EROS Has Request of Federal Agencies: Send Us Your UAS Data

Release Date:

With Federal agencies turning more and more to drone technology to help fight wildfires, map wildlife habitat, and monitor natural resources, the managers of the largest civilian archive of remotely sensed data on the planet have a simple request of them.

Send all that data from your Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) to us.

Unmanned Aircraft System photo near St. David, AZ

Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) photo near St. David, AZ. The USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center's hopes to collect more UAS data for public release via EarthExplorer.

Those still photos of burned forests, the video of smoldering volcanoes, the Light Detection and Ranging (Lidar) acquisitions that help map coastal features—officials with Data Management and Information Delivery (DMID) at the Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center near Sioux Falls, SD, want it all to archive, make accessible, and distribute to an ever-expanding user community.

That kind of end-to-end data management has been missing until now from a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) UAS program that sprang to life in the early 2000s, says Ryan Longhenry, the EROS Project Manager for DMID. To make it better, the USGS agreed it would serve as the repository for all agencies within the Department of Interior (DOI) for UAS data. EROS has taken the lead in doing just that.

“Following a standardized process will not only introduce consistencies for data management,” Longhenry explained, “but will also provide a common location for end users to retrieve data collections.”

Low-cost drone systems that are smaller and simpler to operate are expanding the remotely sensed data pool dramatically. Roughly 300,000 UAS-derived files are available now for download through the EarthExplorer user interface, though most of that is from smaller, project-specific areas of the country. Expanding the amount of available UAS data would easily increase the 200 to 300 UAS files that are going out the door each month now, Longhenry said.

He and other DMID staffers have been out at conferences and workshops, beating the drum for more UAS data to come to EROS. “I guess our mantra is, ‘Just send it,’” said Brent Johnson, a contractor to the Federal government with KBR at EROS. “We want the metadata, too. But if it doesn’t have metadata, we still want it. We’ll figure out how to pull it all together.”

Certainly, metadata is important in all this. What agency is the work being run through? Who is the point of contact? What’s the project called? What is the mission? What was collected? What was the platform, the sensor, the acquisition date, and where the collect took place?

While drone pilots are the best source of that information, it’s often the last thing they want to deal with, Johnson said.

“We need that information so that we can distribute it to those who want it,” Johnson said. “If somebody goes out (on EarthExplorer) to get this data, they want to know what they’re getting. We’ve even developed a web form where outside users can upload their data to us without intervention on our part. We’re trying to make it easier for them.”

That said, there are obvious restrictions on the use of UAS data. It can’t include personally identifiable information (PII)—no identification of houses or people or, for that matter, even road signs at times, Johnson said. “We can’t be delivering stuff with PII associated with it,” he said. “If the people doing the collect come back and say there is PII there, we have to just remove the dataset from usability through EarthExplorer.”

It's possible to restrict UAS data in the archive so it’s not available to the entire public, Johnson added. Some agencies have requirements that data not be distributed to the general public, but rather only to those within the specific agency, or perhaps only to principal investigators.

“There’s a concern that, as soon as you start putting something up (on EarthExplorer) that people can actually look at and see where it’s at, they’re worried about these places getting inundated with travelers, these places that they’re responsible for,” Johnson said. “Some of that they have to protect.”

Much of it, however, will end up being vitally important for the pursuits of science, especially when the imagery and data can be collected at very high resolution over small areas of interest at a fraction of the cost of traditional manned aerial mapping operations, Longhenry said.

That’s particularly true during an emergency.

“The value of UAS acquisition capabilities during emergency response has been realized in the fire community for quite some time,” Longhenry said. “Last year during the Kilauea Volcano (eruption), the flexibility of the UAS platform became increasingly evident through the use of new sensors and search-rescue operations.”

The question then becomes, how might that data be useful after the emergency is over? What can it be used for besides just assessing recovery? Obviously, there’s no way to answer any of that if the data aren’t available in the archive for whatever research they might inform down the road.

That’s why agencies using UAS technology to check on nesting areas, to count birds, to calculate elevation beneath the surface of coastal waters, or to map remote areas that are difficult to get to, are being asked to send that data to DMID and EROS. Whether it’s the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement—all have data that DMID would like to acquire and make available to a growing UAS data-using community.

“The user community wants access to this data,” Johnson said. “We want to help make sure that happens.”

Related Content

Filter Total Items: 5
Date published: April 1, 2019
Status: Active

USGS EROS Archive - Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) - DEMs

The Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) collection provides high resolution remote sensing data for monitoring landscape and natural resource conditions over small project areas. Data types will vary by project. (2008-present)

Date published: April 1, 2019
Status: Active

USGS EROS Archive - Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) - Point Cloud

The Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) collection provides high resolution remote sensing data for monitoring landscape and natural resource conditions over small project areas. Data types will vary by project. (2008-present)

Date published: April 1, 2019
Status: Active

USGS EROS Archive - Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) - Orthoimagery

The Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) collection provides high resolution remote sensing data for monitoring landscape and natural resource conditions over small project areas. Data types will vary by project. (2008-present)

Date published: April 1, 2019
Status: Active

USGS EROS Archive - Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) - Raw Photography

The Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) collection provides high resolution remote sensing data for monitoring landscape and natural resource conditions over small project areas. Data types will vary by project. (2008-present)

Date published: October 16, 2018
Status: Active

USGS EROS Archive - Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS)

The Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) collection provides high resolution remote sensing data for monitoring landscape and natural resource conditions over small project areas. Data types will vary by project. (2008-present)

Filter Total Items: 1
Date published: May 9, 2018

EarthExplorer

The EarthExplorer (EE) user interface is an online search, discovery, and ordering tool developed by the United States Geological Survey (USGS).  EE supports the searching of satellite, aircraft, and other remote sensing inventories through interactive and textual-based query capabilities.