Unmanned Aircraft Vehicles (UAVs) commonly known as drones are used as mapping platforms, and are aircrafts with no pilot on board . They can be remote controlled aircrafts (e.g. flown by a pilot at a ground control station) or can fly autonomously based on pre-programmed flight plans or more complex dynamic automation systems.
These platforms are equipped with photogrammetric measurement systems including but not limited to small or medium still-video or video cameras, thermal or infrared camera systems, multispectral cameras and range camera sensors and LiDAR platforms.
They can also be deployed in a number of different terrains and may not require prepared runways. They can be used in mapping of earthquakes, plane crashes, storms and hurricanes, industrial zones, tsunamis, landslides, coastal areas, vegetation, plant growth and geophysical mapping. Therefore their role varies with regards to the area being mapped.
For a country whose economy is driven by agriculture and tourism, Drones play a major role in the conservation of natural resources. Here’s how:
From Arabuko Sokoke to the tropical Kakamega rainforest Kenya is endowed with forests that attract tourists from far and wide .However illegal logging, encroachment and deforestation are on the verge of clearing our forests. The growing occurrences of deforestation and forest degradation could be more precisely monitored and measured with the use of drones.
Member countries of programmes such as the United Nations collaborative initiative on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (REDD+) could benefit from the monitoring capabilities of drones to measure and report deforestation, using the data to calculate forest carbon emissions more accurately.
Unmanned Aircraft Vehicles can be used to map threatened or endangered plant species through imagery. UAVs take quality and clear images this is because they can stay in the air for up to 30 hours, performing a precise, repetitive raster scan of a region, day-after-day, night-after-night in complete darkness, or, in fog, under computer control.
Tracking poachers and wildlife in mapping wildlife
Talk of Satao and Mountain Bull. Kenya has had its share with poachers. The increasing rates of poaching are not only depriving us of our national heritage but also affecting our economy in terms of tourist attraction. Drones are better placed in the monitoring of Elephants and Rhinos whose numbers have been decreasing rapidly over the past few years.
Use of drones for monitoring destructive activities such as poaching and illegal logging have been notably applied in Africa, Asia and South America. In 2012, Google awarded a $5 US million grant to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to use drones, alongside other technologies, to monitor illicit trade in Africa by tracking poachers and the wildlife they are pursuing. Brazil on the other hand has purchased 14 drones for US$350 million for the Sao Paul Environmental Police to monitor deforestation in the Amazon, track poachers and seek out illegal mining operations.
Early warning applications
Quick, easy deployment and ability to enter hazardous areas make drones a beneficial tool for collecting real-time data about atmospheric conditions, mapping disaster impacts as they occur and their aftermath. This information can be incorporated into current and future early warning systems.
With rivers such as Nyando, Nzoia and Yala constantly breaking their banks every time it pours heavily. Kenya needs to lift the ban on drones as they provide information to emergency planners by monitoring evacuation, identifying where environmental conditions are worsening (i.e. flood spreading) and contribute to rescue efforts serving as an emergency response mechanism.
The use of drones for early warning of forest fires has been tested by several federal agencies in the USA. By collecting data about forest fires, the public can be alerted of impending danger and firefighters can better plan for how to attack the fires. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and NASA have used a drone named Ikhana to gather information that helps fight raging forest fires in California, USA (NASA, 2010).
Kenya has lost lives due landslides in the past years. With the rains pounding hard this month, some parts in the country are already experiencing landslides and mudslides.
Drones play a major role in monitoring highways vulnerable to landslides, using high resolution cameras to detect cracks that may indicate the onset of a landslide and sensors to detect changes in stress. Once detected, data collected from the drone can be used by authorities to initiate early warning allowing people currently in the area to escape and those travelling to the area to avoid the disaster event before it occurs.
In China for instance, rapid urbanization and road construction have led to increased frequency and intensity of landslides along highways and roadways. With more social and economic growth anticipated in China, more roads will be built. Therefore, it is necessary for China to work towards mitigating disasters induced by road construction through the use of drones.
Niethammer et al. (2012) used drones with a high resolution camera to map fissures on the Super-Sauze landslide in France that had never been mapped before with such detail. Each fissure is approximately 0.1 m in width, making them impossible to detect or measure using satellite data. Using drones enabled the researchers to detect changes in the fissures and draw conclusions they would have had difficulty reaching from the use of satellite imagery.
Coming in almost all possible forms and sizes, UAVs or drones have flown a multitude of mapping instruments for many applications. They have given mapping a new appeal for scientists researchers and governments who will now be able to conduct research in a much more flexible way. Do you think Kenya should embrace drones? Share your thoughts.