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John Bluck                                                                                          July 30, 2002

NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.                                       

Phone: 650/604-5026 or 650/604-9000                                                         


Angela Bazydlo

Clark University, Worcester, Mass.

Phone: 508/793-7635




NASA and Clark University are developing a system to train students to plan and conduct missions by remotely controlled aircraft capable of taking aerial images of natural disasters, crops and even of Mars and other planets.

NASA anticipates that as the use of remotely piloted, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) expands, specialists must be trained to support aerial missions expected to generate large numbers of pictures taken with on-board, high-resolution digital imaging systems. Future missions may include imaging flights that would help firefighters, disaster relief workers and farmers.

“The primary thrusts of this new educational program are to train people who can develop UAV technology, plan missions, conduct them and accurately and quickly interpret the real-time digital images acquired,” said Dr. Stanley Herwitz, professor of Earth science at Clark University, Worcester, Mass. Herwitz serves as a UAV principal investigator and leads a team of more than 20 researchers at NASA Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. “New technology is now being developed that will produce an astonishing number of aerial images taken from UAVs capable of long duration flight.”

Specific activities will include planning future UAV image acquisition campaigns; developing procedures for operating UAVs in Federal Aviation Administration-controlled airspace; testing and evaluating high-resolution imaging systems; testing real-time telemetry systems for payload control and data transfer; evaluating data acquisition and control systems for real-time applications; developing and packaging automated image processing streams; integrating imaging payloads onto UAVs; and implementing educational research opportunities for university students.

“More trained people are needed to evaluate aerial images so they will be available on a timely basis,” he said. “These pictures will have to be studied by specialists in order to be useful during disasters, at harvest time and in other time-critical situations.”

An Ames-based research team led by Herwitz is conducting the $3.76 million project for NASA’s UAV Science Demonstration Program. The effort will provide the first-ever commercial demonstration test of a solar-powered UAV operating in national airspace this fall over the largest coffee plantation in the United States. In addition, Herwitz spearheaded the formation of a center at NASA Research Park adjacent to NASA Ames to conduct collaborative UAV research and development as well as educate students.

During a ceremony in May at NASA Ames, officials from Ames, NASA Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif., Clark University and the Girvan Institute, a non-profit organization located in NASA Research Park, signed an agreement to establish the UAV Applications Center in NASA Research Park. The charter of the new center is to conduct collaborative research and development, leading to enhanced scientific and commercial utilization of UAVs as high-resolution imaging platforms in national airspace.

“Formation of the UAV Applications Center has led to the development of an innovative educational program that will provide a trained workforce with skills in UAV mission planning, geographic information systems (GIS) and digital image analysis,” Herwitz said. “The nature of our current UAV coffee project, using an environmentally friendly, solar-powered aircraft, has an inspiring effect on students because it is so futuristic.”

“I think it’s a really exciting opportunity because of the new technology,” said Deborah Parker, a graduate student studying GIS at Clark, who will be the first student to arrive for UAV training at Ames in September. “Emergency management and fire response is important, particularly this year with all the wildfires. It seems if you had a UAV flying up there, you could watch for advancing fire fronts, respond quicker and target your response.”

“Long-duration solar-powered aircraft, able to fly for many days without landing, will develop in the future, and these students will have an opportunity to be actively involved in the early stages,” said Herwitz. Initially, he plans to develop classes in UAV technology and aerial image analysis using a videoconference system that will connect university students with the new UAV Applications Center.

“The program will produce a significant return on investment,” Herwitz said. “Its benefits may include such things as protecting the environment and natural disaster response and mitigation. We are also inspiring the next generation by involving them in the future of UAVs.”

The first demonstration site will be the largest coffee plantation in the U.S., located on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. The project will use a lightweight solar-powered flying wing called the Pathfinder Plus, developed for NASA Dryden Flight Research Center with AeroVironment, Inc., Monrovia, Calif.

Visit for details about the UAV Coffee Project. Future demonstrations will be conducted to show the utility of UAVs for high-resolution imaging systems in situations where timely aerial imagery is needed on the ground.

Further information about Clark is available at:

For information about the NASA Research Park, please see the project Web site:

Publication-size images of the signing ceremony and UAV Coffee Project are available at:



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