The Daily Globe - Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Forestry students, instructors learn benefits of drone capabilities


October 24, 2018

Larry Holcombe/Daily Globe

TODD GIBBON, right, explains the controls of a drone to Gogebic Community College forestry student Savannah Westie and Bessemer Township resident and GCC adjunct instructor and forestry consultant Craig Johnson Tuesday morning. The drone was taking pictures to create an arial map of Johnson's property.


Bessemer TOWNSHIP - A half dozen Gogebic Community College forestry students and a few full and part time instructors gathered Tuesday morning to see what they could get out of one of the newest and hottest technology gizmos - a drone.

In an outdoor lab setting, the plan was to use the drone's photographic capabilities to create an arial map of some property in southern Bessemer Township.

Todd Gibbon, a civil engineer from Ashland, Wis., and a drone technology facilitator for the college, said they hoped to use the morning to show the students some of the uses for a drone in the forest industry along the way.

After a bit of tinkering with a computer tablet that was to talk to the drone on the cool and cloudy morning, the 14-inch square flying camera woke up, the red and green lights shone and the four propellers began to hum. There was lift off. In not too long, the humming was too far away to hear, and the drone too far away to see.

"What we're doing right now is making an aerial map - 40-some acres," said Gibbon. "The students are going to be able to see the different layouts of the land, the open spaces, the different types of trees, where they're located, when we move from pine trees to deciduous."

The screen on the small tablet displayed what the drone was seeing from above.

"It's flying a programed route, sweeping back and forth taking photos on an 80 percent overlap - every time it takes a picture it overlaps the previous picture by 80 percent," Gibbon said as some in the group peered at the small screen.

He said the drone would cover 40 acres in about a 12-minute flight. "So if we do two flights, we'll probably take a thousand photos today."

"We're exploring how to integrate drones into our program," said Bill Perkis, director of the college's forestry program. "It's a relatively new technology in forestry, we're getting ideas from industry and the Forest Service on how they're using them, and how we can incorporate that into our program."

"We want to incorporate that into as many programs at the college as makes sense," Perkis said.

"We're trying to stay on the cutting edge because technology changes so fast - it's a two-year program and the stuff we teach in the first year could be obsolete by the time they graduate," Perkis said. "The big question is: How can we best use them and make us more productive, get more work done, and better quality work in the same amount of time?"

Perkis talked about how new, untapped and changing the technology and uses surrounding drones is today, likening it to like when computers first came out and while they were suppose to immediately make us more productive, "we all sat around and played solitaire. That wasn't productive at all, but applications for our lives caught up and we use them all the time."

Gibbon, who owns Long Island Engineering, said he's been helping the college get some drone programs going. He taught a class last spring on operating a drone.

Gibbon said the drone has several applications in his line of work. "I do a lot of water resources, rivers and dams in Douglas County; storm water systems. Little bit on Lake Superior and shoreline erosion."

The plan for Tuesday was to make an arial map of Craig Johnson's property. He's a adjunct instructor and forestry consultant at the college.

"The final export will be a geo reference tif - a super high resolution google earth image that the students can import into their GIS software," said Gibbon. "They could look at it, they can take measurements. If a logging operation just got done, they could see how well the logger did."

"The college is excited to give students a demonstration on the newest technologies in their fields," said GCC Dean of Instruction Ryon List of the morning's activities. "Drones are being used in a number of fields today, and the college is working to embed the usage of this technology within a number of its programs."

In addition to offering a drone-licensing prep course and this demonstration for forestry students, List said the college is looking to "embed a drone technology component in its ski area management and construction programs, with the possibility of eventually offering for-credit drone application courses in those programs."

The drones have great potential in all sorts of academic, industry and personal pursuits, but they come with lots issues, according Gibbon, including software issues, weather issues, battery life in the cold issues, human operator issues and government regulation.

So how much will it cost to get into one of these babies today? "A new Phantom 4 Pro like this one, get a few extra batterie and a tablet to run it, it's about $2,500 for a set up," Gibbon said.

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