coming into streams using thermal data and more.

“The kind of questions we can ask with drones now were not possible before. We can fly the drone over 10 to 20 to 50 times as large of an area as we would collect actual field data in. That tie between the field and the drone is a lot easier than the field to the satellite.”

eBee launch with Pricope and student

The advantages of drones for environmental research

In addition to speeding up field data collection, Dr. Pricope’s fleet of mapping drones also helped her conduct an interesting array of research at UNCW’s Socio-Environmental Analysis lab.

“I have the ability to extract 3D information from imagery. I’m able to collect my own multispectral data in wavelengths that are sometimes pretty comparable to satellite data. For me to be able to do that is just unbelievable. So, the ability to essentially get that data at such a high resolution and implement object-based image classifications on that and tie it to satellite imagery is big.”

However, there may be another benefit that Dr. Pricope is arguably more excited about since acquiring her eBee: the impact it has on her students.

“Having a drone program attracts so much student interest. I’m able to equip them with a tool and a skill set that they can take into the job market, which is pretty ripe right now with positions that they’re interested in—data collection and, especially, data processing. It’s also geospatial intelligence, so that kind of skill set is not only the drone and remote sensing but also GIS. With those kinds of skills, kids are getting jobs in the $50- and $60,000s straight out of undergrad. Their first job! I mean, that’s huge.”

Pricope's students with eBee drone for environmental research

For more information about senseFly drones, visit senseFly.com.