Drones are suddenly everywhere — gathering crop data, monitoring air pollution, helping with search-and-rescue missions and even taking “drone selfies.”
But the increase of data collection by drones, as well as by manned aircraft and satellites with advanced digital sensors, creates a need for experts who can interpret and apply the rapidly expanding data and images generated by them.
To fill that need, a new online graduate certificate program in remote sensing and earth observation is being offered by the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences through Penn State World Campus. Students will learn to use remote sensing imagery and terrain data and how to understand and analyze these data.
The 12-credit program is aimed primarily at professionals with some experience in geospatial intelligence, said lead instructor Karen Schuckman.
Evolution of the technology — in particular UAS, lidar, IFSAR, hyperspectral, and multispectral sensors — has led to an explosion of new applications in just the past year or so, Schuckman said. “There are a million different ways to use remote sensing data to solve challenging problems that face us in today’s world, be they sustainability, security, food production or even recreation.”
Drones can gather information from locations that are inaccessible or hazardous to humans and operate much closer to the ground than satellites. There is growing interest in the private sector in the use of drones and drone imagery that can be used for tasks such as documenting deforestation or detecting flood hazards.
But Schuckman cautioned that it’s easy to arrive at the wrong answer or even to ask the wrong questions if you don’t fully understand the data you’re working with. “Choosing the right data for a particular problem requires really understanding how the sensors work,” she said. “You can’t just push a button and get a meaningful, valid result.”
Penn State also offers an online master of geographic information systems through World Campus. The University has been recognized by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency as a Center of Academic Excellence in Geospatial Sciences.