Development of an Autonomous Unmanned Aerial Vehicle for Aerobiological Sampling
The ability to detect, monitor, and forecast the movement of airborne plant pathogens in agricultural ecosystems is essential for developing rational approaches to managing these habitats. We developed an autonomous (self-controlling) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) platform for aerobiological sampling tens to hundreds of meters above agricultural fields. Autonomous UAVs have the potential to extend the range of aerobiological sampling, improve positional accuracy of sampling paths, and enable coordinated flight with multiple aircraft at different altitudes.
We equipped a Senior Telemaster model airplane with two spore-sampling devices and a MicroPilot autonomous system, and we conducted over 60 autonomous microbe-sampling flights at Virginia Tech's Kentland Farm. To determine the most appropriate sampling path for aerobiological sampling, we explored a variety of different sampling patterns for our autonomous UAVs including multiple GPS waypoints plotted over a variety of spatial scales.
We conducted a total of 25 autonomous aerobiological sampling flights for five different aerobiological sampling patterns. The pattern of a single waypoint exhibited the best flight characteristics with good positional accuracy and standard deviations in altitude from 1.6 to 2.8 meters. The four point pattern configured as a rectangle also demonstrated good flight characteristics and altitude standard deviations from 1.6 to 4.7 meters.