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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.