VTOL UAS Acquisition
The Collaborative Center for Unmanned Technologies took possession and operational control of an upgraded and refurbished microdrones md4-1000 Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) quadcopter UAS. Training and acceptance flights were conducted at Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary (TBNMS) in addition to operational mission flights to support shoreline mapping and submerged cultural resource requirements. CCUT and NOAA Aircraft Operations Center personnel were trained and qualified on the new system and software and the system is operationally ready. Moving forward, the CCUT will operate the UAS for support of requirements across the Sanctuary System and NOAA.
USV MPA Enforcement
The Collaborative Center for Unmanned Technologies at CINMS executed a joint mission with Liquid Robotics to evaluate the potential of Wave Glider Unmanned Surface Vehicles (USV) to provide visitor and vessel use data and enforcement support for marine protected areas. The test utilized the R/V Shearwater and three Wave Gliders to test the ability of USVs to approach and discreetly image vessels and onboard activity. A camera calibration target was attached to the Shearwater and the Wave Gliders approached and took pictures from a variety of distances and angles. The imagery and tracking data is being analyzed to develop a concept of operations or future enhancements or evaluations. USV provide the potential for cost effective and sustained surveillance for MPA management.
Quadcopter Vessel Launch
The Collaborative Center for Unmanned Technologies partnered with Asymmetric Technologies to develop procedures and protocols for vessel launch and recovery of a Microdrones md4-1000 VTOL UAS. In conjunction with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and the National Marine Fisheries Service, Asymmetric successfully hand launched and recovered the UAS in support of a whale shark research project in the Gulf of Mexico. Although no whale sharks were located, the successful flights provide a solution for utilizing the NOAA md4-1000 for a variety of Sanctuary and NOAA missions in the future.
Joint Unmanned Systems Demo
The Collaborative Center for Unmanned Technologies successfully tested the integration of two different types of unmanned systems for potential use in research and management of National Marine Sanctuaries. The tests earlier this month in the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary involved NOAA’s Puma Unmanned Aircraft System and Liquid Robotics, Inc., Wave Glider Unmanned Surface Vehicles. During the tests, two Wave Gliders equipped with acoustic sensors and positioned a few miles apart, were able to detect, triangulate, and relay the location of a target vessel to the operations center. This information was programmed into the Puma which then located, tracked, and photographed the target. The test simulated real-life management situations that could include vessels and marine life in distress, surveys, and access in marine protected areas.
Puma UAS Enforcement Demo
In cooperation with the Resources Legacy Fund, the Collaborative Center for Unmanned Technologies executed an at-sea demonstration of the Puma UAS for to a variety of marine resource agencies and partners. Flight operations were conducted over the Pt. Reyes State Marine Reserve for representatives from the California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife Marine Region and Enforcement branches, National Park Service, National Marine Sanctuaries, NOAA Corps, U.S. Coast Guard, non-government conservation and philanthropic organizations and local District Attorneys. The goal of this project was to evaluate the Puma UAS and camera package for remote monitoring of MPAs along the north-central California coast, and, to educate partners regarding the opportunities, challenges, limitations, and costs.
Partnership with Ocean Aero
The Collaborative Center for Unmanned Technologies is working with Ocean Aero to evaluate the potential of their Unmanned Underwater, Surface Vessel (UUSV) to meeting ONMS and NOAA requirements. The Submaran UUSV is a highly ruggedized surface & sub-surface vessel powered by wind and solar, capable of several months at sea and can be deployed from land, sea or air. It is configurable with a wide variety of sensor and observational systems to provide essential information to science, academic, commercial and government organizations.
UAS Sea Turtle Survey
The Collaborative Center for Unmanned Technologies supported the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and partner researchers to conduct surveys using the Puma UAS to study sea turtle habitat in the FKNMS. The purpose of the mission was to test whether UAS can be used to replicate diver transects by capturing a series of videos and images that help characterize the habitat and view sea turtle activities without human interference.
AUV at Monitor Sanctuary
The Monitor National Marine Sanctuary utilizes AUVs to document and survey vessels lost off the coast of North Carolina during WWII. During the last 7 years of the MNMS Battle of the Atlantic project, AUVs have been used to search for unknown targets in an area known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic. The Bluefin AUV outfitted with a high resolution multibeam system has been used in the search for two vessels lost in 1942, Bluefields and U-576.
FKNMS Puma Mission
In 2012, initial tests were conducting utilizing the Puma UAS for visitor and vessel use surveys for MPA management. Flight operations were conducted off the Dry Tortugas in military airspace which allowed for beyond visual line-of-sight operations. Multiple successful patrols of the Tortugas Ecological Reserves were conducted with the Puma flying up to ten nautical miles from the ground control station.
OCNMS Seabird Survey
For the past two years, Collaborative Center for Unmanned Technologies staff has been supporting the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary (OCNMS) and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Washington Maritime Refuge Complex in testing, evaluating, and developing procedures and protocols for the Puma and Quadcopter systems for seabird surveys along the remote Washington Coast. This remote wilderness coastline is difficult to access, yet these surveys are critical in assessing annual seabird population indices and associated threats such as climate change and marine debris. The majority of Washington’s breeding seabirds can be found on these refuges. This project allows for the comparison of video quality from two types of UAS as well as a rough comparison of photos and results from surveys conducted using the traditional methodology via helicopter.
EMILY Surface Vehicle
Collaborative Center for Unmanned Technologies staff attended Emergency Integrated Lifesaving Lanyard (EMILY) Unmanned Surface Vehicle (USV) training in Newport, OR. The course was organized by NOAA’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR) and taught by Hydronalix Inc., developers of the EMILY USV. This system was first developed to assist lifeguards during dangerous sea conditions, but has been adapted for NOAA to collect surface data inside hurricanes and to be used for other marine research applications, such as habitat mapping and resource monitoring. The training covered the components of the 65 inch vehicle, ground station, sensors and software, as well as safety, mission planning, and maintenance. The system is being evaluated for its potential in meeting a variety of ONMS requirements.
CINMS Oil Spill Demo
The Collaborative Center for Unmanned Technologies for Unmanned Technologies at CINMS in partnership with the UAS Program Office completed a three day mission utilizing the Puma UAS to test and document the resolution of the Puma's standard payload and to evaluate the potential for utilizing the Puma as an oil spill response tool. Two days of operations were conducted from the R/V Shearwater, and one day from Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB). This was the first UAS operation at VAFB under a new agreement that will hopefully develop into a NOAA UAS test and calibration site. Partners included NMFS, ORR, USFWS, California Fish and Wildlife, 2d3 Sensing, Ground Control and Chevron Shipping. Flourociene dye was deployed from the Shearwater and multiple ground targets were deployed at VAFB and imaged and measured from the Puma.
Potential Partnership with Scripps
The Collaborative Center for Unmanned Technologies is in discussion with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography about the potential to work with their Spray autonomous platform. The Spray is an underwater glider developed under ONR support by Scripps and Woods Hole scientists to provide a long-range platform for long-term ocean measurements. Researchers within ONMS are evaluating the potential and opportunities for collaboration.
OCNMS Marine Debris Survey
In partnership with the NOAA Marine Debris Program, the Puma was evaluated for its potential for open water and remote beach marine debris surveys. Blue water surveys are a challenge for any small UAS with a standard camera payload, but successful surveys of inaccessible beaches were completed with Puma.
SBNMS Fixed Gear Survey
Research conducted with the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary (SBNMS) evaluated Puma capabilities for locating and imaging fixed fishing gear in and around Sanctuary waters. Opportunistic imaging of living marine resources provided researchers data on future applications of small UAS.
CINMS Living Marine
Living Marine Resource (LMR) Surveys utilizing small UAS have been conducted at Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary (CINMS) for a variety of marine species in order to refine data collection procedures and protocols. Missions supported include: seabird surveys, blue whale tagging, and pinniped surveys. CINMS serves as the test location for developing best practices prior to deployment to other Sanctuaries and partner locations.
Sandhill Crane Survey
The Collaborative Center for Unmanned Technologies for Unmanned Technologies (CCUT) completed a test UAS mission in partnership with the Conboy Lake National Wildlife Refuge in southern Washington. The Refuge requested support from the CCUT to assist with the test and evaluation of UAS for mapping Sandhill Crane nesting sites, habitat mapping, and other wildlife monitoring. Both the Puma and Quadcopter UAS were utilized during successful flights to identify nests and map sections of the refuge. Nighttime surveys for elk using the Puma IR camera were also conducted and future collaborations are being discussed.
UAS Habitat Mapping Demo
The Collaborative Center for Unmanned Technologies for Unmanned Technologies at Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary (CINMS) hosted a variety of UAS manufacturers at Avon Park, FL to evaluate different platforms and payloads to meet ONMS and NOAA mapping requirements. In partnership with the NOAA Remote Sensing Division, Aircraft Operations Center, and UAS Program Office, the platforms were flown over a camera calibration target and multiple GPS control sites to provide researchers comparable data on system accuracies and capabilities. Four different platforms along with digital camera payloads, LIDAR, and a multi-spectral scanner were all tested during the operation. Data is currently being processed for analysis and results will be shared throughout NOAA.