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Researchers hopeful drone pilot program can lead to bigger things

The Department of Defense recently gave more than $900,000 to fund a program that allows Duke Marine Lab to use drones for their work, which includes how our coastlines change and other projects (Duke Marine Lab photo)

Researchers at the Duke Marine Lab believe having an eye in the sky will help them keep an eye on the ground.

The Department of Defense recently gave more than $900,000 to fund a program that allows Duke Marine Lab to use drones for their work, which includes how our coastlines change and other projects. The money for the pilot program will begin coming in May.

"It's a demonstration project at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune," said Tony Rodriguez, a professor. "We're looking at beach erosion there. We're also looking at the Croatan National Forest for fire management."

The money given by the DOD will fund the project for three years, with an end goal of showing the military the benefits of using drones to do this research rather than tradition methods like satellites and manned aircraft.

"Drones are providing a method that is much more efficient, more cost effective and safer to operate in a lot of these areas, especially remote areas," said Justin Ridge, Post Doctoral Associate at Duke Marine Lab.

The benefits of using the drones is they have infrared scanners to map the movement of the shoreline faster than ever before. In the forest, sensors let scientists see through clouds of smoke to help contain spreading wildfires. The lab hopes the military will embrace the new technology at the end of the project.

"We want to have Camp Lejeune environment management personnel feel like they could go out and apply this technology on their own to help solve not just beach erosion but maybe other environmental issues," Ridge said.

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