Wildlife Planes

Published: October 20 2010


The military uses small, unmanned airplanes for surveillance. Now, scientists are using them to track birds in their nests and other wild plant and animal life.

Once this eleven-pound plane takes off, it can snap and store hundreds of GPS pinpointed photographs in a thirty-minute period. Micro-air vehicles developed by the University of Florida have become so advanced, scientists and the US Army Corps of Engineers are using them to assess the impact of herbicides on invasive plants.

John Perry/UF Unmanned Aerial Systems: “We’re working on bringing small UAV, small autonomous planes; they take off, they fly to away point and they land autonomously. We use them as a sensor platform in order to collect imagery for a variety of applications including wildlife and ecological research.”

Researchers take the photographs the plane collects and create a detailed map of the area. They say the technology has applications in counting the nests of wading birds and the eggs inside, and counting alligators in a swamp.

John Perry/UF Unmanned Aerial Systems: “The small UAVs are an important tool because they are a step between ground observations which can be time consuming and labor intensive, and also you know, higher aerial imagery which may not be as sufficient resolution or temporal resolution to really get the answers they need.”

Experts say the plane itself is just a few years away from being available for general use.