Nuts and Bolts of drone technology in SeaBee

The SeaBee Research Infrastructure relies on using state-of-the-art drones and sensors systems to collect data. Anders Gjørwad Hagen (NIVA) is responsible for ensuring that the SeaBee drones are fit for purpose and carry suitable sensor systems for collecting data in a variety of situations and for multiple research purposes. The SeaBee project has been running for nearly four years, and now has multiple drones being regularly used by expert pilots in the field. 

One of the EVO fixed wing drones prepared for takeoff by SeaBee crew

Identifying user needs 

Ensuring the SeaBee drones are fit for purpose means that user needs must be identified and understood. This was an important task to carry out already from the early stages of the Research Infrastructure development. In SeaBee, we consulted with partner organisations working on the SeaBee applications (What we do). At project workshops, meetings and during field missions, their needs for drone capabilities and sensors were collected and mapped against available technology from industry suppliers.  The first discussions on what kind of drone technology is needed to collect high-quality data were at the kick-off meeting to SeaBee in Oscarsborg fortress, Viken in 2020. 

These requirements were documented and kept in living documents, which are regularly updated, and have since been referred to when purchasing drones, sensors and the associated systems. To date, SeaBee Research Infrastructure has: 

  •  14 flying drones (UAV) 
  • two unmanned surface vehicles (USV) 
  • two underwater drones (UUV) 
  • nine types of sensors 
  • and many software systems for various tasks.  

These are regularly used for field work and data collection. 

The drone and sensor capabilities needed in the field are often updated at project meetings using feedback collected from scientists working in SeaBee, who are responsible for validating the collected data. 

Read more: Two New EVO drones added to SeaBee family 

Field work in Finnmark (Ascomap project)

SeaBee workshops 

There are two physical workshops that house the SeaBee drones and sensors. The workshops are at NIVA in Oslo, and NTNU in Trondheim. The NIVA workshop has been running since late 2022, and the workshop at NTNU since May 2021, with a DJI drone with AFX10 hyperspectral camera.  

These locations were chosen for the physical workshops because they are the main nodes for the drone operations in SeaBee, and can reasonably easily cover the geographical needs of the partners. The workshops store drones and equipment, and are where the drone pilots carry out routine maintenance. 

The field of drone and sensor technology is advancing rapidly. Therefore, purchasing decisions should be carefully deliberated to ensure that you are acquiring cutting-edge technology, rather than investing in solutions that are either not fully developed or that will soon become obsolete. Also, its equally crucial to ensure that the purchases align well with the researchers’ needs.  – Anders Gjørwad Hagen, NIVA 

 

Next Steps 

Although the SeaBee drones and sensors are now in regular use, that does not mean that we have all equipment that might be needed for new and different applications in the future. Therefore, selecting technology and equipment that has multiple potential applications is important to consider. Our latest purchase is a UAV bathymetry (green) LiDAR and a red LiDAR. The green LiDAR is a system capable of collecting bathymetry data down to two Secchi depths in the intertidal zone which cannot be reached by boat. This system can be used for river and lake analyses, a potential new area for SeaBee activities. 

As we approach the end of SeaBee’s establishment phase, it’s important that we make strategic purchases that provide adequate coverage for the (known and unknown) future needs during the operational phase. Therefore, discussions with all partners are planned to ensure good choices of technology are made.

A few favourite things of SeaBee Research Infrastructure

SeaBee Research Infrastructure contains many different pieces that require coordination and expert input to run smoothly and deliver quality data in a timely manner.

 

The SeaBee project has developed this infrastructure and with support from The Norwegian Research Council in the period 2020-2025 under project no. 296478. This year has been an important one, where SeaBee reached several significant achievements, undertook extensive field missions, and started using the SeaBee Data Pipeline. 

With the new year approaching, we asked the experts, drone pilots and scientists involved in developing, testing and exploring use of the infrastructure, what they see as their favourite part of SeaBee Research Infrastructure.  

 

The top mentions? The data, the support the infrastructure provides, and the people.

 


Hege Gundersen, co-project coordinator (NIVA) likes the colorful high-resolution maps of the coastal zone, because she is considering framing them and decorating the living room.


Kristina Øle Kvile, Data Validation lead and benthic habitat mapping task lead (NIVA) likes the field work, because it means working in beautiful surroundings with good people who give her inspiration and motivation to work with challenges in the coastal zone. 

A colourful, high resolution map that Hege is considering for the living room
The SeaBee consortium discussing latest achievements and progress during the recent Annual Meeting in Bergen (November, 2023)
The SeaBee consortium discussing progress at the Annual Meeting in Bergen November, 2023)
An image of bird cliffs at Runde, taken from drone footage collected during summer 2022.
An image of bird cliffs at Runde, taken from drone footage collected during summer 2022.

Karoline Slettebø, financial controller and SeaBee Shop coordinator (NIVA) appreciates the people working in SeaBee, and her favourite part is the technology. Using the equipment to support and expand our knowledge base and therefore gaining a better understanding with which we can deliver better advice [to decision-makers and society].


Anders G. Hagen, Drone Infrastructure Specification and Establishment lead (NIVA) has a twofold joy to SeaBee. He really enjoys and appreciate all the drones and equipment. But he also finds it really rewarding to attend meetings and see results of the drone use in the various SeaBee applications. The drones really satisfy certain “geeky genes” inside him, and the capability of the technology is impressive. It is very rewarding to be able to acquire and put in to use state of the art technology like this. It is very inspiring to see how spec´ing the drones and sensors leads to practical use and top-class data acquisition in the projects, and how the data subsequently leads to important decision-making and – hopefully – a better environment for us all! 


Sindre Molværsmyr, lead of Seabird monitoring task (NINA) likes the high geographical precision achieved through Seabee and connected services, which have changed people’s mindset about how to work with seabirds, how to interact with colonies and given the opportunity to answer new questions. 

Birds detected by Norge Regnesentral's model on Realfagstaket
Deployment of a Mavic 3 Multispectral from a boat near a seabird colony. Photo: Marie Curtet

Kim Leirvik, working with SeaBee data management (NIVA) likes the birds detected on Realfagstaket. He likes it because it shows the [SeaBee] dataflow and its quite fun to see Norge Regnesentral’s model (2022_nina_birds_20230817 is the name of the model) in action on a familiar location. 


Marianne Johansen, Communication co-lead (GRID-A) likes that  SeaBee as a whole provides detailed, accurate and specific environmental information about nature in the coastal zone and is enthusiastic about how it can be used for better management and protection of nature in the future.  


Lorna Little, Communication lead (GRID-A) has two favourite pieces of SeaBee: the DJI Mavic drone AND the Class definitions used to annotate the drone images of habitats (on github). The drone is a favourite because it can be deployed from the pilot’s hand (so adaptable!) and the class definitions are because it is SO fascinating to see how we can categorise and break down beautiful images of the world into data!   

Georgios Fylakis, working with Geostory creation (GRID-A) likes the fact that many different organizations work together to build a national infrastructure for drone data that can be used both now, and, in the future, to solve multiple environmental issues. 


Arnt-Børre Salberg, Data Analysis lead (NR) likes the Geonode that the Data storage and sharing team has created, and how quickly one can navigate in the map. 


Mari Solerød, working with communication (NIVA) really likes the high ambitions of the team for being visible and for showing off the excellence and the added value of the SeaBee infrastructure. 

The SeaBee geovisualisation on the Geonode
The SeaBee consortium describing the added value of SeaBee Research Infrastructure at the Annual Meeting in Bergen (November, 2023)
The SeaBee consortium describing the added value of SeaBee Research Infrastructure at the Annual Meeting in Bergen (November, 2023)
Lastly, from the SeaBee project coordinator, Kasper Hancke (NIVA), 

whose favourite part of SeaBee is: 

“The Team! The entire enthusiastic, skilled, smart, and hardworking SeaBee team! It gives me inspiration and belief in the future, which makes me want to throw a big party for everyone…! 

The SeaBee consortium at the recent Annual Meeting in Bergen (November, 2023).

Trained to fly – Drone pilots in SeaBee Research Infrastructure

Drone pilots are a crucial part of the data collection for the SeaBee Research Infrastructure. We sat down with Tor Arne Johansen (NTNU) and Medyan Ghareeb (NIVA) who work with this part of SeaBee. They shared how drone pilots get certified, what they do to practice, and how SeaBee uses drone pilots from the partner institutions to fly the variety of missions needed for different scientific applications.

Medyan Ghareeb (NIVA) flies a drone as part of a training mission for SeaBee Reseach Infrastructure

Why does SeaBee Research Infrastructure need drone pilots?

SeaBee needs drone pilots to fly the state-of-the-art drones equipped with assorted sensors, during field missions to collect data on different species and environments in coastal areas of Norway. Many coastal areas have complex terrains to work in, so flying drones enables covering larger areas that would be a struggle to reach on foot.

Drone and sensor technology is constantly developing and improving, therefore SeaBee needs pilots who have the appropriate training, certifications and knowledge in operating drones to collect high quality data that can be used in research and coastal management.

How many drone pilots does SeaBee have?

There are multiple drone pilots at the partner institutes who are involved in SeaBee. 

At NIVA, under the umbrella of SeaBee Research Infrastructure, there are 7 pilots for Visual Line of Sight (VLOS) flights and 2 who can fly drones on Beyond Line of Sight (BLOS) flights under Tiepoint.

The regulations covering drone flights are complex, therefore other partners are obliged to fly under their respective operations manuals.

NTNU has 2 pilots flying under the NTNU operations manual, and NINA had 6 drone pilots working on a recent summer campaign (read more in the news about 440 drone missions and 100 thousand images) that can fly VLOS under NINA operations manual.

How does one become a drone pilot in SeaBee?

Pilot training and operating licenses are managed directly by the partner institutes. There are different levels of training and certification needed before one can fly drones, and the partners are constantly updating procedures to ensure all pilots remain compliant.

Medyan Ghareeb (NIVA) flying a drone during a training mission on the coast of Norway

When considering whether to take on drone pilot certification, Medyan suggests keeping the following in mind: 

“… potential Pilots are enthusiastic or at least willing for all the processes for example: training, regulations, hms, data, flight preparation, updating or buying in hardware and software and not just flying drones – the flying is just a small part of being a pilot.” 

 

What is the most exciting, and the most difficult moment during a drone flight? 

“It is exciting when it all comes together, a [drone] flight gets good data and the drone lands! Keeping pace with new regulations, training and hardware requirements can be difficult, and integrating/using new sensors can also offer many challenges” – Medyan Ghareeb, drone pilot at NIVA. 

 

What are the next steps for drone pilot operations in SeaBee Research Infrastructure? 

As the available SeaBee Research Infrastructure hardware becomes larger and more capable we need to keep up with training and regulations. This has different implications for the different partners. For example, at NIVA this means becoming capable in the Specific and PDRA, later SORA classes of operations. These are operations that require further training, more rigorous risk assessments, hardware needs and notices or permissions.  

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