DAYTONA BEACH, Fla — To prepare future pilots, one Florida school is putting drone technology to good use.

Embry-Riddle University is preparing pilots not only to fly planes, but also to fly unmanned aircraft from the ground. These future drone pilots are getting their flight training by tracking elusive sea creatures over the Florida waters.

The engineering students have been running some unique drone missions along the coast of Ormond Beach, Florida. They are part of an unmanned aircraft systems program at Embry-Riddle. The mission the team is searching for is Right Whales.

What You Need To Know

  • There are about 350 known right whales left in the wild

  • Right whales can live to around 70 years old

  • Right whales are primarily found in the Atlantic coastal waters including Florida

  • Threats to the animals include fishing nets, vessel strikes and climate change

​The students remain on the ground while the drone takes to the sky in search of whales.

Graduate student Imai Bates-Domingo said tracking the whales is important.   

“We want to use this research to basically give to Northrop Grumman and Brevard Zoo and all these other entities that are helping to preserve and are basically helping to save the whales and turtles,” said Bates-Domingo.

Professor Dan Macchiarella of Embry-Riddle said sometimes they can’t find the whales, but the high-tech drones really help their efforts.

“We fly it over the water. It snaps pictures and then the AI or neuro network analyzes the pictures and looks for whatever our target might be. For today’s operation, our target is the Atlantic Right Whale,” said Macchiarella.

The drone technology the team is using can distinguish between different animal species. It allows the pilot on the ground know if it’s over a Right Whale, or dolphins or even sea turtles.