Led by researchers from The University of Melbourne’s School of Computing and Information Systems, the lesson entitled ‘In the future Indigenous rangers will fly drones,’ taught students the basics of drones and how they can be used to observe animals over large distances and  identify archaeological targets.

Lawrence Molloy designed the lesson along with Professor Andrew Turpin and Dr Greg Wadley.

“When you look at a lot of these Indigenous students, they’re going to return to the bush,” Molloy says.

“And so, what are some of the jobs that those students face?

“One of the ideal jobs that a lot of them covet, is to be an Indigenous ranger, and we see that drones are going to be a critical part of ... rangers’ work in the future.”

The researchers took their large industrial-style drones to the girls’ college, to show them that the devices are about much more than simply taking aerial video footage.

Mounting thermal cameras on the drones, students observed as they flew about the Healesville bushland picking up the body heat of different native mammals.

“We could actually see the kangaroos hopping through the fields, you can see the thermal image of them moving in the camera,” Molloy explains.

Koalas were also spotted by their distinct thermal signature, sitting lazily in their gum trees, a feat which would be close to impossible with just a regular video camera.

“What will happen with the rangers in the future, they can fly and say ‘OK, this is where the koalas are,’ and then they can go out to those specific trees and physically inspect that koala,” Molloy explains.

This exercise allowed students to use data science and numeracy skills – watching the live drone monitor to spot and count the kangaroos, and then evaluating their target designs.

The students also explored how drones can be used as tools to uncover ancient archaeological ruins, evidence of buildings contructed by their ancestors.

“Hard and fast evidence of their culture in pre-settlement is definitely something that captures their imagination,” Molloy says.

The next step will see students develop additional content on their smartphones and create a series of videos demonstrating the use of video and LiDAR drone footage for archaeological investigation.

And beyond that, who knows? Perhaps some of the Worawa students will become Indigenous rangers back in their communities, using drones to better manage the land and preserve the culture of their people before them.