UNCW associate professor of geography Narcisa Pricope leads a team that will use tandem drones to map the advancement of an invasive marsh reed species in coastal North Carolina. The project, which also involves a UNC Charlotte robotics professor and two graduate student researchers, will be funded by a $75,000 University of North Carolina System Inter-Institutional Planning Grant.

The reed, Phragmites australis, is problematic because it crowds out native plants. The researchers will produce high-resolution maps that show the spread of the invasive reed, which will enable regulatory agencies to focus on areas of rapid progression, Pricope said. 

“This will be one of the first high-resolution maps of these invasive species in New Hanover County and beyond,” she said. “By flying multiple drones in tandem and linking the data to satellite imagery, we should be able to show where the reed is expanding the fastest.”

Pricope and her graduate student, Britton Baxley ’19M, will fly the drones and map data collected. The project will depend on successfully incorporating an algorithm developed by Srinivas Akella of UNCC and his Ph.D. student that can program two or more quadrocopter drones to fly together. Linking two drones, or UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) to gather the same data sets enables researchers to map large areas under identical environmental conditions and improve accuracy.

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Originally published Dec. 6, 2018.