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Drone inspects world’s largest tree

by Marco van der Hoeven

The US National Park Service, Giant Sequoia Lands Coalition, and other organizations coordinated an unprecedented health assessment of General Sherman, the world’s largest known living tree, located in Sequoia National Park. This initiative marked the first use of an industrial-grade drone for such an inspection.

Volunteers employed various methods to evaluate the tree, including rope scaling and satellite imagery. However, the highlight of this operation was the deployment of Freefly’s Astro Prime drone. This model, compliant with the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and approved by Blue UAS, brought advanced technology to the forefront of conservation efforts. The drone’s capabilities included a Lidar scanner and an HD video camera, which facilitated a thorough and rapid examination of the 275-foot-tall sequoia, estimated to be over 2,200 years old.

The primary focus of the inspection was to identify any signs of damage caused by a native bark beetle, a threat exacerbated by climate change and prolonged drought. The Astro Prime drone proved particularly effective in this regard, utilizing Doodle Labs mesh rider radios to ensure a resilient data link and maintain connectivity in the off-grid environment. This technology enabled the reliable transmission of high-bandwidth data back to ground teams.

The success of this drone-based inspection demonstrates significant potential for future applications. The US Forest Service and other Department of Interior groups may find the Astro Prime drone valuable for ongoing land mapping and inspection tasks. Its advanced capabilities promise to expedite processes that were previously manual, making them faster, safer, and more efficient. This marks a pivotal moment in the integration of commercial drone technology into environmental conservation and management practices.

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