In the spring of 2015, JMU X-Labs offered the first undergraduate drone course in the Commonwealth of Virginia—a feat that put JMU on the map in ways never before imagined. What began as a pilot course has surged into multiple iterations of collaborative, interdisciplinary programs and events shared across the commonwealth.
The Unmanned Systems for Virginia Project
Using unmanned systems to research, preserve and sustain our natural resources
This is the third JMU X-Labs class to focus on unmanned systems technology and our most ambitious yet. Along with UAV experts from Nova Labs, 70 students from nine majors and two universities (JMU and ODU) have partnered with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI), the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) and Blue Ridge PRISM. The partners provided eight pressing ecological problems and delegated them to interdisciplinary student teams to give them real-world experience using unmanned systems technology:
1. Tracking deer and elk – This student team is experimenting with drone-technology, thermal imaging and other machine learning devices to help survey populations and distinguish elk from white-tailed deer in southwest Virginia.
2. Surveying peregrine falcons – These students will use drones to survey peregrine falcons at cliff sites in southwest Virginia.
3. Surveying for invasive terrestrial plants – In partnership with the Blue Ridge PRISM, these students aim to protect biodiversity and recreational and economic resources by developing a drone that detects commonly disruptive plants.
4. Digitizing oyster reefs – Using augmented and virtual reality in conjunction with underwater drones, this team will generate digital models of oyster reefs in the Chesapeake Bay to help with restoration efforts.
5. Collecting grassland bird data – In collaboration with the SCBI, these students will use drone footage to locate and quantify grassland bird nest density within the Piedmont region of Virginia.
6. Collecting dung beetle data – This team will use drone technology to learn how dung beetles operate within pastures, as they help reduce parasites and greenhouse gases produced by livestock.
7. Tracking pregnant bears – The VDGIF has tasked this team with tracking the hibernation locations of pregnant bears that have been fitted with GPS collars.
8. Safely darting with drones – This team will work with the SCBI to determine how to safely dart and track animals with drones, which can help treat injured animals and track and protect endangered species.
Join the class’s public group on Facebook as it documents these collaborations to apply unmanned systems technologies to various environmental research projects.
Lakeview Hall, 1150
Drone technology experts Fred Briggs and Bo Pollett Wernick teach students remotely from Nova Labs using Beam® robots and telepresence technology at JMU X-Labs. They provide invaluable support and knowledge to students throughout the semester and are a vital part of the faculty team.
Are you aware of a technology that could transform your industry but you don’t have time to explore it? Does your organization have long–range design problems that you don’t have the resources to solve yourself? What if you could hire graduates who are ready to start working on your top needs from Day One?
JMU X-Labs collaborates with distinguished government and industry organizations that give interdisciplinary student teams real-world experience. We invite industry professionals who are eager to plug into our expanding programs to submit problems to be included in our curriculum and apply to work directly with these exceptional students and faculty.