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Introduction to Mission Planning, Data Analysis, and Creating Maps with Drones (In-Person)

April 20, 2022 @ 9:30 am - 3:30 pm

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This course is being offered in collaboration between the Odum Institute and the Center for Urban & Regional Studies.
This one-day in-person short course, led by the Carolina Drone Lab, will cover drone data collection, planning, and analysis. Small unoccupied aircraft systems (sUAS or drones) are a common mapping and 3D-modeling tool in many organizations. To fully leverage the technology and its benefits, there needs to be a foundation in understanding how to collect quality images and process those images into usable information. The course introduces the workflow from mission planning to creating maps to importing those maps into a GIS environment. Attendees will be introduced to: mission planning, to include safety and FAA compliance; creating automated flights for data capture; spending time working with software to process and analyze images collected from drones; and creating maps. Commonly used tools and resources will be shared!

Students will plan and execute a simulation drone mission with deliberate, analytical approach to flight safety and awareness. Students will learn the technical capabilities and limitations of the drones available for use, and why selection of the right drone and sensor combination is important to obtaining the right data for a project. This course offers participants the chance to learn about a broad spectrum of techniques to take the next steps on their own.
Course sections:

  1. Mission planning with enhanced safety
    • learn how to plan a mission safely and in compliance with FAA rules and regulations
    • this is not a comprehensive review of all FAA rules, but regulations will be included in mission planning
  2. Mission planning software overview
    • become familiar with different planning software for both multicopter and fixed wing drones
  3. Data processing from upload of images to creation of an orthomosaic
    • review outputs of digital surface models, 2D and 3D orthomosaics, and other potential products
  4. Ingesting data into GIS platforms for display, further analysis, and map making

The course is designed for anyone with moderate computer skills and an interest in taking their drone skills beyond video and still images. The principles and techniques are not overly complicated, simply new to most people. All disciplines would benefit from this course and there are lessons for a variety of fields including engineering, geography, agriculture, planning, and natural resource management. Small unoccupied aircraft systems (sUAS) have many uses, anyone interested in learning to collect images and process data is encouraged to attend.

  • No previous drone experience required, although basic flying experience and knowledge of regulations is helpful.
  • Bring your own laptop! Prior to class, students will receive instructions to download software.
  • Limited capacity allowed for class. Register early!

Instructors: Susan Cohen and Troy Walton

Susan Cohen is the Associate Director of the UNC Institute for the Environment (IE) and the Director of the Carolina Drone Lab. Her current efforts use interdisciplinary teams to focus on ecosystem resilience and applied research for management across habitat types. Susan’s work frequently uses data collected with unoccupied aerial systems (UAS; drones and sensors) and that work includes mapping ecosystems for characterization and management, tracking change over time on the landscape, and imaging prescribed fires, as well as teaching and training. She enjoys engaging with drone enthusiasts for all kinds of uses!

Prior to coming to IE, Susan worked for the Department of Defense (DoD). She ran the Defense Coastal/Estuarine Research Program conducted at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, NC, focusing on the function and sustainability of coastal systems in the context of the military mission and climate change. Before joining DoD, Susan worked at the USDA Forest Service, Southern Research Station in RTP, NC studying processes in fire adapted forest ecosystems and plant communities. Susan earned a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and holds both master’s and doctoral degrees in Forestry from North Carolina State University. She also served in the U.S. Peace Corps as a forestry extension volunteer in the Dominican Republic.

Troy Walton is a remote sensing and unoccupied aerial systems (UAS; drones and sensors) specialist at Attollo, LLC and, in partnership with the UNC Institute for the Environment, is the Manager of the Carolina Drone Lab. Prior to joining Attollo, he flew drones for an agriculture inspection firm conducting crop health analysis through remote sensing. Troy served in the United States Marine Corps for 8 years as both an artillery Officer and as a UAS Mission Commander. He brings his mastery of flying in complex airspace to all of his drone missions.

Since leaving the military, Troy has been focusing on utilizing UAS for environmental monitoring and tracking the effects of climate change. Specializing in advanced UAS operations, he trains remote pilots on flight operations, mission planning, data processing, and the fundamentals of standing up new drone programs within organizations. Troy earned a bachelor’s degree in Aerospace Management from Eastern Kentucky University and a GIS post-baccalaureate certificate from Pennsylvania State University in Geographic Information Systems. He is currently pursuing a master’s degree for Geographic Information Science at Unity College.

Registration fees:

  • UNC-CH Students: $0, with a $35 deposit to hold your spot (deposit is refundable upon your attendance for at least 66% of the course)
  • UNC-CH Faculty/Staff/Postdoc: $95
  • Non UNC-CH: $145

Additional course information:

  • Registration will open 2/21/2022 and close at 12:01am 4/17/2022. No late registrations will be accepted.
  • Cancellation/ Refund Policy: A full refund will be given to those who cancel their registration no later than 10 days prior to the course. If you cancel within the 10 days prior to the class, no refund will be given. Please allow 30 days to receive your refund.

For questions regarding the status of this class, please contact Jill Stevens at


April 20, 2022
9:30 am - 3:30 pm
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219 Davis Library
208 Raleigh Street
Chapel Hill, NC 27514 United States
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(919) 962-1151
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