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Professor Fang's Research on UAV Applications

Professor Fang’s Research on Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Applications for Urban Hydrology and Hydraulics

Nick Fang, an assistant professor of civil engineering at The University of Texas at Arlington, is conducting unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) research missions to gather data for flood prediction, water quality assessment and other water-related issues in north central Texas.

“For us, UAVs are the perfect fit to advance our research. In the fields of hydrology and hydraulics especially, there are many uncertainties in existing datasets that prevent critical questions from being answered. UAVs have enabled us to collect timely and ultra-high resolution data that are going to answer these questions, especially during and after disasters,” Fang said.

Fang and his team have provided hydrologic/hydraulic analysis for flood prediction and warning in real-time mode, hydrodynamic simulation, storm water management modeling, and water quality assessment with partnering agencies, including the National Weather Service/NOAA, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Tarrant Regional Water District (TRWD), Trinity River Authority (TRA), and Severe Storm Prediction, Education, and Evacuation from Disasters (SSPEED). Current UAV missions are acquiring images of terrain, vegetation, waterbodies, bridges, and flood inundation extents. The UAV usually carries a multi-spectral camera for imagery in the visible, ultraviolet (UV) and infrared (IR) frequencies and high-precision telemetry equipment, but Fang notes that the UAV provides many airborne services.

Kevin Weinhold

“This octocopter was selected due to its high payload capacity, long flight duration and stability, which will support several remote sensing applications, including LiDAR. The main goal here is to collect, process and integrate all of these different pieces of information into a comprehensive and precise H/H model,” Fang said.

Watch a video of the process of UAV-derived data collection

UAVs are re-energizing and proliferating a remote sensing industry which began with Landsat 1 in the early 1970s. In the last decade, UAV remote sensing platforms have become highly-accurate and affordable with the capability for rapid and safe deployment. With the FAA’s release of Part 107 Small UAS rule last August, UAVs now have a way forward to join the U.S. national airspace.

“This allows for certain field tasks that were previously considered difficult, time-consuming or unsafe to be conducted with ease,” said graduate researcher and remote pilot Kevin Wienhold. “Our aerial platform is able to survey 100-acres of arduous terrain in fifteen minutes.” Along with the new UAV rule will come new challenges and opportunities. According to a recent study, the integration of UAS into the national airspace is estimated to generate $82 billion between 2015 and 2025 and 70,000 new jobs in the next three years, which was an important factor for Weinhold.

“As researchers servicing the fourth-largest metroplex in the U.S., we are in the center of some of the most unique challenges facing urban water systems and hydrology. From extreme floods to droughts, the problems require models with better input and improved predictive skill. UAVs will almost certainly have something to do with that. I want to be a part of it,” he said.