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Field Test of the Puma™ AE (All Environment) Small Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS): September 14‐16, 2014

King, C., and A. DeVogelaere (March 2015)

MBNMS Technical Report, 13pp.

ABSTRACT


Traditional methods for marine mammal, seabird and turtle observations require qualified observers aboard ships or aircraft. These methods are cost-prohibitive for National Marine Sanctuaries to conduct at regular intervals. The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary used a NOAA-owned Puma™ AE (All Environment) small unmanned aircraft system (UAS) to field-test its capability to detect various targets on the ocean's surface, including marine mammals and other large marine organisms. The Puma UAS is a waterproof, all-electric propeller powered aircraft that is light enough to be launched by hand from small vessels, and includes a gimbaled camera payload that can swivel 360 degrees with zoom and infrared capabilities. Over two days, four flights totaling a length of 206.7 kilometers were made in northern Monterey Bay. Although primary targets (leatherback turtles and their jellyfish prey) were never observed, a total of eight Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) and one ocean sunfish (Mola mola) were recorded during six total hours of flight. The UAS proved adequate in detecting objects as small as one meter across from altitudes as low as 60 meters and large animals, such as whales at its maximum flight altitude of 300 meters. Although this system requires less personnel and costs significantly less than traditional observation methods, it lacks a high-definition camera, and may not yet be suited for rigorous data collection due to inability to calculate total area covered (i.e., target densities unobtainable). In its current configuration, this system may be better suited for reconnaissance applications within National Marine Sanctuaries, although future configurations of the UAS could remedy its current deficiencies.

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