Interview with Dr. Dan Nickolas Macchiarella, Professor of Aeronautical Science on Map Oyster Reefs Using UAS

Nickolas Dan Macchiarella

Dr. Dan Macchiarella
Professor of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical Science

We are happy to present yet another exciting edition of our UAV Interview Series. Our interviewee for this post will be well-renowned Dr. Dan Macchiarella, professor of Aeronautical Science.

For those of who have not heard of Dan, he is a professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and holds a Ph.D. in Computing Tech in Education. In this interview, we spoke in-depth with Dan about Embry-Riddle and UCF collaboration to map oyster reefs using UAS. If you enjoyed the interview, please share and like to support MyDearDrone.

Over to you Dan…

Welcome Dan Macchiarella, Tell us a little about yourself. How have you got interested in UAV technology?

I am a professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University located in Daytona Beach, Florida. My specialization centers on adapting technologies to enhance flight operations, education, and training. Initially, I focused on manned flight. In 2011, we started a degree program in unmanned aircraft systems science. It was apparent to me that unmanned systems would change, and in some cases, revolutionize, the way we function in our world.

Tell us about your collaboration between UCF and the Embry-Riddle. What motivated you to use drones to map oyster reefs?

Working with UCF’s National Center for Integrated Coastal Research brings together our strengths and UCF’s. By using UAS, we can remotely sense hard-to-get-to areas. UCF has ongoing research in coastal areas. These areas are traditionally difficult to reach by boat or land. Using UAS makes access easier and provides an aerial perspective.

Tell us on your project members and what sets them apart. Any exciting memories about how the crew came together?

The students working on the oyster reef project are enrolled in Embry-Riddle’s UAS degree program in Daytona Beach. All three are students and experienced small UAS pilots. They also are experienced in planning and organizing field operations for UAS. In addition to working on the oyster reef project, they are working on a summer study abroad to document cultural heritage locations in the Republic of Kosovo. We are in Kosovo now.

Embry Riddle Students in Kosov

What was the most challenging scope of your project? Was it locating a safe destination for the drones to be launched and recovered?

I think the two main challenges are obtaining an optimal ground sample distance and getting within visual line of sight range to the oyster reef. We are conducting multiple test flights with various platforms and filters. The aim is to be able to image an oyster reef and count all individual oysters.

Due to current regulatory requirements, we are only conducting a visual line of sight operations. Once, provisions are in place for routine beyond visual line of sight flight we will be able to fully exploit the mobility of UAS to access remote oyster locations – locations that are inaccessible by boat or land.

Drone to Map Oyster Reefs

Who are you covering? What types of industries/people have you noticed are most keen on environmental-monitoring jobs using UAS?

I think we are serving, firstly, the academic community by pioneering techniques for remote sensing the environment – secondly, coastal communities in general. The seas are rising at about 1/8th of an inch a year. UAS can readily facilitate the monitoring of the effects.

You talk about creating methodologies to map regions remotely. What are the dangers of the method environmental data traditionally have been gathered? And how is your UAS technology can solve these issues?

Remote sensing and in situ data have been in use for many years with mapping. UAS being flown at low altitudes and directed by subject matter experts brings a new dimension to this type of work. Drones can be rapidly tasked and re-tasked to collect data as needed.

UAS Cameras Shot Visuals of Reef

You have talked about many positive applications of drones, including monitoring elephant herds and spotting poachers. What have been a few other conservation efforts which UAS have been part of, should you happen to be aware? What are some of the advantages of using UAS for this kind of work?

UAS are in use to monitor various aspects of our world in a low altitude and high fidelity way. Helping to protect against poaching is one example. Another example I’m working on at this time is the protection of cultural heritage and archeological sites. Detailed imagery – visible light or LiDAR-derived – can enable change detection to determine if unauthorized access, removal of artifacts or damage is occurring.

What do drone pilots need to understand about FAA compliance and registration particularly with the FAA heading toward effective UAS integration into the National Airspace System?

The FAA’s move toward regulating UAS flight and operations is good for the industry and those who benefit from the use of UAS. Once UAS is integrated into the NAS, operations can become ‘normalized.’ Access to airspace in the same manner that manned aircraft now enjoy will allow widespread use. The FAA’s integration will come with increased levels of UAS pilot certification and practical testing. Overall, the net effect will be to increase the level of expertise and professionalism among the community of UAS operators.

What advice do you offer fresh drone operators in getting the most from their investment?

When choosing a system, work backward from the need of the intended customer. Typically, this means that the UAS payload is the most critical consideration. Keep in mind what is known as Moore’s Law – the number of transistors present in a given device will double about every 18 months. A UAS that costs a small fortune today may be much cheaper in a year and a half, or, for the same money a year and a half from now you could buy a much more capable system.

What are a few of the most creative ways you have seen drones getting used?

One of my interests is the rapid development of virtual objects using UAS captured imagery and photogrammetric techniques. We have done this type of work at disaster locations and historical sites.

What is the demand for coastal mapping drone technology now? How has it changed since you launched your project?

I think there is a high growth opportunity for mapping and environmental monitoring. The FAA regulatory environment is throttling extensive use. Once UAS flight is regular and permissible in the NAS, we will see more application. Presently, use is possible, but, not all areas are readily accessible due to various reasons, including controlled airspace and densely populated areas.

What advances on drone technology you are excited about?

Excited about increasing levels of autonomy and subsequently greater ease of use for operators and end-users of UAS imagery, and one-day cargo.

Have you ever crashed a quadcopter? If so, could you share what happened?

I think we all have had a few bumps along the way. Since the FAA does not require a practical test (i.e., hands-on real flight demonstration of skill), it is incumbent upon remote pilots to self-assess knowledge and skills and keep flight operations within their limits.

What have been a few particularly memorable events you have been involved? What did you cherish from that encounter?

My most memorable event was imaging the Ottoman fortress at Novoberda in Kosovo. This work was completed in coordination with the US Embassy Kosovo and Cultural Heritage without Borders. Students planned the flights, flew the flights, and processed resulting images into virtual objects and orthomosaic maps.

Macchiarella Team Imaging the Ottoman Fortress

For those companies or people who are using remote control drones in their organization, what actions should they undertake to safeguard themselves against financial liabilities?

Various insurers provide comprehensive policies and even policies for individual flights.

Where can we locate you when you are not behind drones? Is there something else which we have not touched on you would love to convey with our audience?

When I’m not teaching and working, I like to play with my grandkids, fish, and boat.

Check out Nickolas Macchiarella on the web!

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