SFEI has developed novel, cost-effective solutions to costly problems. In particular, our work with drones or Unoccupied Aerial Systems (UAS) has yielded very promising results. We have used UAS to address a number of scientific challenges and use cases. SFEI applications of UAS include, wetland monitoring, restoration monitoring, sediment volume estimations, and trash surveys leveraging machine learning algorithms. In the course of our use of UAS, we have derived some useful analyses on the technology that lend the resulting products credibility and reliability.






  • Control of timing of data collection (to accommodate, weather, managment activites, tides, etc.)
  • Repeatability of flights before and after events (autonomous flight paths)
  • Sensing of sensitive and hard to reach areas (marshes, water, native plants etc.)
  • Quick turnaround (less than 12 hour processing)
  • High resolution and comprehensive datasets
  • Multiple sensor options (true color, multispectral, thermal, etc.)
  • Collection of continuous elevation data (using structure from motion)

Example of Countours.PNGServices/Potential Use Cases:

  • Virtual fly-throughs
  • Cross sections
  • Volumetric calculations
  • Inspections of infrastructure
  • Mapping of vegetation and habitat (spectral signature, elevation)
  • Monitoring of restoration sites
  • Monitoring of wetland erosion and topographic change
  • Trash detection
  • Sediment monitoring/quantification
  • Levee inspection
  • Detection and scoring of wetland quality

Results/ Products:


  • Orthoimagery with ½-inch (or higher) resolution
  • Digital Surface Models (DSMs)
  • Digital Terrain Models (DTMs)
  • 3D models/meshes
  • Point Clouds

As our use of this techology continues, we will be producing new data and analyses that can more efficiently address scientific questions at new scales and levels of detail.

For questions about SFEI's use or general applicability of UAS please contact Pete Kauhanen.


Associated Staff: 
Programs and Focus Areas: 
Geographic Information Systems
Location Information