UAS in Western New York

This is a follow-up from the article I wrote about Rochester Institute of Technology and its Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science, which is well-poised to develop UAS imaging technology.

Rochester’s local newspaper, the Democrat and Chronicle, wrote an article about RIT and local UAS activities.  I mentioned the Center for Imaging Science’s expertise with photography – whether by aircraft or satellite, but RIT is working to apply this to real-life UAS applications. The D&C article quotes the Center’s interim director as saying that they are getting calls daily for their expertise and their graduates are almost 100% employed at graduation.  This is something not many university programs can say these days!

The Digital Imaging and Remote Sensing Lab within the Center has over 40 graduate students and its mission is as follows: “DIRS focuses on the development of tools to extract information about the earth from aerial and satellite imaging systems with an emphasis on the application of science and engineering to solving end-to-end remote sensing problems using a systems engineering approach. This includes design and development of imaging instruments, developing algorithms to extract information from remotely sensed systems and measurement and modeling of the physical phenomena associated with the formation of remotely sensed images.”

RIT has also partnered with MIT to help lead the FAA test site based in Rome, NY and Cape Cod.  This is the same test site that tested Lockheed Martin’s Indago UAS for firefighting.  The test site at Griffiss International Airport is managed by Northeast UAS Airspace Integration Research Alliance (NUAIR).  I haven’t written about them directly but have been following their work with interest.  I visited the site of their headquarters as a kid, then Griffiss Air Force Base.  I still remember getting to take a look at the relatively new stealth fighter on the ground – it was so new that there was a perimeter roped off and armed military guards.  It is great to see that Griffiss and RIT are ushering in a new generation of aircraft.

Goose Watch Winery (by the author, December, 2009)
Goose Watch Winery overlooking Cayuga Lake (by the author, December, 2009)

One of the programs that RIT is working on is precision agriculture.  We’ve heard a lot about this type of research for UAS in the mid-west, but not that many people think about farming when they think of New York.  But Rochester is 7 hours from New York City and Western New York is well-known for its agriculture – including the vineyards throughout the Finger Lakes Region.

The test program will start with tests over farm in Batavia, NY in Genesee County with a 3 lb hand-launched Lancaster Hawkeye Mk III made by PrecisionHawk.  Cornell Cooperative Extension, a program at the state’s land grant university, is also participating and they have three goals for the various test sensors:  (1) estimate yields and count crops, (2) spot pests/disease and obtain thermal images, and (3) optimize fertilizer application.  Also, according to the D&C article, “Another project by an RIT student examined vineyards in the Finger Lakes, using spectral imaging to assess water levels in plants.”  This certainly intrigues me, but I can’t find any additional information about it – I will update this post if I do.

They are also working to make progress on one of the FAA’s pet concerns: Sense and Avoid.  They are hoping to (1) develop effective sensors that are less expensive than the $80,000 interial navigation systems in manned aircraft and (2) design algorithms that process the data more effectively.  The hidden aspects that make a UAS safe and versatile.

A Sonoma Vineyard: Taken by the author during a trip to California with his father, an RIT alum.
An unknown Sonoma Vineyard: Taken by the author around 2005 during a trip to California with his father, an RIT alum.


Special thanks to Sean Lahman and David Riley, whose D&C articles that I linked to above were phenomenal!

The cover photo on the main page is of Kontokosta Winery, taken by the author October 2013.  Yes, I ran with the winery theme.


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