HUNTSVILLE, Ala. --The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is seen by many as the nation’s go-to organization for civil works and military construction projects.
However, the Corps of Engineers is also working to provide support to Soldiers in the field, evidenced by an operation that took place at Redstone Arsenal in March.
Two members of the Corps of Engineers’ Engineering Research and Development Center’s Geospatial Research Laboratory, Dr. John Anderson and Will Shuart, flew two sorties over more than 250 acres at land adjacent to the Army Program Executive Office-Aviation complex on Redstone March 22.
Flying the Sensfly eBee X Unmanned Aircraft System with a sensor payload taking three images every 50 feet, Anderson and Shuart gathered data from the flights allowing for a three -dimensional “image map” to be used as a foundation data source in concert with the Army’s PEO-Soldier Integrated Visual Augmentation System, or IVAS.
IVAS is a prototype goggle jointly designed by Microsoft and the Army’s Night Vision Electro-Optics Lab (NVESD) that offers Soldiers the situational awareness (SA) capabilities they need to regain and maintain overmatch in multi-domain operations on battlefields that are increasingly urban, congested, dark and unpredictable.
Data collected from the UAS flights is used by Soldiers within the IVAS environment to gain a greater understanding and knowledge of the terrain before executing a mission and without having to physically move into an area.
According to Shuart, the data collected by the UAS isn’t solely valuable because of what it allows Soldiers to see, it’s the fact that the data can be delivered in almost real-time that is the true value of the system.
“It’s data reduction for the field,” Shuart said.
“We can collect large masses of raw image data—eight gigabytes worth of data— and once it’s expanded and merged, those data could be as large as 50 gigabytes of data – or more. But the beauty of this process is that it doesn’t sit with someone behind the lines, it’s quickly compressed down to 200 megabytes of data and that can quickly be used by Soldiers in the field using the IVAS goggle or a tablet” Shuart said.
“Field exploitation of 3D data needs to be rendered quickly and that requires small efficient data types and technology delivery – the optimal visualization of geospatial data.”
Ryan Strange, Huntsville Center Unmanned Aircraft Systems Research Physical Scientist said it’s common for USACE aviation components to support each other, and the support his team provided to ERDC’s geospatial laboratory resulted in a quick turnaround for airspace authorization that would have ultimately cost Shuart and Anderson valuable time.
To plan missions and acquire authorizations required to fly a UAS over RSA would have taken more than a month. However, because Strange already has documentation in place, the flight crew was flying and mapping in a matter of days.
“Because the proper forms were in place through HNC and the Department of Army USSASSA, all that was left was the mission plan formation in HQ Aviation USACE—developed Management integration and Remote Aviation Systems program,” Strange said.
Strange is one of the pioneers in USACE Aviation and assisted USACE to establish the USACE Headquarters Aviation Program that manages training standards, system safety, program oversight and compliance with DoD policy.
Small unmanned aircraft systems offer the potential for cost-effective surveying and data collections while offering new and improved tools and methods to collect data and aerial imagery, Strange said.
Strange said imagery and video are proving essential for USACE operations to inspect infrastructure, emergency management and communicating with the public through aerial video.
“The Corps’ use of small unmanned aircraft systems is expanding, and research continues and ERDC testing this new technology for its application for IVAS technology is another example of UAS applications within the Corps expanding quickly,” Strange said.
“Although we are more effective in using UAS as a geospatial tool, we are certainly seeing the program continue to grow and the USACE Aviation community is relying more-and-more on each other to ensure our growth,” Strange said.