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How drones are helping save California’s troubled sequoia trees

Drones are continuing to show their worth in a range of ways that few could’ve imagined when the remotely controlled flying machines started to become more affordable a few years back.

Some commercial uses were obvious in the beginning, with, say, filmmakers quick to jump on board, the camera-equipped birds noted for their ability to produce spectacular aerial shots at a fraction of the cost of renting a helicopter.

And after the Federal Aviation Administration showed a greater willingness to embrace the technology earlier this year with the launch of new drone rules for commercial operators, more industries are now discovering how the technology can work for them.

Take ecologist Todd Dawson of the University of California, Berkeley. He’s been working with drone firm Parrot and aerial mapping specialist Pix4D to design a supremely efficient method of monitoring the health of California’s majestic sequoia trees, which are among the largest on the planet.

The Golden State has lost more than 100 million trees to drought in the last six years or so, and scientists are understandably concerned about what effect the challenging conditions are having on the sequoias.

Up until recently, researchers have had to climb the giant trees to gather data on their health and overall condition, a time-consuming and sometimes dangerous activity. But thanks to Parrot and Pix4D, many of these tasks can now be carried out by a camera-equipped Bebop 2 quadcopter, saving the team time and offering an entirely new close-up perspective on the forest below.

In addition, using different kinds of camera provides the team with a ton of information-packed imagery containing details invisible to the naked eye, such as how much light is being absorbed by the trees and how much is reflected, while Pix4D’s expertise helps to compile detailed maps of the areas of interest.

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“Drones, with their new on-board sensor packages, are powerful new tools that will allow us to look very closely at single trees but then really pull back and look at how an entire forest is responding too, in both time and over space,” Dawson explained, adding that the new technology allows his team to “scale that information in a much more significant way that we’ve ever been able to do.”

You can learn more about the project, and about how drone technology is helping with the monitoring of California’s forests, in the video above.