Duke Meeting Summary

Executive Summary
The Capabilities of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) for marine science and conservation applications are growing rapidly at the local, regional, and global levels. John "JC" Coffey represented and briefed for the NOAA UAS Program Office.

On June 29-30 2015, Duke University Marine Laboratory hosted a marine science UAS workshop to:

  • Better understand technological advances in UAS
  • Enhance collaboration with the extraordinary unmanned aerial systems expertise in North Carolina and the eastern coast of the US
  • Develop a strategy for educating the public on unmanned aerial systems use in marine science
  • Draft a plan of actions and milestones for creating a UAS facility; a place that would serve the unique needs of UAS research in the local marine sciences community and beyond

The workshop provided a forum to assess current challenges and discuss ideas and initiatives to advance adoption of UAS technologies. The workshop had a diverse agenda and an equally diverse group of over 50 experts from government, academia, commerce and civic groups.

A vast array of UAS marine science applications were discussed including:

  • Marine debris identification and analysis
  • Emergency response
  • Monitoring protected and endangered species and their habitats
  • Supporting fisheries stock assessments, effort surveys and habitat assessments
  • Support for marine animal entanglement and stranding efforts
  • Monitoring effects of climate change, coastal erosion and sea level rise
  • Monitoring sea grass and marsh health

Key Takeaways from the workshop include:

  • There is significant opportunity for eastern North Carolina to lead the nation in marine science UAS engineering, applications and training
  • There is significant potential to partner with NOAA and other federal entities that use UAS capabilities and/or require UAS support along the east coast
  • Workshop participants indicated that a UAS facility should support not only local initiatives, but provide support for regional, national and global marine science efforts as well
  • Marine science UAS operators must work diligently to stay within FAA constraints and work closely with DoD and NC DOT airspace authorities when airspace restrictions apply
  • Partnerships could follow the Duke University/University of North Carolina Oceanographic Consortium (DUNCOC) model
  • Public outreach is a critical aspect of any UAS initiative and key to sustaining good will with local citizens, schools and businesses

During the workshop, there was tremendous enthusiasm and support for a marine science UAS facility. As a result, Duke University will move forward to create, from an existing building, a facility that will:

  • Meet state and FAA training requirements for marine scientists seeking to employ UAS
  • Train scientists to employ UAS in marine and coastal systems, and facilitate marine data analysis
  • Engage with engineers to develop new platforms, sensors and software systems applicable to marine science applications
  • Provide equipment services for researchers and natural resource managers seeking to use UAS in their workflows
  • Increase UAS knowledge and marine research public outreach

Ideally, the facility will meet the needs of the local community and collectively build off the strengths of partnerships. The nature and structure of these partnerships will be carefully defined. This UAS facility will provide a great opportunity for NSF researchers to move their programs forward, and will also provide a nexus for fund raising from other agencies.