NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - During the last three decades, a lot has changed in how the earth is studied. Stephen F. Austin State University researchers are reaching new heights to look at the world from drones.
Drones are lifting off under the watchful eyes and guidance of SFA forestry undergraduate students. Certified drone pilot Kai Busch-Petersen puts it best.
"They're going from toys to tools very quickly," said Kai Busch-Peterson. "Within the next ten years it's anticipated to be a billion-dollar industry flying drones here in the United States."
The undergraduate students are on the cutting edge of technology. The drone is a tool for making real-time measurements, surveying erosion, and even detecting litter along trails. Rather than climbing a tree, a drone is sent up among tree branches to assess for safety and disease.
Unmanned aerial systems are high end technology in the natural resource world.
"We fly under FAA regulations. We fly less than 400 feet," said Dr. David Kulhavy, a Lawrence Walker Distinguished professor at SFA. "We fly line of site. The U-A systems are registered and so now we're just looking at how we can best use this and how we can distribute that information."
The video is captured on iPhones or droids and can immediately be streamed across town or across the world in a matter of seconds. To scientists the real-time information gathering about the earth is most remarkable, but comes with responsibility.
"What is important is that we communicate the science and we communicate it in the best way we can," Kulhavy said.
On Earth Day or any day the drone is quickly providing a different perspective for scientific research.
FAA rules released this year allow universities to use drones for research. SFA professors in the School of Forestry are in discussion of acquiring another unmanned aerial system in the near future.