Drone consulting at WMU:

WMU’s Department of Geography is now home to one of the country's newest drone consulting services. As the demand for UAV technology has steadily increased the last few years, the supply has often struggled to follow suit. WMU’s new consulting service plans on breaking into the industry by bridging the gap between the need for drones and the expertise and equipment required to properly operate them.

WMU and the Department of Geography have said that they are committed to meeting the demand for the efficient and practical usage of UAV technology and data. The service, which is now available, is offered through WMU’s Upjohn Center for the Study of Geographical Change.

“​The Department has a variety of aircraft, most of which are multi-rotor copters with vertical takeoff and landing capability. We have two larger units that can carry heavier payloads (multiple cameras) and more than four smaller units with more restricted payload capacities,” a spokesperson from WMU’s department of Geography said. “Many of these drones have integrated (off-the-shelf) sensors that we use to capture aerial photos and video.”

Supporting industry the community through drones:

The Department of Geography expects to utilize their fleet of drones by supporting the work of government agencies, environmental consultancies, planners, farmers, and other interested parties.

“Typically, the use of geospatial data within geographic information systems (GIS) allows consumers to improve their decision-making and planning abilities because they will be equipped with new/up-to-date, higher-detailed data,” said Dr. Adam Mathews, a contract UAV consultant at WMU.

Mathews along with Dr. Jay Emerson are the primary UAV consultants at WMU and are tasked with leading this innovative program in the right direction. Both men are faculty members from the Department of Geography and possess knowledge and experience with drone technology and data.

Emerson has conducted extensive research in the field of archaeological mapping and documentation while Mathews’ research has been focused on precision agriculture and vegetation canopy mapping. Mathews has also mapped debris in Michigan rivers and vegetation in Ludington State Park.

“Our roles are as experts in this field that will lead and/or support projects brought forth by potential clients,” said Mathews. Mathews also said that he hopes to provide partners with the knowledge and resources essential to their operation without demanding too much money.

Although the consulting service is new to WMU, the Department of Geography is no stranger to drones. In the past, faculty members and graduate students alike have utilized UAVs in both an educational and research capacity to capture aerial imagery and examine environmental issues. 

Drone certification:

Earlier this year, WMU became one of only a handful of accredited institutions to offer a UAV graduate certificate program for anyone with a previous bachelor’s degree. Interested students can enroll in the program at any point of the school year and are able to choose between a certificate in UAV’s applications in Geological and Environmental Sciences or Geospatial Applications of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. Students in both certificate programs get valuable experience collecting, processing, and analyzing data from UAVs.

The Department of Geography is hopeful that WMU’s UAV consulting services can escape the limiting scope of research and ultimately benefit the community as a whole. A fair amount of the research is conducted within county lines, meaning there are plenty of opportunities to educate and involve the local community. In fact, Dr. Mathews and Dr. Lisa Dechano-Cook recently started a project with the Comstock Township to introduce drone/mapping technologies to students at local grade schools and middle schools by mapping parks.

Those interested in learning more or taking advantage of the service can contact the Upjohn Center for more information at: https://wmich.edu/geographicalchange/contact.

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