Education: Penn State Offers Online UAS Course

A 156Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine complete with images is available by clicking HERE

No industry newsletter or journal published today fails to highlight the increasing importance of and interest in Unmanned Aerial Systems for remote sensing data collection. Clearly UAS are being perceived as the way of the future, albeit there are a number of critical issues, such as privacy and safety concerns that will have to be addressed before this revolution can really begin. While it may be some time before you receive an Amazon order via UAS, you can be sure you will see imagery collected by UAS on the news, on the internet, and in many GIS applications.

In addition to the well-known military and security uses of UAS, Departments of Transportation will be using them to plan, construct and maintain highway infrastructure; law enforcement and emergency responders will be using them to gain situational awareness in disasters; utilities will be using them to inventory and monitor transmission and distribution systems; and many people will be using them to take cool pictures, make interesting videos, and to simply have fun!

Most readers of this article are likely to lack the extensive technical support resources of the DoD or a Fortune 500 corporation, yet they aspire to be much more than casual, recreational users. For that potential majority of UAS users, how much knowledge and training is required to make appropriate decisions and to produce accurate and useful products? And where will they get that knowledge and training?

In response to the high level of interest in the use of Unmanned Aerial Systems in GIS and remote sensing applications, Penn State will be adding a new course, Geography 597G, to its extensive geospatial education curriculum. The course has been developed and will be taught by Dr. Qassim Abdullah, geospatial scientist at Woolpert Inc. In addition to his reputation as a applied researcher in lidar and IFSAR for mapping and GIS, Dr. Abdullah has extensive teaching experience. He is also an adjunct professor at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, has instructed numerous individuals in their preparation for the ASPRS Certification exam, and has taught a series of technology-focused workshops at ASPRS conferences over the past 15 years.

The course will introduce fundamental concepts of UAS operation, including selecting the right UAS for a particular application, assessing UAS performance, selecting data processing software, managing resulting data products and assessing their spatial accuracy. The course will also cover the practical issues, rules and regulations governing use of UAS in the United States, including developing a Concept of Operations (CONOP) plan, assessing and mitigating risks associated with UAS operation, and planning a data acquisition mission. Finally, students in this course will learn about the photogrammetric processing techniques used to perform aerotriangulation and orthorectification, using a commercial software package, Pix4D, to produce their own orthophotos and digital terrain models using imagery collected by UAS.

All Penn State online courses are offered in 10-week semesters occurring five times a year. During weekly lessons, students work independently on assignments, communicating with the instructor and other students through web-based discussions and email. The course format is designed to accommodate the complex schedule of a working professional while at the same time, promoting a rich collaborative and interactive learning experience. Many of the courses, including this one on UAS, can be taken alone for professional development or they can be combined with other Penn State online courses in a certificate or graduate degree program.

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Karen Schuckman is Senior Lecturer in Geography at Penn State University, teaching remote sensing and geospatial technology in the online programs offered by the John A. Dutton e-Education Institute.
Dr. Qassim Abdullah is a geospatial scientist at Woolpert Inc. He is also an adjunct professor at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

A 156Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine complete with images is available by clicking HERE