AggieAir is a Utah State University service that uses small, unmanned aircraft to provide aerial images to a variety of customers, including UDOT.
Located at the Utah Water Research Laboratory, the AggieAir photo collection method was first developed in response to agricultural needs, specifically to evaluate the effectiveness of irrigation practices.
Aerial images for agricultural needs can also be met by using satellites or manned aircraft; both methods have limitations, however. Satellite images often have course resolution, cloud cover can obscure the view of the area being photographed and a delay of up to one month in acquiring images can make the information outdated. Manned aircraft services are expensive.
Small plane services, like AggieAir offer a flexible platform that can provide high quality images for a variety of needs quickly and easily. According to AggieAir Research Engineer Austin Johnson, “UAVs are popping up everywhere” for that reason. He visited UDOT recently and and gave an overview of AggieAir, including some UDOT projects that have use the service to acquire images.
AggieAir collects common RGB photos Near Infered as well as thermal imagery and uses software similar to GIS applications to process the image data. While in flight, the planes take photos about every four seconds. The images are then combined to make a Geo-rectified mosaic image of the ground surface and features. The cameras can also be mounted on a vehicle for gathering ground level images.
The planes are small, lightweight and launched into flight using a staked bungee cord. There is no landing gear, so touchdown can be bumpy. The planes are made of durable Styrofoam that can be taped up after a rough landing.
UDOT has used the service to get aerial images of the Southern Parkway project and the wetland area near Utah Lake. Other possible applications for the platform include taking an inventory of freeway structures and signs, before and after construction images, cataloging historic occurrences of flood or wetland areas, tracking erosion on embankment slopes, identifying invasive plant species and evaluating treatment plans for eliminating those species.