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FCW : May 15, 2014
May 15, 2014 FCW.COM 21 NASA obtained the Dragon Eyes through the Rube Goldberg process that is interagency procurement: A NASA scientist heard the Marine Corps was getting rid of the drones and asked about having them sent to NASA. The drones went first to the Interior Department, then to the General Services Administration and, finally, as a result of the scientist’s per- sistence, to NASA. Weighing costs and benefits Although UAS can bring many ben- efits, saving money is not always one of them. “There’s a misconception that these UAVs are so much cheaper than manned aircraft,” said Matt Fladeland, NASA’s UAS manager. “For [small drones such as] Dragon Eyes, that might be true, but for big- ger systems like the Global Hawks, there’s not much difference [in cost] between running them and running a twin-engine B200.” Between the costs of fuel, trained operators and support systems, flying a large UAS can be just as expensive as a manned flight. Tagg said the real benefit of large drones is not that they save money but that the unmanned craft can stay aloft for 24 hours in situations where a manned aircraft would last half as long. When monitoring a developing hurri- cane, for example, the extra airtime can be hugely beneficial, he added. Small drones bring more direct savings. “In smaller areas — 10 kilo- meters by 10 kilometers — UAS are very good for surveying and bring us a substantial cost savings,” said Hutt, who estimated a 10-to-1 savings over traditional manned flights. Drones also enable agencies to save in other ways. For instance, instead of relying on satellite imagery, USGS can get better photos for less money by strapping a GoPro camera to a low-fly- ing drone. USGS uses data-processing software to make sense of the images collected by drones and gain a sophis- ticated sense of topography, vegeta- tion cover and more. “We’re finding that $1,000 cameras are giving us data that we used to rely on $400,000 mapping tools to get,” Hutt said. The path forward The peaceful potential of UAS seems indisputable. FLICKR.COM/USGS_UAS_PROJECT_OFFICE Above: A Raven UAV flies over the Elwha River in Washington state, part of U.S. Geological Survey efforts to map the aftereffects of a 2012 dam demolition. Right: UAS imagery created a base-layer image of the restored Elwha River basin, which aided study of the dam removal and will inform future removal projects.
April 30, 2014
May 30, 2014