MREC Faculty Explore Using Small Unmanned Aerial Systems to Save Water

Fletcher prepares the sUAS for flight on an Osceola County sod farm

Whether for hobby photography or checking out slope conditions, the uses for small unmanned aerial systems, or sUAS-mounted cameras, are endless. But what about taking the many uses for sUAS-mounted technology and applying it to help conserve water? That’s what MREC faculty member Jim Fletcher, a regional specialized water resources agent, has done.

Using mapping software and specialized cameras, researchers can see inch-by-inch views of fields and monitor soil moisture levels. By monitoring soil moisture levels, farmers will be able to better manage irrigation and save more water. This precision-oriented approach would show farmers which areas of their crop need to be watered and which do not, saving millions of gallons of water annually.

Fletcher has been working with growers from Orange and Osceola counties, as well as with the UF/IFAS Hastings Agricultural Extension Center, to demonstrate and test his technology. Fletcher hopes that sUAS-mounted cameras become a widely-utilized resource in the agricultural industry as a way to conserve water.

In addition to working with growers throughout Central Florida, Fletcher has also been educating water management districts and utility companies on how to use sUAS-mounted cameras for water conservation. Using sUAS-mounted technology would give utility companies much easier ways to check for underground leaks, monitor and amend irrigation regulations and save their customers water and money.

Toho Water Authority team members practice flying the sUAS-mounted cameras around MREC

Toho Water Authority team members observe sUAS-mounted cameras in action at MREC

Last week staff from the Toho Water Authority visited MREC to learn about the potential uses of sUAS-mounted cameras for water conservation. The Toho Water Authority is the largest provider of water, wastewater and reclaimed water services in Osceola County, serving over 97,000 water customers.

“Using this technology, we could detect line leaks we would never otherwise see,” Maria Rios, Toho Water Authority information technology manager.

Whether using sUAS-mounted cameras to check for underground line leaks or monitor field water utilization, it’s clear that when it comes to conserving water make sure to keep an eye in the sky.

Toho Water Authority team members and learn how to control sUAS-mounted technology and view live images using the controller

One of Fletcher’s sUAS cameras prepares for flight on an Osceola County sod farm

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