In order to assist ecologists in monitoring and compiling a database of biodiversity, a group of researchers has developed a specialized research drone that can collect genetic material from trees.
The team has high hopes that they will be able to collect important data on biodiversity with the assistance of the drone.
Video of the research drone collecting samples
Researchers at ETH Zurich and the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL are the ones behind the drone project.
They are using the research drone to collect samples of genetic material that organisms in various natural landscapes have left behind.
Collecting data from the treetops is quite a challenge for human workers, in contrast to the ease with which samples of soil and water can be obtained. This is where the drone can be of assistance.
The autonomously flying unmanned aircraft is equipped with adhesive strips, and when it lands on a branch, organic matter sticks to these strips.
The drone then transports the organic matter it has collected back to the ground for researchers to examine in the laboratory.
The environmental data that these samples provide can be used to construct a picture of the species that live in an area, along with a picture of how they behave.
Even though it seemed like a simple task, it was hard to program the drone to stay stable on branches that were different sizes and could hold different amounts of weight.
“Landing on branches requires complex control. Initially, the drone does not know how flexible a branch is, so the researchers fitted it with a force-sensing cage,” explains Stefano Mintchev, Professor of environmental robotics at ETH Zurich and WSL. “This allows the drone to measure this factor at the scene and incorporate it into its flight maneuver.”
The research drone was tested on seven different kinds of trees, and it exceeded expectations in all of them. The data collection method used by the device was successful, as evidenced by the fact that it gathered information on 21 distinct groups of organisms.
The research team is continuing to work on perfecting the drone design while conducting tests at the Masoala Rainforest located within the Zoo Zurich.
You can read more articles about drones being used for good here on DroneXL.
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