The student newspaper of Nicholls State University

Geomatics and Biological Science program aerial system

January 26, 2017

Nicholls Geomatics and Biological Science programs hosted a demonstration of their unmanned aerial systems at Nicholls on January 17. 

Similar to a drone’s structure, the UAS is useful in flying to high altitudes to collect and process data of samples from our coastal region.  

“Originally used in warfare, these $40 thousand UAS can fly for 45 minutes, long distances and in high altitudes,” Balaji Ramachandran, head of Nicholls Geomatics program, said. “These devices have better sensors and capabilities than drones.”

Because the Federal Aviation Administration strictly protects this technology, two pilots volunteer to do demonstrations of the technology on the weekends.

Ramachandran is currently in the process of becoming certified to fly the aircraft. 

As the laws change, he feels confident that in the years to come the program no longer need a pilot.

Ramachandran explained that this technology is fairly new to them, but has progressed throughout the years. 

“We started looking into this technology in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina,” Ramachandran said. “We feel that being a coastal state, this technology is critical for a disaster.”

Through millions of dollars worth of grants, the Geomatics and Biological Science programs were able to obtain quite a few of these UAS devices. 

“Right now, we own five professional grade UAS’s, which range from about $35,000 to $45,000 and can go up to 400 feet in altitude,” said Ramachandran. “We also have a few $2,000 ones for the students, which only goes 200 feet in the air.”

Utilizing the UAS, they will be able to monitor rising waters and map the coast for long and short terms. 

“They are the first line of defense for hurricanes, so the point of the UAS technology is to sweep across the whole island, capture images and extract features,” said Ramachandran in regard to the Barrier Islands. “We are looking at how much water and sand is on the island. We can also see the amount of dirt they are pouring into these islands for construction. We fly it a few times a year to see the changes over a period of time.”

He also explained that flying these devices put Nicholls in the spotlight. 

“We are the first school in the state of Louisiana to obtain authorization to fly from FAA. Nationwide,” Ramachandran said. “We are among a handful of schools who got our hands on this research and technology.”

After filling out multiple applications to fly the devices, their first approval was in 2007. 

He also expressed his excitement about the summer course involving the utilization of the UAS aircraft. The course will be offered to art and geometric majors.

“It will be a class for students to learn how to make maps, and how to make images from a geomatics perspective,” Ramachandran said. “From an art perspective, they will learn about drone photography.”

Both within the geomatics program and in the United States market, Ramachandran envisions a bright future for these UAS devices.

In the near future, he hopes to see a Nicholls certification program in form of a concentration for students.

Ramachandran also envisions a bright future for these UAS devices in the United States Market. 

He explained Amazon is researching these devices in order for them to deliver packages more efficiently. 

Hollywood filmmakers are also interested in the device to making filming easier. 

“The sky is the limit for the progression of these devices,” Ramachandran said. “In the next 20 years, I foresee a large UAS device dropping off smaller UAS’s to collect our data for us; you can compare this vision to Star Wars mothership dropping off smaller ships.” 

While this development will take several years, he also believes that people will be able to travel in the unmanned systems without pilots navigating them.

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