A harmonious career takes off – with drones adding lift


How do you map invasive plants in inaccessible terrain? Two years ago, a Serbian student got involved in the COST Action HARMONIOUS training school to learn about unmanned aerial systems (UAS) as a way to advance his work. Now, he is lead author of a guide for their use in environmental monitoring.

When a COST Action on the harmonisation of UAS techniques for agricultural and natural ecosystems monitoring (HARMONIOUS) started in October 2017, Goran Tmušić of the University of Novi Sad’s Department of Biology and Ecology decided to seize the opportunity.

goran tmusci cost action harmonious

Above: Goran Tmušić 

From an initial e-mail to the Action Chair, his involvement quickly developed into a role at the heart of the Action. Participation in a training school in September 2018 was a first milestone in this journey, Tmušić notes.

The course, held in Reykjavik, brought together 18 trainees and 8 experts from around Europe for a full week of activities dedicated to UAS techniques for the acquisition and pre-processing of data. Along with a theoretical introduction to the monitoring of vegetation and soil, it provided opportunities to gain practical experience through field experiments.

“The training school showed me how much there was to learn,” he says. “To use this tool correctly, you need to be familiar with many things I knew nothing about. I am a botanist, and I found myself dealing with drones using different types of sensors, different global navigation systems, etc.”

How to use your UAS

His curiosity piqued, Tmušić set out to address the gaps in his understanding. During a short-term scientific mission to Italy in February 2019, he conducted a review of literature on the technology’s use in vegetation surveys to produce an initial protocol. On the strength of this, he was invited to contribute to developing a first HARMONIOUS guideline on UAS in environmental monitoring.

As of December 2019, the paper – listing him as first author – is nearing completion. It will provide a framework for subsequent guidelines to be produced by HARMONIOUS, which will adapt the general recommendations to specific fields of study.

Dizzying heights

Harmonisation is needed to show how UAS technology can be used to best effect and unlock its full potential in environmental monitoring, Tmušić points out. “We are hoping to produce comprehensive guidance for all areas covered by the Action, so that other researchers won’t find themselves in a fog the way I did.”

Being encouraged to play a central role in this process is an unexpected privilege for a beginner, says Tmušić, who is due to complete his PhD in 2021. It is also placing him in a better position to transfer UAS know-how to his home country, where it is currently in short supply.

“I would advise all young researchers to participate in COST,” Tmušić concludes. “It’s a great opportunity to connect with scientists at all levels of expertise, from Europe and beyond, and build a strong network of people with a well-established tradition of working together.”

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This story was featured in our 2019 Annual Report, ‘Brain circulation and empowering young researchers’