2014 GSA Annual Meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia (19–22 October 2014)

Paper No. 34-1
Presentation Time: 9:00 AM


JORDAN, Benjamin R., Department of Natural Sciences, Brigham Young University Hawaii, 55-220 Kulanui Street, BYUH #1967, Laie, HI 96762

Drones are remotely-operated aerial vehicles that can be fixed-wing planes or helicopters. Micro drone helicopters are usually in the form of small (~ 40 cm x 40 cm x 25 cm) aerial platforms that have four rotating blades. This configuration gives them great maneuverability, stability, and control. In the field, micro drones provide are light-weight tool platforms that are quick to set-up and easy to launch, control, and transport to even the most remote areas. They require very little launch and recovery space. The cost of a basic micro drone is such that even the total loss of a vehicle is not significant. The low cost also means that multiple drones can be used, providing for redundancy if one is lost or damaged. A basic, off-the-shelf micro drone system can be set up for visual/camera surveys almost immediately.

Drone aerial surveys, field mapping, and monitoring can be done in real-time, depending on the system. Most importantly, drones can provide access to areas that are hard to reach and/or dangerous, such as vertical or overhanging rock outcrops or gas-rich and unstable volcanic areas. They can be used to survey disaster areas during and after events. Some examples of their uses are that they can quickly provide an overview of an area affected by flooding or mass wasting; give archaeological geologists an aerial perspective of a site; be used in coastal and reef surveys; and can even be flown inside caves for karst research. Micro drones can be potentially modified to collect other types of data as well, such as weather data, thermal imaging, sample collection, etc.

High winds (>40 kph), for instance, can severely limit control or flight time, due to rapidly drained battery power as the drone uses energy to maintain its position. Instrumentation weight is also limited. Current, off-the-shelf drones with a basic camera package can stay airborne for between 20 and 30 minutes. Micro drones are also not water-resistant which limits their use in wet conditions.

Ready availability of micro drones has led to them being used, intentionally or otherwise, by some individuals to aggravate wildlife and/or other people. Because of this, laws and regulations are being proposed and put into place to curtail their use. It is important for researchers who use them to do so responsibly.

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