Low altitude drone flight can produce observations at scales clearly aligned with biological processes, like metabolism, natural selection, and resource allocation within and among individual plants. The quantitative improvement represented by this technology is significant, but the most important advance is conceptual. New measurements from low-altitude drones open the door to characterizing processes that have been beyond our grasp, and properties related to organismal condition, like leaf chemistry, canopy temperature and solar induced fluorescence.
The Kellner lab developed the Brown Platform for Autonomous Remote Sensing (BPAR) as a sensor package carried by a heavy-lift helicopter drone. The aircraft was designed and and is operated by Aeroscout GmbH of Hochdorf, Switzerland. The sensor package includes up to five remote sensing technologies: (i) a visible and near infrared (VNIR) imaging spectrometer, (ii) a shortwave infrared (SWIR) imaging spectrometer, (iii) a chlorophyll fluorescence imaging spectrometer that observes light within bands of 0.05 nm, (iv) a wide-angle scanning lidar sensor, and (v) a high-resolution digital camera. This platform has completed successful flight operations in Central America, Switzerland, and the Czech Republic, and has currently planned flight campaigns in Costa Rica and Kenya. These efforts support fundamental research in plant biology and the carbon cycle, conservation, and the calibration and validation activities of the NASA Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation.
Funding sources: NASA, NSF, Brown University