Esri Federal Users Conference (Student Volunteers Needed)

Conference dates:  9-10 Feb 2015; Walter E. Washington Convention Center (Washington, D.C.)

Esri is seeking student volunteers to support its annual Federal GIS Conference and Developer Summit,Washington, DC (DEV DC). You can attend this event for free in exchange for volunteering a day or more of your time.

Take advantage of this opportunity to learn how geospatial technology supports mission-critical activities at agencies across the nation. The Esri Federal GIS Conference and the DEV DC host the largest gathering of federal geospatial leaders, decision makers, and geographic information system (GIS) professionals. Esri® solutions support many disciplines including land and natural resources, health and human services, science and exploration, national security, and global affairs.

Volunteer duties may include

• Greeting and offering assistance to attendees.

• Taking on-site registrations.

• Handing out and collecting surveys.

• Monitoring sessions and counting attendance.

As stated above this is a student program,  if you are interested in participating please send an email request to with your resume attached.  If selected, you will be sent an email confirming your Volunteer status.

Who is Cynthia Brewer? (If you are into maps, you need to know!)

The Cartographer Who’s Transforming Map Design BY   10.20.14

PITTSBURGH—Cindy Brewer seemed to attract a small crowd everywhere she went at a recent cartography conference here. If she sat, students and colleagues milled around, waiting for a chance to talk to her. If she walked, a gaggle of people followed.

Brewer, who chairs the geography program at Penn State, is a popular figure in part because she has devoted much of her career to helping other people make better maps. By bringing research on visual perception to bear on design, Brewer says, cartographers can make maps that are more effective and more intuitive to understand. Many of the same lessons apply equally well to other types of data visualization.

Brewer’s best-known invention is a website called Color Brewer, which helps mapmakers pick a color scheme that’s well-suited for communicating the particular type of data they’re mapping. More recently she’s moved on to other cartographic design dilemmas, from picking fonts to deciding what features should change or disappear as the scale of a map changes (or zooms in and out, as non-cartographers would say). She’s currently helping the U.S. Geological Survey apply the lessons she’s learned from her research to redesign its huge collection of national topographic maps.

Oh no you will not use a rainbow color scheme on your choropleth map. Color Brewer prevents you from making that and other rookie mistakes.

“It’s all about matching perceptual dimensions with data dimensions,” Brewer said when I managed to catch up with her at the annual meeting of the North American Cartographic Information Society.

Brewer has been thinking about these issues since her graduate days at Michigan State. But the idea for Color Brewer grew out of a sabbatical she did with the U.S. Census Bureau, overseeing the atlas that accompanied the 2000 Census. “We were trying to be really systematic with color throughout the atlas,” she said. Other mapmakers liked the color sets they developed and began asking for them, and Brewer set up Color Brewer to make them more readily available.

The site has a simple, intuitive interface that forces you to think first and foremost about what kind of data you are trying to map. Do the values go from low to high, as with population density or temperature? Color Brewer will steer you towards a color scheme that progresses from light to dark. It will not allow you to make therookie mistake of picking a rainbow palette.

If, on the other hand, what’s interesting about your data are the deviations from the mean—as in areas where unemployment is above and below average—Color Brewer will steer you toward a diverging color scheme, with reds at one end, say, and blues at the other. If you’re mapping different categories, such as different religions or ethnicities, Color Brewer will suggest a mix of up to 12 colors that are easy to distinguish. Fewer is usually better. After about seven, Brewer says, it gets really hard to tell them all apart.

You can also toggle buttons to eliminate color schemes that can’t be read by color blind people or ones that don’t photocopy well. Finally, you can see your choices applied to a sample map to check that each of the colors you’ve chosen is easily distinguished from the others.

A big reason people run into trouble with their color schemes, Brewer says, is the way color picking is done in many software programs. Take the RGB cube (or sliders) many programs use to display colors along red, green, and blue axes, for example. “That’s not the least bit perceptually scaled,” Brewer said. “In some parts of the cube a tiny step gives you a huge perceptual difference. In other parts it all looks the same.” If you want to create a series of greens (for instance) that vary from light to dark, but keep the hue and saturation the same (which happens to be a good way to represent sequential data), there’s often no easy and intuitive way to do that.

But some software developers are starting to catch on. Brewer doesn’t keep track, but her color schemes have been embedded in several software packages, including the statistical and graphics program R, and ArcGIS Pro, a new product for professional cartographers from Esri, the dominant producer of mapmaking software.

One page of ScaleMaster.

Color isn’t the only design element that could benefit from this type of standardization. Recently, Brewer has turned her attention to scale. As a map zooms out to cover a larger area, some features need to disappear or change size to keep the map from getting too cluttered. Brewer and colleagues have developed a tool called ScaleMaster to help mapmakers decide which features to include at a given scale, and how to change things like the thickness of lines and the size of symbols and text to keep their maps legible.

So far, it’s just an Excel spreadsheet available on Brewer’s website. “It’s a much rougher tool than ColorBrewer, but if you’re doing multi-scale mapping it’s very useful to keep track of what features should change,” she said.

The same approach could also be applied to fonts. “Fonts are like hues,” Brewer said. “They give a map different looks.” Fonts can make a map look jaunty or serious, for example. They can help emphasize important information. Bad font choices can undermine the map’s intended message. One of Brewer’s PhD students, Elaine Guidero, is investigating what essential characteristics imbue a font with a particular tone, or personality, so to speak.

Brewer’s influence on cartography is far-ranging. Others have imitated her approach, developing a TypeBrewer and a Map Symbol Brewer. She’s seen her color schemes in everything from financial charts to brain imaging studies. “It’s pretty cool when I’m just minding my own business, reading a magazine or paper, and I see one of my color schemes,” she said. She doesn’t collect examples; more often her colleagues send them to her. One Penn State colleague even used ColorBrewer to choose colors for her office. “She picked a nice magenta color sequence,” Brewer said.

Mapping U.S. Agriculture

Note: Professor Lee Ebinger teaches cartography at NOVA.

2012 Ag Census Web Maps tool helps you create a visual overview of data for U.S. farm demographics, economics, crops, and livestock. - See more at:
2012 Ag Census Web Maps tool helps you create a visual overview of data for U.S. farm demographics, economics, crops, and livestock. – See more at:

Agricultural data are valuable for analysis, and thanks to the Census of Agriculture and other surveys, NASS has plenty of data available. As a cartographer, however, I obviously prefer to present the data in map form. A map gives anyone a chance to visualize data for multiple geographic areas as a cohesive image, providing a graphic overview of the agricultural phenomena. It also allows map readers to visually compare regions, and discern patterns and relationships in the data across regions, topics, and time.

When it came to the ag census, for each of the past eight editions, NASS produced an atlas of thematic (statistical) maps illustrating various aspects of U.S. agriculture. While great for their time, with the evolution of digital technology, these paper maps are no longer sufficient on their own. The component missing from them is the data behind the maps, so what better way to depict and also convey a myriad of county-level statistics than through a web map application?

To address this issue, we decided to add a new web tool – Ag Census Web Maps application – which features numerous 2012 Census of Agriculture Atlas maps and also provides access to the data associated with the maps, along with an API for developers. This web map application enables users to interact with the maps – navigate to an area of interest, print a map or save an image of the area, select a county to view and extract its data, and download a spreadsheet containing all of the data for the maps.

There are some caveats, however. The published ag census data are summary statistics (totals), whereas, the maps present ratio values, which are in turn grouped into classes to create a visual representation of significant characteristics of U.S. agriculture. Also, keep in mind that some county data are not available to protect respondents’ confidentiality; however, every county on the map is represented by a class.

So if, like me, you are a visual person, the 2012 Ag Census Web Maps application and accompanying data let you see a complete picture of U.S. agriculture which is not available elsewhere. It is a great resource for exploring agricultural themes and data, and for using the maps and data with other mapping software and web services. And this is just the beginning as we plan on continuing to make new and innovative tools available.

– See more at:

USGIF Young Professionals Group Third Thursday

Make sure to mark your calendar for these unique opportunities to network with your peers, help with the community and learn from senior leaders.

To be added to our YPG distribution list for information on upcoming events and programs, or to send us your ideas, please contact

YPG Third Thursdays

World of Beer
901 N Glebe Rd, Arlington, VA
5:30-7:30 p.m.

Unlike other YPG events, this is more of an informal, drop-in gathering. But it serves as another way for young GEOINT professionals to grow their network by way of good old-fashioned conversation. The YPG will continue this event on the third Thursday of each month. We’ll rotate to various venues in an effort to accommodate a wide range of young professionals. Please feel free to suggest areas or venues where we should go.

Stop by, have a drink and meet some new people!



NOVA’s GIS day will be on Saturday, Nov 22 from 9am – noon at the Reston Center.

NOVA GST department and the ASPRS student chapters from NOVA and GMU are planning a mapathon focusing on food security!  Participants will learn about Open Street Map (OSM), create an account and learn how to make edits.  We will also have a presentation about field papers to get participants excited about contributing to OSM.  Participants will work in NOVA Reston computer labs individually or as a pair on specific tasks adding local information to OSM.  No previous mapping experience is necessary!  The event is open to the public.

GMU’s GIS day will be on Wednesday November 19th from 10 am – 4pm.  Click the link for a full schedule:


Federal User’s Conference and Developer Summit STUDENT ASSISTANTSHIPS

This is a great opportunity and something you could add to your GIS resume:

Esri is seeking student volunteers to support its annual Federal GIS Conference and Developer Summit,

Washington, DC (DEV DC). You can attend this event for free in exchange for volunteering a day or more of your time.

Take advantage of this opportunity to learn how geospatial technology supports mission-critical activities at agencies

across the nation. The Esri Federal GIS Conference and the DEV DC host the largest gathering of federal geospatial

leaders, decision makers, and geographic information system (GIS) professionals. Esri® solutions support many

disciplines including land and natural resources, health and human services, science and exploration, national security,

and global affairs.

Volunteer duties may include

• Greeting and offering assistance to attendees.

• Taking on-site registrations.

• Handing out and collecting surveys.

• Monitoring sessions and counting attendance.

As stated above this is a student program,  if you are interested in participating please send an email request to with your resume attached.  If selected, you will be sent an email confirming your Volunteer status.


Article recommended by one of NOVA’s GST Board Members:

Is GIS splitting? … what the experts think

 by web maps, ArcGIS Online, 1 Comment
Sep 30

I posed the question in a recent blog post: Is GIS splitting?

Are we now looking at a split between traditional GIS and new GIS?

By new GIS I did not mean an offshoot like neogeography. I meant the application of the technology in new industries and use by non-GIS users. This has far reaching implications. Demanding potentially a quite different approach. I received some fascinating feedback by experts in the GIS community on the original post. To each responder I asked whether they would mind my sharing their thoughts with the wider community in this follow up article. Below are some of these responses:

“For its first 25 years or so GIS was in the construction business. It was building homes for applications, tools for businesses, and markets for services. When GIS grew up it became Geospatial Science ready to take on the world with all its new understanding, applications and world wide data resources. Geospatial science has far superseded its adolescence and is now headlong into maturity competing in the information business.”

“Brilliant! I agree and am glad that you have brought up the subject. I’ve noticed this split happening and have been wondering which route to take in regard to my career. I have recently come to the realization that I am stuck between these two worlds – how can I advance as a GIS professional if the organization that I work for does not move forward with the GIS industry? How do I keep the skill set that I have built over the last 14 years relevant?”

“Perhaps, less that the GIS world is splitting than the GIS world beginning to realise spatial’s not the exclusive preserve of traditional Geographic Information Systems?”

“I think your argument sounds familiar, like the “neogeographer” debate from 5-6 years ago. This was when new young people, from outside the industry, developers usually, were whipping out web maps and apps without being grounded in geography and GIS principles and foundations. Some people are calling that “baggage” these days, but it has some use–to keep you from taking inaccurate conclusions from your maps, if nothing else. “

“To some extent I agree with your take and outlook as per split GIS worlds, but let’s not forget GeCo-2014′s slogan…. “Bridging the Divide”. For a GeCo poster presentation I took a very traditional avenue to create a cartographic map product instead of diving into creating a new spatial theory through GIS analysis. However, during the final design phase of my project a voice in my head was telling me to produce it as an all out cloud presentation, ignore the conference presentation rules, then simply tack a QR link onto the presentation easel. That said, I’m a traditionalist within the cartographic arena, though simultaneously am ready to jump all-in to the mobile & cloud GIS arena.
As for the idea of a true split in the GIS industry, I believe that there are three (or more) GIS “worlds”…. old, new, plus a mixed hybrid. Personally, I wouldn’t call it a split, but rather….. evolution.”

“You have some interesting thoughts in your article. I was initially attracted to it because you used the word split, which to me implies that the old and the new have separated and are now distinct. But I believe that there is a nucleus that is holding it all together, and that nucleus is the underlying GIS data. GIS has matured to the point that it is now easier to consume and use GIS data, but the underlying principles haven’t changed. To the contrary, I think GIS is a holistic system that will find more uses with advances in technology.”

“We are in the midst of rethinking our GIS program vision/strategy and are looking at this “new vs old” idea as well. As a GIS professional that is straddling these two worlds, I see lots of opportunity ahead but rocky shores as well. concepts that’s his team has employed: “We can either spin our wheels keeping a tight lid on standards, data, process, tools, etc… and continue to keep all our users at arm’s length within our enterprise, or we can open everything up and take on these new high level roles:
– Provide enabling infrastructure
– Share GIS expertise and education
– Promote GIS capabilities and agility”
Of course, the challenge would be mopping up blunders, mistakes, AGOL over-credit usage, “garbage in garbage out”, etc… The idea is however that it’s better to enable the enterprise and fix up the odd incidents than to manage based on those exceptions and get little done and bring little value to the organization. To me, this is the heart of this “split in GIS”. It is real, it is happening ..”

“I think there will be emphasis in both areas, the traditional GIS and the mobile. Have you ever been in an EOC? or dispatch. Have you ever been trying to see the big picture for a road project.”

“I think your perception of the divide is right on. The opposite ends of the table at the tech panel were significant, neither one better or worse than the other, but completely different. As one of the older traditional GIS people at the conference, I recognize that I need to adapt to the newer ideas about the industry. However, I do think that it applies predominantly to the delivery of the data and not to the creation of the data. There is still the need for people to take on the role of ensuring that each parcel, manhole, geologic unit, survey point, or whatever enters the data repository in a manner that does not degrade the quality of the data and by association the reputation of the industry. Definitely, an easier end user experience is a positive, but without quality data as the input, then we are serving a substandard product to the end users”

“I believe this is more of a cultural split than a technological. Although it may be represented by certain technologies (Esri vs. Google), the dichotomy is more representative of a split between those who produce data and those who (prepare interfaces to) consume it. Certainly “new GIS” (I don’t think most “new” folks even want to associate themselves with “GIS”) has plenty of data production capabilities (eg. ala VGI) and “old GIS” has plenty of consumption faces (eg. ArcGIS Online). But the dichotomy is largely from those whose primary purpose is respectively production or consumption. I don’t believe it is a real split, rather a growing pain. The industry always tries to differentiate internally (hey, that’s the basis of competition), but always ends up unifying over common issues (messaging the importance of geospatial information today to both business and government, etc.”

“Is GIS Splitting? No, but nothing ever stands still and GIS continues to evolve. We are coming from a time where GIS meant GIS specialists, and moving towards a time where GIS encompasses both specialists and a new group of people who understand the power of spatial. This new class of users understand the power of maps and spatial understanding, and are empowered by technology, but they may not know it as GIS.
Technology underpins both of these worlds, and in many ways that technology is the same. But expressed differently. In one case the GIS expert has the ability to fiddle with the dials and knobs to configure for a specific scenario. In the other case the user uses tools that make broader assumptions and give good results but are not scenario specific. Both worlds will continue to evolve and overlap each other. Just because a person is a GIS Expert doesn’t mean that want to understand all the dials and knobs on everything! They are happy to use the ‘easy button’ as well, but they may take it a bit further than just that tool.
A great example of this is map projections. Most people just want a good map projection that looks correct, and if pressed will want something that is appropriate for their data. However some people are experts in map projections and know that to get the best possible use of the map they should use a specific projection or tweak the parameters. We used to believe everyone had to understand map projections at a deep level, but now most people use defaults or use established standards for an area without feeling they have to understand why. (The argument around if someone should use a tool without understanding how it works is broader than GIS, and that same argument has been happening for 100′s of years as technology has progressed.)
That same progression of advancing the science yet also making it easily accessible is happening for data entry, data distribution, and analysis. The experts have a fundamental role in establishing the best use of this wonderful science so we can enable everyone else to be empowered by it. (But without giving them a loaded gun to easily hurt themselves!) The technology will co-evolve from both perspectives helping everyone. New ideas will come from both GIS Experts and this new class of spatial users. And the industry as a whole must listen to both.”

“The split/divide in GIS. I noticed it several years ago…specifically, when attending FOSS4G in Denver (2011). The folks driving the bus are not geographers/GISers. Funny how surveyors thought there was a fight to see who would “Control the GIS?” [cover or Professional Surveyor, 11/1999]. Heck, we didn’t control it then! There was never ‘control.’ But these innovative guys running with geo are fun and interesting (although not easy to have a conversation with). They are tech folks that don’t care about everything I learned as a geographer. What the map ‘looks like’ is of little consequence. The paramount importance is consumption. Thus, consumerization. If the data is consumed by average citizens via web or mobile AND results in an action, the geo-product is a success. Have you ever tried using a ‘print’ function in an app or even Google Maps api?

Q: Who cares about printing?
A: Only the people who have been working here longer than 10 years!

Development driven by consumer…data collection by consumer/user or Google…cartography minimized…analysis done as needed…wither large sections of conventional GIS? Think of all of those undergrads (by the thousands) whose careers begin in a shop digitizing features (street centerlines, building footprints, etc.). What will these new undergrads do now? Ever notice when you try to hire a programmer (GIS)…plenty of “Analysts” apply but VERY few actual programmers? Best advice for undergrad geographers: start with html/css/javascript!
No “Mad Men” today. People do not have secretaries who ‘type things up’ for them. Everyone (even the top dogs) use writing apps (Libre Office plug!). More technical…how many ‘drafter’ positions do you see advertised? Engineers use CAD tools themselves now. Consumers use Weatherbug (or similar) and can interpret radar themselves (just watch parents, smartphones ready, at their kid’s outdoor sporting event when the nasty clouds roll in!). Maps, good/bad/indifferent have been released to the world…time to get working on the ‘integration’ and ‘analytical’ waves for geo data. “

Agree? Disagree? Do you think we need to embrace a new approach to how we discuss, implement, and think about GIS?

We’ve taken a non traditional approach to GIS by building a mobile GIS framework, which simplifies developing GIS apps and integrating GIS with existing systems and platforms.

Let me know your thoughts at

Given the response to the original post: Is GIS Splitting, we have created an additional post of opinions and thoughts:Is GIS splitting? … what the experts think Part 2

Continue reading IS GIS SPLITTING?

GIS Health News Weekly: Deadly Disease Infographic, Duke Geomedicine Summit, Tracking Ebola by Cell Phone  17 Oct 2014


Deadly Disease Interactive

The Daily Mail‘s interactive piece looks at the world’s deadlist outbreaks, as well as history’s most dangerous diseases.

Ebola Tracking Via Cell Phone

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is tracking the approximate locations of cell phone users in West Africa who dial emergency call centers in an effort to predict the onset and spread of Ebola outbreaks.

“The data is just the number of calls by cell tower but from that you can get a rough idea of the area that the calls are coming in from, and then derive census, neighborhood data from that,” CDC spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund told Nextgov on Thursday.

There’s also discussion of Esri’s participation in the ebola response effort in the Mashable piece.

Is Geomedicine Reaching a Tipping Point?
While other industries have leveraged geospatial data, healthcare has yet to embrace the power of geospatial information systems (GIS) and analytics to improve outcomes, quality, access to care, and lower costs.
That’s the word from participants at Duke’s Geomedicine Summit held Oct 13-14. Participants argue the technology has reached a tipping point of interest, but major barriers remain. So, clearly there is room for expansion (Esri and Cerner were sponsors). Most interestingly, one challenge is simply capturing and geocoding current and past addresses of patients in their medical records. Said another way, there are still challenges put dots on a map!
There’s more from the event on ebola, courtesy of Chris Woods, M.D., with the Duke Global Health Institute noted here.

Silk Maps Ebola

 Data publishing platform Silk has created an interactive infographic database that can instantly show all the information you’d ever want to know about the Ebola outbreaks on the world map, from new deaths to suspected cases, as well as historical data about outbreaks of the virus.

The Ebola Outbreaks database is constantly being updated using latest information from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and is free for anyone to access, search for information, and share or embed the graphic.

Here’s the map. There are filters, too, which I found confusing. First you select a collection, then a filter. No collection selected? No data appears. Perhaps one should be selected by default? And, no I’d never heard of Silk before, either. Sadly, one way to show off your visualization tools is during a health crisis. That was true with Avian Flu, too.

Nature on Ebola

Nature has a two page PDF map and infographic on Ebola. Have any educators (geo or otherwise) put together lesson plans on the topic? (Via @dianamaps)

Direct Relief Helps Fund Community Health Workers with a Map

What is the One Million Community Health Workers Campaign?

The One Million Community Health Workers (1mCHW) Campaign promotes the effective use of community health workers in achieving universal health coverage, and works to increase knowledge about the importance of CHWs in the post-2015 development agenda. As part of this advocacy, the Campaign urges financing organizations to support CHWs, and tries to motivate countries to demand this support from donors.

Here’s the”>map where you can add data and explore patterns (from Direct Relief and Esri). And here’s the”>Q&A about how the map was made and updates.

Fusion of Manned and Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) Breakthrough on California’s Largest 2014 Wildfire Thursday, October 16th 2014


October 15, 2014. SkyIMD combined UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) and manned aircraft technologies on the Happy Camp Complex wildfire to reduce workloads and increase team effectiveness in ways previously not possible. SkyIMD installed a lightweight UAV gimbal on a normal manned Air Attack aircraft.

Live in the cockpit, wildfire visualization (see video) provided: 1) Instant situational awareness of fire lines and mountains through smoke blocked skies 2) Video recording, mapping retardant drops, and live automatic tracking of firefighting aircraft 3) Retardant coverage level analysis discovering creeping fire threads through firebreaks 4) Over-the-Air (OTA) update of current fire maps onto the split screen moving map 5) Low latency ground operation over self-healing microwave automatic mesh network and the internet 6) Multi-hop 20 Mb mesh covered the whole fire, with single node distance of 28 miles Remote control of airborne stabilized camera EO/IR (Electro Optical/Infrared) gimbals designed for UAVs is available through SkyIMD SkyFusion Pak for fixed wing, rotorcraft, and UAVs. Systems support fully automated 3D geo-tracking of static locations or GIS (Geographic Information System) fire lines comprising of thousands of points.

Advanced object recognition provides hands-off following of aircraft and vehicles. Satellite and 3G connectivity delivers streaming video or snapshots over the internet to any iPhone, Android, or computer. “Infrared stops fire from hiding in its own smokescreen,” says Hart Drobish (President of Courtney Aviation, the Air Attack Operator). “SkyIMD makes an extremely sophisticated tool intuitive for first time users. Without training Air Attacks see through smoke. Zoomed in, IR identifies fire creeping through retardant that is too late once visible to the naked eye.” Hart is developing IR solutions on multiple platforms to extend coverage. The Planning Section Chief responsible for intelligence, strategy, and objectives at the Incident Command Post (ICP) operated the FLIR infrared sensor when the cockpit crew was busy managing airspace. The Chief of the Happy Camp Complex fire could click the fire map or touch the live video to “walk around” deep in the burn.

The new spot fires discovered were then verified by the aircrew. Using the same remote control, SkyIMD in San Francisco interactively trained the Chief who had never before operated an EO/IR superzoom gimbal. The easy interface took only a few minutes to learn and become a valuable asset. “Seeing through the smoke is indispensable,” says Air Attack Dick Stiliha (ATGS, Air Tactical Group Supervisor). “I hope to never be without infrared again. Sharing live video with ICP was very beneficial. Equally valuable, recorded video was used for daily post mission debrief to improve tanker pilot’s effectiveness and safety.”

“The only growing-pain with remote controlling the airborne infrared was that so many people wanted to use it,” says Henri Wolf (SkyIMD CTO and former wildfire tanker pilot). “Since drones are not currently approved for wildfires, some aerial firefighters would like to use the same cameras on a manned-drone parked out of the way, above the congested fire attack altitudes. A ground operated gimbal flown solo, a manned UAV, will provide all the benefits of a UAS, extending ICP’s vision while relieving workload, and has the potential to evolve into an unmanned aircraft in the future.“ SkyIMD and Courtney Aviation are developing techniques to use UAV technology in manned aircraft, as well as to fly active missions collaboratively. Manned UAVs naturally handle the airspace above UAVs (400 ft. altitude ceiling), and below satellites (orbiting at 22,000 miles). Development is in progress to share airspace symbiotically, enabling both manned and unmanned to perform in ways not possible separately.

SkyIMD will exhibit and demo manned UAVs, also known as surrogate drones, at the ASPRS UAV symposium in Reno, NV on October 21 and 22. In an adjoining meeting, the US Forest Service and NASA Tactical Fire Remote Sensing Advisory Committee (TFRSAC) have requested SkyIMD to present the Happy Camp success, and investigate standardizing operational procedures.

Drones Are Taking Pictures That Could Demystify A Malaria Surge  by NSIKAN AKPAN October 22, 2014 4:38 PM ET

Courtesy of Trends in Parasitology, Fornace et al
Courtesy of Trends in Parasitology, Fornace et al

Aerial drones are targeting a new enemy: malaria.

Four hundred feet above a Malaysian forest, a three-foot eBee drone hovers and takes pictures with a 16-megapixel camera every 10 to 20 seconds. But it’s not gathering images of the mosquitoes that transmit malaria. Even today’s best drones aren’t capable of such a photographic marvel. Rather, the drone is looking at a changing landscape that holds clues to the disease’s spread.

The malaria drone mission, described in a study published Oct. 22 in Trends in Parasitology, began in December 2013, when UK scientists decided to track a rare strain of the mosquito-borne disease that has surged near Southeast Asian cities. Understanding deforestation may be the key in seeing how this kind of malaria, known as Plasmodium knowlesi, is transmitted.

The mosquitoes that carry P. knowlesi are forest dwellers. The insects breed in cool pools of water under the forest canopy and sap blood from macaque monkeys that harbor the malaria parasite.

In Sabah, Malaysia, human cases of this kind of malaria didn’t surface until about 10 years ago, says infectious disease specialist Kimberly Fornace of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. She is leading the drone study.

While cases of the most common malaria strains have steadily dropped during this time, P. knowlesi has thrived. It’s now the number-one cause of malaria in the region. Fornace and her team suspect that human intrusion into forested areas has created more opportunities for the disease to pass between primates and humans via mosquitoes. The drone imagery they’ve collected so far suggests there were occasions where land development forced macaques within closer proximity of humans, who then developed malaria.

As part of a project called MONKEYBAR, the team tracks outbreaks by comparing the drone’s land surveillance with hospital records of malaria cases. Meanwhile, a local wildlife commission has fitted macaques with GPS collars, which let scientists monitor the locations of monkey troops. Together, this information paints a public health map that explains how land development has influenced monkey movements — and transmission of malaria to humans. In partnership with Conservation Drones, an organization that builds drones for under $1,000, Fornace and her team plan to build a drone that snaps thermal images of macaques, so the monkeys can someday be identified without GPS collars.

The map above combines drone images with yellow dots that track the movement of macaques as determined by a GPS collar. The red dot indicates a human case of malaria, which can spread from macaques via mosquitoes.

Courtesy of Trends in Parasitology, Fornace et al

Drones provide a better surveillance picture than satellite images, which are the current standard for mapping environmental changes. But Google Earth images, for example, are only updated every few weeks or months, says parasitologist Chris Drakeley of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who coauthored the Trends in Parasitology study with Fornace. Drones, he says, can provide a more comprehensive, continuous picture: “We avoid cloud cover and can see what the land use was like today, next week and the week after.”

The public health implications of drone use extend far beyond malaria, says Harvard epidemiologist Nathan Eagle. Doctors have already used unmanned aircraft to carry medical supplies between rural clinics in South Africa and Haiti. Humanitarian drones also tracked property damage and hunted for survivors after Typhoon Haiyan. And when a disease like Ebola surfaces, a drone could scan for changes in bats’ habitats, given that the winged mammals are proposed carriers of the hemorrhagic fever. The prices of these drones are dropping while their specs — flight performance and cameras — are improving, says Eagle. All of which means in a few years, a series of very inexpensive aerial vehicles will exist for wider use in public health research.