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Unmanned Systems for Virginia #US4va

A team-taught, multidisciplinary undergraduate course shared by James Madison and Old Dominion universities that explores how unmanned systems can be adapted for ecological research.

Welcome to US4VA


This undergraduate, multidisciplinary, and project-focused course focuses on applying unmanned systems (such as drones) to topics in ecological research. This year, the course has four problem sponsors: the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheres; The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute; Blue Ridge Prism, and the Department of Biology at James Madison University (JMU). The team projects cover topics as diverse as creating the next generation of animal tracking collars to protecting oysters in the Chesapeake Bay.

This website serves as the online archive of the student projects. Visit the project pages by accessing “Teams” in the menu bar above or by clicking on the individual team icons below. Each team page explains their research topic, their research process, and their final deliverables or results.

US4VA is designed, supported, and produced by JMU X-Labs in collaboration with the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Old Dominion University. Read more about the course and the faculty team who worked with the students and problem sponsors.

Problem Sponsors



Slack Messages


Students from two universities and seven disciplines working with a team of faculty and industry experts.


In eleven multidisciplinary teams across two universities, students collaborated with partners from the government, nonprofit, and education sectors to tackle difficult ecological problems using unmanned systems technology such as drones.


These undergraduate, multidisciplinary teams combined rigorous research and sophisticated technologies to solve complex problems on behalf of our problem sponsors.


Click on the icons below to find out more about the teams, their problem sponsors, research process, and solutions.

Tree Line

Developing strategies that help distinguish elk from white-tailed deer with VDGIF.


Working to protect the oysters in Chesapeake Bay alongside JMU’s Dr. Patrice Ludwig.

WASP Aviation

Working to safely tranquilize large animals with the SCBI.

Grassland Birds

Working with the SCBI to protect grassland birds from decline.


Surveying for terrestrial invasive plants alongside Blue Ridge PRISM.

Butterfly Tech

Creating the next generation of animal tracking collars alongside VDGIF.


Helping to provide imaging of shoreline erosion following storms to assist recovery.


Creating new methodologies to track peregrine falcon nests in southwest, VA for VDGIF.


Protecting aquatic vegetation from destruction with JMU professor Dr. Patrice Ludwig.

Alarm Innovations

Using a drone to sway bears from potentially harmful situations with VDGIF.