URI assistant professor of engineering Paolo Stegagno is using drones to conduct a variety of research. (Nora Lewis/URI)

RI - Drones Important Tool in Environmental Research

Rapid advances in drone technology, together with their affordability and ease of customization, have made them an increasingly important tool for scientists studying wildlife and the environment. Rhode Island researchers are taking advantage of them for such wide-ranging uses as monitoring algae blooms, assessing forest damage following storms, and creating high-resolution maps of the landscape.

Paolo Stegagno, an assistant professor of engineering at the University of Rhode Island, worries that some people may think that drones are the solution to every problem. He is skeptical that they will be effective at delivering packages or pizzas, as some companies claim.

“But there are some tasks that drones are really useful for, tasks in which you have to reach someplace that has difficult terrain to go over or could be dangerous for people,” he said. “They can also collect a lot of data that is difficult to collect otherwise, like infrared imagery or thermal information from wildfires or from people in distress. If you select the right sensor for a specific task, you can get a better point of view of what’s going on.”

Stegagno is working with scientists in three other states to collect data about how algae blooms develop in lakes, in an effort to better predict when they might occur. That data will be shared with the URI Watershed Watch program, which tracks water quality in most of Rhode Island’s water bodies.

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