VERMILLION, S.D. (KELO) – Drones are becoming more popular — you may have even seen one flying above you, capturing video or taking pictures. Drones can be used in many industries including agriculture, mapping, and much more.

These USD students are about to take a drone out above Spirit Mound near Vermillion.

As part of a demonstration, they will be analyzing everything that grows there.

“We can measure vegetation, health, and characteristics in order to find the crop growth and status,” PhD student department of sustainability, Venkatesh Kolluru said. “Spirit Mound, which has an abundance of invasive species, so we can use those drones to measure the invasive species from previous years and the current year, how they are growing and how they are affecting the native species here.”

The students create a map using software so the drone will have a path to fly.

The drone will then take aerial photos to help them learn more about the plants below.

“We tried to capture the area and predict the plant yield,” PhD student, Khushboo Jain said.

“Very useful in understanding the crop stress, crop health, it has a lot of advantages,” PhD student, Sakshi Saraf said. “It stitches all images, so all the images we are getting, they are separate images, but we stitch them, that’s called processing the data.”

This is just one example of the hands on work the students get to do while working toward earning a geospatial analysis certificate.

This last academic year was the first year that the undergraduate and graduate certificates were offered.

“We have three courses in them, a course in remote sensing, which is about processing and analyzing satellite data, we also have a course in Unmanned Aircraft Systems applications, and we have and introduction to GIS, or geographic information systems,” professor of biology and sustainability at USD, Ranjeet John said.

By earning this certificate, it can prepare students for careers in agriculture, city planning, mapping, and more.

“We hope to increase our course structure as we move forward, bring in more advanced courses and also increase the complexity slowly as more students get enrolled and move through the certificate,” John said.

A way for students to get a birds-eye view of what their future careers could involve.

“It’s nice to be able to fly a drone, the first time it flew it was very exciting, because we had a lot of mishaps before that and we had to figure out what we are doing wrong, so when it flew for the first time it was very exciting,” Jain said.

“It’s something new for us, and very interesting, we are enjoying it,” Saraf said.

15 students started working toward earning their geospatial studies certificate last year, and five of them have already received their drone flying certificate.