UgCS toolset for LIDAR mission planning by SPH Engineering was used to recover the history of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities

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UgCS: Flight Planning & Control
February 24, 2023

We interviewed Shellie Baxter, the founder of Our Genetic Legacy, and discussed the use of LiDAR technology by SPH Engineering to uncover and share the history of underrepresented communities. Her year-long program for girls focuses on recovering the history of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities.

During the interview, Baxter highlighted the significance of diversity and inclusion in the technology and drone industries and emphasized how innovation can promote social justice and equality.

How did you become interested in using LiDAR technology?

Much of the history of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) is hidden beneath trees and overgrowth in both rural and city environments. LiDAR provides an opportunity to recover and share the history of these spaces.

Can you tell us about the goals and objectives of your year-long program for girls?

Girls who graduate from my program will become licensed drone pilots skilled in the use of LiDAR. The girls are learning about the fundamentals of entrepreneurship and the use of STEAM (a holistic, interdisciplinary approach to learning that combines science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) to promote equity. Ultimately we want to empower the girls with skills and resources to enter high-wage earning careers in STEAM. 

What does a day in the program look like?

We meet via Zoom every Tuesday. The first hour and a half is spent learning about business and museum management. The remainder of the time is spent learning about various aspects of geospatial information systems including surveying, LiDAR theory, and training on the Green Valley LiDAR system. On flight training days, the girls spend four hours working on mastering their piloting skills flying a variety of drone types through drills and obstacle courses. 

How do you plan to use LiDAR technology to help the girls understand and engage with the history of BIPOC communities?

Many people don't know the history of Black and Indigenous people as pioneers in Julian, CA. We will map the cemetery to see if we can determine whether or not all those interred there are properly marked. The girls will then combine the LiDAR images with other images and primary source documents to create virtual exhibits sharing the history of the BIPOC interred in the cemetery and how they were instrumental in the founding of Julian, CA. 

The second location we are mapping is Harrison Serenity Ranch, home of the first Black landowner in San Diego County. This location is on Palomar Mountain and much of the property is covered in trees and vegetation. Through the use of LiDAR, the girls are hoping to show how Nate Harrison used the mountain when he was alive. 

Both exhibits will debut in our virtual We The People Museum on July 29, 2023. Each year, a new cohort of girls will map new locations to add to the museum. We are planning to go international at the end of the year with four cohorts, one in each of the following locations: San Diego, CA; Los Angeles, CA; Accra, Ghana; and the United Kingdom.

What is the importance of hands-on learning and practical experience in the girls' training?

In order to truly understand what is being taught, the girls must have hands-on experience to truly understand how to apply the theories they've been learning about. Our goal is to prepare the girls for actual careers using LiDAR and other geospatial technology. The hands-on learning will give them both the skills and the confidence to work in the industry.

Can you talk about the importance of diversity and inclusion in the drone and technology industries?

Diversity is key to creating dynamic solutions to complex problems. As society becomes more diverse, so does the future workforce, and we must create training opportunities to meet demand. By teaching STEAM with a culturally relevant curriculum, we are increasing the number of qualified applicants for these career opportunities. 

What is the role of technology and innovation in promoting social justice and equality?

The DRONe Project, Descendents Recovering Our Names, is a prime example of using advanced technology to scientifically spotlight hidden BIPOC history for the purpose of adding information to the widely known narratives of history. Inclusion in the public record and access to scientific facts are often denied to BIPOC. This program does not negate what has been recorded, rather it adds the voices of those who were left out of the original story; the use of the best that society has to offer technologically is an important step in righting past wrongs that have hindered social justice and equality amongst human beings of all ethnic and cultural identities.

Can you share any success stories or notable achievements from girls who have participated in your program?

All of our participants are on track to become licensed and skilled drone pilots. Our participants have a myriad of barriers to participating in a program of this nature and all who have committed to doing the work are on track to become Change Agents of the future. I am proud of all of the young ladies in the program for understanding the importance of the work we are doing and committing their time to complete the program to create brighter futures. I am overwhelmed to be part of increasing the realm of possibilities for these young ladies in a tangible way. The fact that our one 14-year old is scheduled to take her Part 107 test soon shows that with proper resources, BIPOC girls can excel in STEAM.

What are the challenges you face in training girls from underserved communities and how do you overcome them?

As a Black woman and mother, I am able to offer unique solutions to help navigate challenges in a way that meets the needs of the girls. It is time-consuming but worth every minute to see young ladies who would have been dismissed from traditional programs on track to get their Part 107 license and keep up with the LIDAR curriculum. The program was founded as a result of taking what exists and applying it in ways that haven't been done before; it is how I approach every obstacle. I am very transparent with the girls so they understand there is more than one way to accomplish a goal. It's a lot of work, but I love it.

Can you talk about the role of mentorship and networking in the girls' professional development?

Mapping event in Julian

There are numerous studies about the impact of learning from someone with whom you relate. I actively seek out teachers and mentors for the girls who look like them to show them what is possible while giving them the confidence to enter spaces where they may have to be the ones to mentor the next BIPOC girl. Much of the homework at the beginning of the program focuses on public speaking and clear communication to give the girls the confidence to effectively advocate for themselves. So much of networking is about confidence. Confidence comes from practice and exposure. I invite the girls to come to networking events with me to hone these skills and gain a better understanding of entrepreneurship.

Please share your vision for the future of your program and its impact on the girls and the communities they come from.

Ultimately, I want these girls to dream without limits and have the foundation to achieve seemingly impossible dreams. With each girl that graduates from my program, I know the impact will be exponential as they become a role model for others from all walks of life, but especially underserved communities.

How do you plan to evaluate the success of the program and measure its impact on the girls and their communities?

We conduct quarterly surveys for the girls to self-report their confidence in drone and geospatial technology as well as historic preservation and the impact on their personal self-esteem. Our flight instructor monitors the girls' piloting skills and makes adjustments as needed with input from me based on survey results. Three girls have passed the Part 107 exam with the others in the process of scheduling now. We offer ongoing opportunities as graduates of the program to continue working during and after high school as independent contractors. We plan to continue to monitor the girls to see how they ultimately apply this training. Community impact is measured by the response of the community to the program through online activity and direct outreach for additional information about the program and opportunities to share what we do.

Can you share any plans for expanding the program and reaching more girls in the future?

There is a worldwide deficit in STEAM opportunities for BIPOC women. We are planning to expand internationally in August 2023 to Africa and the UK. There is no shortage of hidden BIPOC history around the world, and we are working to create a program that can adapt to the unique barriers for girls across the world starting with the three countries most heavily involved in the Transatlantic slave. The girls will work together to share this global history as a model for how we can change the conversation about race and create equitable solutions to solve the gender gap in STEAM careers.

SPH Engineering released its new UgCS LiDAR toolset in 2021, offering a comprehensive solution for efficient data collection and processing. The toolset enables users to save time and reduce costs throughout all stages of LiDAR surveys.

During flight planning, users can benefit from optimized flight patterns and turn specifically designed for LiDAR surveys, resulting in time savings. During the flight stage, the toolset ensures the acquisition of high-quality laser data with preset IMU initialization patterns and anti-shake LiDAR turns. In the post-flight analysis stage, the accuracy of the acquired data facilitates better data analysis and desired results, reducing the need for multiple trips to the field.

The UgCS LiDAR toolset is ideal for a range of applications, including power line inspections, road inspections, construction, mining, archaeology, and forestry, among others.


About Our Genetic Legacy

Our Genetic Legacy creates projects that expose and publish lost family legacies of BIPOC Americans in order to diversify, correct and expand the current history of America to include all Americans.