Use of the “Data Mule” Unmanned Aircraft System to Remotely Download Ground Based Sensor Data on Military Lands

ESTCP 2021 Project of the Year Award for Resource Conservation and Resiliency

Department of Defense (DoD) Integrated Natural Resource Management Plans (INRMP) require installations to monitor and adaptively manage natural resources. The requirement seeks to ensure that installations continue to support the DoD mission.

To meet the monitoring requirements, monitoring sensors are often placed in remote locations associated with the geographic location of key species.  In these cases, the majority of sensor data acquisition, equipment retrieval, and maintenance are done through ground-based methods (e.g., hiking or driving to site locations). These are time-consuming, expose personnel to safety risks (e.g., steep terrain, extreme temperatures), and become costly data retrieval efforts.

RC ESTCP POY 2021 - caption

Take off/landing zone on Point Mugu

David Delaney from the U.S. Army Construction Engineering Research Laboratory of the Engineering Research and Development Center and his team led an ESTCP-funded project that demonstrated the use of a fixed-wing Ready Made RC Anaconda airframe that functions as a Data Mule by wirelessly transferring data from a ground-based camera trap to its onboard data storage device. The Data Mule UAS works by creating a low-cost (i.e., financial and energy requirements) wireless communication link from the Data Mule UAS to the ground-based system attached to the camera traps. The Data Mule UAS flies autonomously on a pre-determined path to the camera traps and circles them while downloading the photos.

The team successfully validated this technology for camera traps at water provisioning sites on the Barry M. Goldwater Range East (BMGR East) in 2019 and for monitoring sensitive nesting bird species on Naval Base Ventura County in 2020. The effectiveness and efficiency of the Data Mule system improves data collection from ground sensors that are more densely positioned on the landscape, allowing the system to collect data more quickly from multiple sensors. The Data Mule system features also make it ideal for frequent data collection.

The results of this project are widely applicable across military facilities where there is a need for alternative cost-effective methods for collecting data from camera traps and other remote ground-based sensors.

For this significant work, David Delaney and his team received the 2021 ESTCP Project of the Year Award for Resource Conservation and Resiliency for their project titled, Use of the “Data Mule” Unmanned Aircraft System to Remotely Download Ground Based Sensor Data on Military Lands.

Project Team:

  • David Delaney –  U.S. Army Construction Engineering Research Laboratory
  • Jean Pan, Ph.D. – NAVFAC EXWC
  • Zane Mountcastle, Mission Mule, LLC​
  • Martin Slosarik, Mission Mule, LLC​
  • Aaron Alvidrez, 56th Range Management Office, Luke Air Force B​ase
  • Martin Ruane, Naval Base Ventura County

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