Location, location, location: Considerations when using lightweight drones in challenging environments
Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation
© 2017 The Authors. Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Zoological Society of London. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Lightweight drones have emerged recently as a remote sensing survey tool of choice for ecologists, conservation practitioners and environmental scientists. In published work, there are plentiful details on the parameters and settings used for successful data capture, but in contrast there is a dearth of information describing the operational complexity of drone deployment. Information about the practices of flying in the field, whilst currently lacking, would be useful for others embarking on new drone-based investigations. As a group of drone-piloting scientists, we have operated lightweight drones for research on over 25 projects,in over 10 countries, in polar, desert, coastal and tropical ecosystems, with many hundreds of hours of flying experience between us. The purpose of this manuscript is to document the lesser-reported methodological pitfalls of drone deployments so that other scientists can understand the spectrum of considerations that need to be accounted for prior to, and during drone survey flights. Herein, we describe the most common challenges encountered, alongside mitigation and remediation actions that increase the chances of safe and successful data capture. Challenges are grouped into the following categories: (i) pre-flight planning, (ii) flight operations, (iii) weather, (iv) redundancy, (v) data quality, (vi) batteries. We also discuss the importance of scientists undertaking ethical assessment of their drone practices, to identify and mitigate potential conflicts associated with drone use in particular areas. By sharing our experience, our intention is that the manuscript will assist those embarking on new drone deployments, increasing the efficacy of acquiring high quality data from this new proximal aerial viewpoint.
This work was supported by the Natural Environment Research Council [NE/K570009815], [NE/K500902/1] (to AMC), [NE/M016323/1] (to IHM-S), [NE/570009815] (to JPD) and the UK Technology Strategy Board [TS/K00266X/1] (to KA). JS and KA were partly supported by the European Space Agency contract No. 4000117644/16/NL/FF/gp.
This is the author accepted manuscript. The final version is available from Wiley via the DOI in this record.
Published online 22 August 2017
- Geography 
Except where otherwise noted, this item's license is described as © 2017 The Authors. Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Zoological Society of London. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.