Graduate student Max Messinger pulls his cap low as he rotates towards the late afternoon sun. Controller in hand, his eyes follow the DeaconEye’s path across the sky: its arms and propellers take shape as it approaches and the whirring gets louder and louder, until it’s directly above Messinger. Blades of grass flatten beneath it and Messinger’s shirt billows out like a sail that’s just caught the wind.
To onlookers the DeaconEye may appear to be some sort of souped-up, remote controlled airplane. In reality, it’s a $10,000 unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that collects critical data for Miles Silman’s climate change research.
Silman, a Wake Forest biology professor, is on the cusp of a growing trend in science: while UAVs, or drones, are more often associated with military strikes in the Middle East, they’re increasingly used for data col lection that was previously done by manned aircraft or simply inaccessible.
“Before the UAVs there were a lot of questions we simply couldn’t ask,” Silman said. “These things don’t just take pictures, they are robots that can move around in three-dimensional space.”
Silman’s climate change research concentrates on the oft-ignored tropical regions of the planet.