UAS systems contribute to Idaho research in disciplines ranging from agriculture to wildlife habitats.
Learn more about specific research projects below:


Lidar point cloud of a forest Lidar point cloud of a forest

UI Researchers / Moscow Consulting Firm Work on NASA Drone Project

Funded by a NASA Idaho Space Grant, CNR post-doctoral researcher Arjan Meddens will use an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) equipped with lidar to gather data on forests and streams. The data gathered from the UAV will be used to:

  • determine the amount and type of potential fuel for wildland fires near homes with the potential to assess effectiveness of future fuel treatments (i.e., brush removal, controlled burns);
  • analyze forest structural qualities such as the number of trees and growth of trees and plants; and
  • create baseline information on stream habitat that can be used to monitor restoration progress.

The data also will be used to develop curriculum on UAV technology for Lapwai High School students, with the goals of increasing interest and participation in STEM activities.

Industry partner Alta Science and Engineering, Inc. (Alta), headquartered in Moscow, will provide the UAV and flight services for the project.

Investigators:  Arjan Meddens, post-doctoral researcher in College of Natural Resources

Related links:  Arjan's lidar webpage

NDVI image showing nitrogen management classifications NDVI image from Commercial UAV News

Precision Agriculture: Three Canyon Farms

Robert Blair is a fourth-generation Idaho farmer and the first farmer in the country to own and use UAS to monitor his crop fields. Blair flies a UAS over his fields taking photographs, which are then stitched together with computer software to produce a complete visual of the farm plot. These photographs are analyzed to locate and diagnose problem areas or spots where crops need extra attention.

When combined with other monitoring data and Blair's intimate knowledge of his fields, UAS provides a much more precise tool for optimizing the farming operation than solely by walking or driving the fields. Blair uses that data to relay valuable information to the crop duster pilots, allowing them to specifically target areas and use their payload more efficiently.

Investigators:  Robert Blair, Three Canyon Farms

Related links:  Drones Set to Enable an Evolution in Agriculture (3/1/2016), Eliminating the Disconnect in Precision Agriculture with Drones (2/23/2016), Three Canyon Farms (website), The Unmanned Farmer (blog)

Idaho Power Company, drone Photo: Mike di Donato (KTVB)

Idaho Power Uses Drones to Track Salmon

Six decades ago, Idaho Power put dams on the Snake River. Since the 60's fish hatcheries have helped reduce the impact of those dams on the native populations of Chinook salmon and steelhead. But it's only been for the past 25 years that the utility company has kept track of the spawning native population. Initially, redd counts were made from a helicopter. Idaho Power's drone survey program started in 2011 in conjunction with the helicopters, but the company soon found counting from a camera mounted on a drone to be much safer while maintaining desired accuracy. The ultimate goal of Idaho Power's UAS efforts is to reduce or eliminate the potential for human risk, while increasing safety and still being able to collect high quality data.

Investigators:  Phil Groves (Idaho Power Company)

Related links: story (11/25/2015), Unmanned Aerial Online article (7/9/2015), VIDEO (10/3/2013)

Mapping Lava Flow Textures

Researchers from Idaho State University, in conjunction with with NASA, have used UAS to collect aerial images of lava flow textures at Craters of the Moon National Monument. The aerial images were stitched together to create digital terrain models with resolutions on the order of centimeters. Researchers used the data to determine the roughness of ground surfaces, which gives insight into the geological history of this fascinating region. 

Investigators:  Hester Mallonee, ISU, Shannon Kobs-Nawotniak, ISU, Michael McGregor, ISU

Related links:  Abstract from 2016 AGU Fall Meeting

Monitoring Endangered Ferret Habitat

Researchers at Idaho State University are using UAS to monitor the black-footed ferret, one of the most endangered species in North America. Black-footed ferrets only prey near prairie dog colonies, so researchers use UAS aerial images to count prairie dog burrows in an efficient and non-invasive way. The data are then used to estimate black-footed ferret populations, which is otherwise very difficult since the animals are nocturnal and not easily counted. The results will be used to inform conservation of populations and habitat. 

The project is spearheaded by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in conjunction with ISU, the Fort Belknap Fish and Wildlife Department, the tech company Topcon, and data management company Behron LLC.

Investigators:  Kristy Bly, World Wildlife Fund, Donna Delparte, ISU

Related links:  Research featured in ISU Magazine "On the Lookout"

Expanding UAS Capabilities

The University of Idaho and Idaho National Laboratory have partnered with data-management company zData Inc. and Idaho UAS company Empire Unmanned in a project to advance Idaho's UAS industry. Empire Unmanned uses UAS to collect information about Idaho landscape and resources, and the first phase of the project is to improve the company's technologies for collecting UAS data and making it available to customers. Other goals are to engage UAS researchers from across the state and to provide workforce development for the expanding UAS industry.

The project is funded by the Idaho Department of Commerce through an Idaho Global Entrepreneurial Mission (IGEM) grant.

Investigators:  Paul Gessler, UI

Related links:  UI, INL and Idaho Companies Partner to Expand UAS Capabilities

Detecting Threats to Potato Crops

A team of university researchers has been exploring the possibilities for using UAS to monitor potato fields and provide early detection for crop diseases. They have determined that sensors mounted on aerial vehicles can locate stressed plants and even distinguish between viruses. The team is developing algorithms to automate detection and prepare the technology for commercial use. 

Investigators:  Donna Delparte, ISU, Louise-Marie Dandurand, UI, Nancy Glenn, BSU, Derek Wadsworth, Idaho National Laboratory

Related links:  Research featured in Capital Press, Idaho State Journal, Potato Grower, ISU's News and Notes

Livestock and Wildfire Behavior

A University of Idaho research team is using UAS to study the effects of livestock grazing on wildfire behavior. Aerial photographs of grazed and ungrazed land plots before and after controlled burning are instrumental in comparing fire behavior under the different conditions. Their research shows that livestock grazing can help reduce the severity of wildfires. The team plans to continue to use UAS to study long-term plant recovery from fires. 

Investigators:  Eva Strand, UI

Related links:  Understanding Wildfire Behavior

Conservation of Sagebrush Habitat

Researchers from the University of Idaho, Washington State University, Boise State University, and Idaho State University are using UAS systems to study the quality of sagebrush habitat for pygmy rabbits in southern Idaho. Cameras mounted on aerial vehicles provide information about the chemical makeup and nutritional value of sagebrush plants, which helps researchers understand how pygmy rabbits select habitat and how it can best be preserved for them.

The research is funded by a $341,000 grant from the National Science Foundation and is a collaboration with the Bureau of Land Management.

Investigators:  Jennifer Forbey, BSU, Janet Rachlow, UI

Related links:  Research featured in BSU blog "Biology News", UI magazine "Here We Have Idaho"