Agricultural Research Service Drone Documents

Drone Watch filed this request with the Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service of the United States of America.
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From: Drone Watch

To Whom It May Concern:

This is a request under the Freedom of Information Act. I hereby request the following records:

1. any requests for proposals, proposals submitted by vendors, contracts, budgets or cost allocations for the purchase and/or use of aerial drones, UAs, UAVs, and UASs (hereinafter “drones”);

2. any policies, guidelines, manuals and/or instructions on department use of drones, including on the legal process required (such as a warrant or court order), if any, before operating a drone;

3. any departmental records concerning this department’s use of drones now or plans to use drones in the future including:

a. the types of investigations or instances in which this department is using or plans to use drones, or how it plans to support, manage or oversee the usage of drones by another department or office;

b. policies, guidelines, manuals and/or instructions on storage requirements or procedures for video or static images obtained through use of drones, including retention times;

c. the altitude at which drones can or do fly;

d. drones’ ability to carry weapons.

I also request that, if appropriate, fees be waived as I believe this request is in the public interest. The requested documents will be made available to the general public free of charge as part of the public information service at MuckRock.com, processed by a representative of the news media/press and is made in the process of news gathering and not for commercial usage.

In the event that fees cannot be waived, I would be grateful if you would inform me of the total charges in advance of fulfilling my request. I would prefer the request filled electronically, by e-mail attachment if available or CD-ROM if not.

Thank you in advance for your anticipated cooperation in this matter. I look forward to receiving your response to this request within 20 business days, as the statute requires.

Sincerely,

Shawn Musgrave

From: Hutchison, Stasia

Shawn Musgrave

MuckRock News

This is in response to your Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for documents maintained by the Agricultural Research Service concerning drones. Your request was received in this office on August 17, 2012, and assigned FOIA No. 2012-REE-3336-F with an estimated response date of September 17, 2012.

Specifically, you requested:

1. any requests for proposals, proposals submitted by vendors, contracts, budgets or cost allocations for the purchase and/or use of aerial drones, UAs, UAVs, and UASs (hereinafter “drones”);

2. any policies, guidelines, manuals and/or instructions on department use of drones, including on the legal process required (such as a warrant or court order), if any, before operating a drone;

3. any departmental records concerning this department’s use of drones now or plans to use drones in the future including:

a. the types of investigations or instances in which this department is using or plans to use drones, or how it plans to support, manage or oversee the usage of drones by another department or office;

b. policies, guidelines, manuals and/or instructions on storage requirements or procedures for video or static images obtained through use of drones, including retention times;

c. the altitude at which drones can or do fly;

d. drones’ ability to carry weapons.

I have some questions concerning the information listed in your request. Please give me a call at 301-504-1655.

Please note that Valerie Herberger no longer works in this office.

Sincerely,

Stasia Hutchison

Stasia Hutchison

FOIA/PA Office, REE, USDA

From: Hutchison, Stasia

Shawn Musgrave
MuckRock News

This is in response to your Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for documents maintained by the Agricultural Research Service concerning Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). Your request was received in this office on August 17, 2012, and assigned FOIA No. 2012-REE-3336-F with an estimated response date of September 17, 2012.

The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) is the USDA’s chief scientific in-house research agency. ARS conducts research to develop and transfer solutions to agricultural problems of high national priority and provide information access and dissemination to ensure high-quality, safe food, and other agricultural products, assess the nutritional needs of Americans, sustain a competitive agricultural economy, enhance the natural resource base and the environment, and provide economic opportunities for rural citizens, communities, and society as a whole.

ARS operates Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) at the following locations:

Jornada Experimental Range, Las Cruces, NM
Water Management Unit, Parlier, CA
Crop Production Systems Research Unit, Stoneville, MS
Aerial Application Technology Group, College Station, Texas

These UAVs are used for agricultural research and are not designed to carry weapons. Attached are the purchase documents for the UAVs purchased by the Water Management Unit, Crop Production Systems Research Unit, and Aerial Application Technology Group. ARS has not issued any formal policies, guidelines, manuals, and/or instructions on the use of UAVs. If a Certificate of Authorization (COA) application is required by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), ARS follows the FAA regulations, which can be found at http://www.faa.gov/about/initiatives/uas/cert/.

The Jornada Experimental Range operates a small UAV for research purposes on the Jornada. The UAV operates on USDA ARS land in southern New Mexico and is used solely for monitoring and assessment of land health, which is further described on our website at http://jornada.nmsu.edu. All images taken are stored and treated as data. The data management policies are also described on this website. Videos of the UAV in operation mode can be viewed at: http://jornada.nmsu.edu/monit-assess/uas/videos. This UAV is operated under a COA filed with the FAA through New Mexico State University's Physical Sciences Laboratory. The UAV can fly up to 10,000 feet above ground level, but it is operated at an altitude of 700 feet given the focus of the research on sensing ground based attributes.

The Water Management Unit purchased a UAV, Leptron Avenger model from Leptron Industrial Robotic Helicopters, Inc., for use in a water management study to determine the effect of water stress on plant growth and sugar development of sugar cane. The unit will be equipped with a Tetracam multispectral camera that will be used to determine plant shaded area and a Movitherm FLIR camera that will be used to determine plant water stress from the thermal images. The height of operation will be determined by the view angle of the cameras and will generally be less than 200 feet above the crop canopy. Data from this research project will be combined with ground based plant measurements for use in the ALMANAC and SWAT models that are being developed for water management of sugarcane. The UAV will be flown on sugarcane research plots located on Maui and then on tree fruit and grass crops located throughout the continental US. All images will be of crops. Individual images may be used as part of reports, presentations, and scientific publications. The operation requires a COA certification from the FAA for operation. Personnel from the Water Management Unit are currently testing the equipment and preparing for the required training and operation of the UAV.

The Crop Production Systems Research Unit, Stoneville, MS, operates a parafoil winged UAV for acquisition of crop images as part of our research program. The UAV is used to take images of the crop fields to determine areas that are diseased or nutrient deficient. The altitude for operation of this UAV is typically 200 - 400 feet.

The Aerial Application Technology group (Areawide Pest Management Unit in College Station, TX) owns two small UAV helicopters (Rotomotion Model SR20 and SR200, images can be found at http://www.rotomotion.com/r_main_products.html). However, both units are non operational due to some mechanical and software issues which we are trying to resolve with the manufacturer. If ARS is able to get the helicopters operational, the plan is to put multispectral cameras on the helicopters to take pictures of fields and assess crop conditions based on the spectral data from the cameras. The helicopters would be driven to the location where they would hover above the field to take the images. The altitude for operation of these UAVs is no higher than 500 ft.

If you have any questions concerning your request, please contact this office at 301-504-1655 or via email at stasia.hutchison@ars.usda.gov<mailto:stasia.hutchison@ars.usda.gov>.

Sincerely,

Stasia Hutchison

Stasia Hutchison
FOIA/PA Office, REE, USDA
5601 Sunnyside Avenue
GWCC, Room 1-2248, Mail Stop 5128
Beltsville, MD 20705-5128
stasia.hutchison@ars.usda.gov<mailto:stasia.hutchison@ars.usda.gov>
301-504-1655 Telephone; 301-504-1647 Fax
www.ars.usda.gov/Services/docs.htm?docid=1398<http://www.ars.usda.gov/Services/docs.htm?docid=1398>

This electronic message contains information generated by the USDA solely for the intended recipients. Any unauthorized interception of this message or the use or disclosure of the information it contains may violate the law and subject the violator to civil or criminal penalties. If you believe you have received this message in error, please notify the sender and delete the email immediately.

From: Hutchison, Stasia

Shawn Musgrave
MuckRock News

This is in further response to your Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for documents maintained by the Agricultural Research Service concerning Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). Your request was received in this office on August 17, 2012, and assigned FOIA No. 2012-REE-3336-F with an estimated response date of September 17, 2012.

Attached is the purchase document for the UAV purchased by the Jornada Experimental Range, Las Cruces, NM. The purchase documents for the other UAVs purchased by ARS were provided to you on September 17.

If you have any questions concerning your request, please contact this office at 301-504-1655 or via email at stasia.hutchison@ars.usda.gov<mailto:stasia.hutchison@ars.usda.gov>.

Sincerely,

Stasia Hutchison

Stasia Hutchison
FOIA/PA Office, REE, USDA
5601 Sunnyside Avenue
GWCC, Room 1-2248, Mail Stop 5128
Beltsville, MD 20705-5128
stasia.hutchison@ars.usda.gov<mailto:stasia.hutchison@ars.usda.gov>

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