Uncrewed Systems for Mapping
Uncrewed systems, or more commonly UxS, encompass a wide array of vehicle types—aerial, terrestrial, or marine (surface and underwater)—and associated elements, such as sensors and communications software, that can execute data-collection missions without human presence aboard. Uncrewed systems can provide an efficient, viable, and cost-effective means of meeting science requirements and augmenting the capabilities of traditional platforms such as aircraft, ship, and satellites. Additionally, UxS can greatly improve the extent to which high-resolution bathymetry, habitat ground-truthing, and animal observations can be obtained in the coastal zone. NCCOS has made tremendous progress in developing and incorporating the use of UxS in a variety of applications.
Shallow-water Mapping and Monitoring
Small Uncrewed Aircraft Systems (sUAS) provide efficient and rapid access to coastal environments where traditional systems are costly to deploy or are unable to navigate, particularly for remote and shallow locations. sUAS typically deploy optical camera payloads that can be used to construct highly detailed photomosaics and digital elevation models using Structure from Motion (SfM) software. NCCOS has developed guidelines to operationalize this approach and has led regional workshops to establish communities of practice; and is in the process developing low-cost, easily deployed, and accurate harmful algal bloom (HAB) detection sensors to provide real-time information to shore-based scientists.
Graphic showing the integration of different data streams from airborne and water surface drones to map shallow water (<10 m) depths. Credit: NOAA.
Acoustic Surveys From UxS
NCCOS uses surface and underwater UxS to survey seafloor habitats in coastal waters and in navigationally challenging areas. We also use UxS to conduct long endurance surveys along the coastal shelf. Active and passive acoustic sonars can be instrumented on these vehicles to map bottom habitats and topography; and track and quantify marine life abundance.
Scientists Characterize Seafloor for Proposed New York Offshore Wind Energy Project NCCOS conducted extensive acoustic and sediment sampling to complete a seafloor characterization study for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) in support of a $3 billion offshore wind energy project in the coastal waters of New York expected to power over 500,000 homes.
Object and Animal Detection
NCCOS is also developing automated object detection and classification workflows for UAS imagery using artificial intelligence. The objective is to develop and implement operationally-efficient workflows and deployable algorithms to provide rapid analysis and identification of objects such as habitat type, marine animals, or marine debris. Additionally, NCCOS and partners are investigating the utility of advanced sensor payloads, such as polarimetric cameras, to improve detection accuracies of object types.
Using Uncrewed Aircraft Systems, Machine Learning, and Polarimetric Imaging to Develop a System for Enhanced Marine Debris Detection and Removal
NCCOS is investigating and codifying a process to detect and identify marine debris on the shoreline using Uncrewed Aircraft Systems (UAS)–based imagery, machine learning, and advanced sensors.