Flying unmanned helicopters for science in Michigan

You might’ve heard that Amazon is hoping to one day deliver packages to your door by little unmanned helicopters.

Now, scientists are getting into the act, too.

“This is our unmanned aerial vehicle; an electronically powered helicopter,” Benjamin Heumann says as he unpacks a 6-foot helicopter. We’re in the middle of a rare wetland called a prairie fen near Chelsea. Heumann directs the Center for Geographic Information Science at Central Michigan University.

“I’m a remote sensing scientist, so I collect and analyze imagery collected from the air or space,” he says.

Usually, scientists like Heumann use images from satellites or manned planes to study ecosystems. But he says this little helicopter lets them see a lot more, in much finer detail.

“With aerial photography, you’re looking at trees. With this sort of thing, we’re looking at flowers, individual flowers. So it really changes the type of analysis we can do,” Heumann says.

He attaches a digital camera and battery packs with industrial strength Velcro.

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