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Images: Turning a Toy into a Scientific Tool

Hanumant Singh, an engineer at WHOI, asked Bailey to build the model airplane. Singh had been looking for an inexpensive way to gather aerial images to learn how huge Arctic Ocean ice floes are melting. He also wanted to get a birds’ eye view of the often devastating impacts of hurricanes and other storms on coral reefs. “It’s an opportunity to see the big picture of an ecosystem,” Singh said. (Photo by Chris Linder, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

The model airplane flies in a pre-programmed pattern over a specified area, taking photographs. In this test flight over a wildlife refuge on Cape Cod, the programmed flight is shown as the yellow line and the actual flight is the white line. (Google Maps, Courtesy of John Bailey)

Growing up, Bailey learned about engineering by refurbishing his family's electronics, including his sisters' hair dryers. At WHOI, he took along his wife's hair dryer to warm rubber connectors on "Camper," a deep-sea robot he built for a 2007 research expedition to the Arctic. 
(Photo by Chris Linder, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

The model plane developed by Singh and Bailey will be used in the fall to photograph a coral reef called Cayo Enrique, located southwest of Puerto Rico. The researchers, in collaboration with colleague Roy Armstrong at the University of Puerto Rico, hope to photograph the reef before and after storms to see their impacts on the corals. (Google Maps)

The model airplane, flying at an altitude of 100 feet, will be able to take detailed photos of the coral reef at Cayo Enrique. Unlike traditional higher-flying planes, it can be dispatched more easily and at a fraction of the cost. (Photo courtesy of Roy Armstrong, University of Puerto Rico)