RTI International, North Carolina State University collaborate on using drones for social science research

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, NC— RTI International and North Carolina State University are partnering to better understand how drones can be used for research, particularly statistical sampling for social science research.

RTI conducted its first research flight at the Federal Aviation Administration approved flight location North West of Raleigh, a drone flight location owned by NC State University and administered by the Next Generation Air Transportation Center.

The project, a collaboration between NCSU and RTI, aims to develop research methods using drones that could be applied to improve survey sampling in developing countries. According to researchers, current sample designs rely on satellite images that often cannot capture detailed enough information in developing countries.

"Satellite images usually only show rooftops, and lack the ability to provide more details necessary for sampling in survey research, especially in developing countries," said Joe Eyerman, Ph.D., director of RTI's Center for Security, Defense, and Safety. "Drones may allow us to have more complete information about where people are living and details about the dwelling unit, including house numbers and signs of occupancy."

RTI researchers will also use the test site to evaluate how drones can be used for public safety research, environmental exposure, public health and disease surveillance, and agricultural research in developing countries.  Additionally, the project team is conducting research into public perceptions, privacy, and safety of drones as they transition into the national airspace.  

"As drones continue to develop, the opportunities for social science research, specifically data collection, will be numerous," Eyerman said. "Drones have the potential to change many things in our daily lives, from understanding disease outbreaks to conducting more efficient search and rescue missions. As this leap forward is made, the FAA and commercial interests will need a greater understanding of the public's perception on drones and obstacles to be overcome. RTI and NC State are advancing the use of drones for research, safely, ethically and in compliance with FAA policy."

"This project is an excellent example of the collaboration potential in the triangle," said Jackie Olich, director of university collaborations at RTI. "NC State University's test site--developed and managed by the Next Generation of Air Transportation Center --obtained a Certificate of Authorization from the FAA to conduct research. This directly benefits NGAT partners such as RTI. Such transformational collaboration accelerates innovation."

RTI is also partnering with the University College Dublin to leverage drone projects started in the United States to advance the understanding of these issues in Europe. The partnership is currently facilitating the development of guidelines for safe and appropriate use that comply with local regulations and national policy. 

 

RTI researcher Joe Eyerman demonstrates one of his drones

Highlights

  • RTI International and North Carolina State University are partnering to better understand how drones can be used for research, particularly statistical sampling for social science research
  • Researchers will also evaluate how drones can be used for public safety research, public health and disease surveillance, and agricultural research in developing countries