GEOG 892
Geospatial Applications of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS)

GEOG 892 Syllabus


Geospatial Applications for Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS)

GEOG 892 Syllabus Spring 2, 2023

This syllabus is divided into several sections. It is essential that you read the entire document as well as the material covered in the Course Orientation; together these serve as our course "contract."


Qassim A. Abdullah, Ph.D., CP, PLS
Lecturer, John A. Dutton e-Education Institute, 
Pennsylvania State University
2217 Earth-Engineering Sciences Building
University Park, PA 16801

  • Office phone: 301-346-7360
  • Course email: Please use the course email system (Inbox).
  • Personal email:
  • Availability: Feel free to call me between the hours of 9:00 AM and 5:00 PM Eastern Time on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday of each week during the semester. If I am not available, please leave a message, and I'll return your call as soon as possible.

Course Overview

Description: Unmanned Aerial Systems are developing aggressively, and many government and non-government agencies are considering acquiring such systems. The acquisition of a system may be the easy part of the entire process of running an UAS. However, selecting the right system and providing details of running and managing the system may prove to be challenging for an ordinary user that does not possess prior knowledge in this field. There is quite a large amount of information now available on the UAS. However, most of such information focuses on either the engineering aspect of the aircraft or its defense applications. Very little information is available on the geo-spatial utilization of a UAS.

Prerequisites: There are no formal prerequisites for graduate students taking this course. However, prospective students should have some working knowledge of the following topics, covered in Geog 480, 482, 483:

  • photogrammetry and geographic information system (GIS)
  • basic GIS or CAD data processing experience
  • datums and coordinate systems
  • maps accuracy standard

This course provides an introduction to the Unmanned Aerial system from the Geo-spatial perspective which includes but is not limited to:

  • sensors and platforms;
  • civilian and remote sensing applications;
  • sensors calibration and boresighting;
  • operational requirements of the UAS;
  • concept of operation for UAS;
  • data processing software;
  • Evaluating data quality and accuracy and the new mapping standards;
  • generation of digital data products such as ortho-rectified imagery and digital terrain surface;
  • current rules and regulations governing owning and operating a UAS in the United States;
  • concerns surrounding UAS safety, security, and privacy issues.

The course is specifically designed for adult professionals and is offered exclusively through the World Campus and the John A. Dutton e-Education Institute of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. Geography 892 is one of the courses students may choose as their final course in the Certificate Program in Geographic Information Systems or as an elective in the Master of Geographic Information Systems programs. It can also be taken as professional development or continuing education experience by individuals who are not enrolled in a Certificate and Degree program. No formal academic prerequisites are listed in order to allow these individuals access to the course; however, prior exposure to remote sensing, topographic mapping, and basic GIS is necessary for a successful learning experience.

Students who register in the course for credit will complete nine lessons with corresponding hands-on assignments, online discussions, and a final project. Throughout the course, students will confront realistic problem scenarios that incorporate such skills and concepts as definition of acquisition system needs, data formats and types, analysis methods, and spatial accuracy requirements. Those who successfully complete the course will be able to define project specifications that include but are not limited to UAS selection, project and data planning, and specifications such as accuracy requirements and mission planning, software selection, and data processing.

Course Objectives

Upon the completion of this course, students will be able to:

  • understand the capabilities and limitations of the UAS and data post-processing systems;
  • understand fundamental concepts surrounding operating a UAS such as:
    • selecting the right UAS,
    • assessing its performance,
    • managing resulting products,
    • selecting the appropriate commercially available processing software,
    • products accuracy assessment,
    • ways and means to produce metric products from UAS;
    • Evaluating data quality and accuracy.
  • understand rules and regulations governing operating a UAS in the United States of America.

On the practical side, students develop knowledge about photogrammetric processes and will have the opportunity to use the Pix4D processing software to perform aerial triangulation and produce their own orthos and digital terrain model using imagery collected by UAS.

Students who excel in this course are able to:

  • assess commercially available UAS and its suitability for the job;
  • assess commercially available data processing software and its suitability for the job;
  • describe the basic principles of UAS operation requirements and develop Concept of Operation (CONOP);
  • assess risks surrounding operating a UAS and propose mitigation for such risks;
  • design a UAS-based aerial imagery operation;
  • design a UAS-based flight mission;
  • evaluate strength and weakness of different phases of the design;
  • recommend a procedure for sensor calibration;
  • recognize and recommend potential applications of the UAS for GIS operations;
  • apply acquired knowledge and critical thinking skills to solve a real-world problem with appropriate UAS acquisition and data processing and analysis methods;
  • produce geospatial products such as ortho photos and digital terrain models;
  • advise users on the rules and regulations on operating an UAS;
  • Understand the new ASPRS mapping standards and how it applies to UAS-derived products.

What will be expected of you?

This course will require a minimum of 5-10 hours of student activity per week. The instructor will poll students during the first week of class to find a weekly time to hold a live class discussion via the Web. The live session is intended to substitute for face-to-face meetings in the classroom, and most students enjoy the opportunity to ask questions and hear the instructor's commentary on lesson topics.

Each lesson consists of reading assignments online and in the course textbooks. A mandatory reading quiz tests your comprehension of this material. In the weekly live discussion, your instructor will comment on the results of both the reading quiz and lab (if any) and will give a preview of upcoming material. You are encouraged to ask questions and post comments at any time in the Discussion Forums, and each student is required to post a minimum of two weekly posts. Those posts can be in the form of an original question or a response to a posted question.

During the course, you will be provided with a license for the UAS data processing software, Pix4D. A two-hour online training for the software (through skype) will be provided by the software company. By the end of the course, you are expected to process an imagery dataset and produce a digital ortho mosaic and digital elevation model.

You should get in the habit of checking course email and discussion forums on a daily basis. That's where students and instructors share comments, pose questions, and suggest answers.

For a more detailed look at what will be covered in each lesson, please refer to the course content that is part of this syllabus (see "Course Content"). Due dates for assignments and activities will be discussed during the weekly call and will be posted on the Calendar.

Required Course Materials

Required Textbooks

Because of the newly introduced topic of UAS for civilian use, there are very few published books available on the topic. There is no one textbook that I found in the market that covers both topics of the UAS and the Geospatial applications. Therefore, this course requires the following three textbooks, two of which are offered as an eBook through PSU libraries:

  1. Barnhart, R., Michael, M., Marshall, D., and Shappee, E. ed. 2016. Introduction to Unmanned Aircraft Systems, 2nd edition. Boca Raton. CRC Press. ISBN 978-1482263930. This text can be purchased on in Hardcover or as a Kindle eBook. It is also available as an eBook through PSU libraries.
    • Students can access the e-Textbook (Introduction to Unmanned Aircraft Systems) ISBN 978-1482263930 for this course free of charge through the University Libraries (click on the Library Resources tab in the course navigation, and then the E-Reserves link), or you may purchase a hard copy of the text from a vendor of your choice. For questions or issues, contact the University Libraries Reserve Help via email at UL-RESERVESHELP@LISTS.PSU.EDU.
  2. Fahlstrom, P. and Gleason, T. 2012. Introduction to UAV Systems. 4th edition. United Kingdom. John Wiley & Sons Ltd. ISBN: 9781119978664. This text can be purchased on in Hardcover or as a Kindle eBook. It is also available as eBook through PSU libraries.
    • Students can access the e-Textbook Introduction to UAV Systems (Aerospace Series) ISBN 9781119978664 for this course free of charge through the University Libraries (click on the Library Resources tab in the course navigation), or you may purchase a hard copy of the text from a vendor of your choice.
  3. Wolf, P., DeWitt, B., and Wilkinson, B. 2014. Elements of Photogrammetry with Applications in GIS, 4th edition. McGraw-Hill. ISBN: 978-0071761116. This text can be purchased on in Hardcover or as a Kindle eBook.
    • Students can access the e-Textbook Elements of Photogrammetry with Applications in GIS 4th edition. McGraw-Hill. ISBN: 978-0071761116 for this course free of charge through the University Libraries (click on the Library Resources tab in the course navigation), or you may purchase a hard copy of the text from a vendor of your choice.

Recommended Additional Materials:

Assistance with textbooks

Penn State honors and values the socioeconomic diversity of our students. If you require assistance with the costs of textbooks for this course, please contact your academic advisor. For additional needs, related to socioeconomic status, please visit Project Cahir or visit the Office of Student Care and Advocacy at 222 Boucke Building or call 814-863-2020.

Using the Library

Just like on-campus students, as a Penn State student, you have a wealth of library resources available to you!

As a user of Penn State Libraries, you can...

  • search for journal articles (many are even immediately available in full-text)
  • request articles that aren't available in full-text and have them delivered electronically
  • borrow books and other materials and have them delivered to your doorstep
  • access materials that your instructor has put on Electronic Reserve
  • talk to reference librarians in real-time using chat, phone, and email
  • ...and much more!

To learn more about their services, see the Library Information for Off-site Users.

Required Computer Hardware

Throughout the course, you will be using Pix4D software to process UAS data. Pix4D software requires certain hardware configuration on your laptop or PC, without meeting such hardware requirement, you will be struggling to finish the assignment. As of 10/03/2022, the following description shows the minimum and recommended hardware and software requirements, for latest hardware requirements, please visit


  • Windows 10, 64 bits (PC or Mac computers using Boot Camp). (Windows 11 is not supported yet)
  • Any CPU (Intel i5/ i7/ Ryzen 7).
  • Any GPU that is compatible with OpenGL 3.2. (Integrated graphics cards Intel HD 4000 or above).
  • Small projects (under 100 images at 14 MP): 4 GB RAM, 10 GB HDD Free Space.
  • Medium projects (between 100 and 500 images at 14 MP): 8 GB RAM, 20 GB HDD Free Space.
  • Large projects (between 500 and 1000 images at 14 MP): 16 GB RAM, 40 GB HDD Free Space.
  • Very Large projects (1000 -2000 images at 14 MP): 32 GB RAM, 80 GB HDD Free Space.
    • Note: DSM and Orthomosaic takes too long on machines with Quadro GPUs


  • Windows 10, 64 bits (Windows 11 is not supported yet).
  • CPU quad-core or hexa-core Intel i9/Threadripper/Ryzen 9/.
  • GeForce GTX GPU compatible with OpenGL 3.2 and 2 GB RAM.
  • Hard disk: SSD.

Weekly Assignments and Grading

Students earn grades that reflect the extent to which they achieve the learning objectives listed above. Opportunities to demonstrate learning include:

  • 9 online quizzes (30%)
  • 11 activities including online discussions or reports development (50%)
  • 1 final project and presentation (20%)

Grades and deadlines for quizzes are given in the following table:

Quizzes Grading and Due Dates
Quiz # Lesson # Due Date Points
1 1 End of 2nd week 2.5
2 2 End of 2nd week 2.5
3 3 End of 3rd week 2.5
4 4 End of 4th week 2.5
5 5 End of 5th week 2.5
6 6 End of 6th week 2.5
7 7 End of 7th week 2.5
8 8 End of 8th week 2.5
9 (comprehensive) 9 End of 9th week 10
Total Grades 30%

Grades and deadlines for assignments and activities are given in the following table:

# Title Due Date Points
Assignments Grading and Due Dates
1 Disc. Forum - Agreements and Differences in UAS Classification End of week 2 3
2 Disc. Forum - SWOT Analysis End of week 3 3
3 Disc. Forum - Human Element of UAS End of week 4 3
4 CONOP and Risk Assessment Analysis for UAS End of week 5 7
5 Exercise 1 - Product Generation using UAS imagery in Pix4D End of week 6 5
6 Disc. Forum - FAA Roadmap End of week 6 3
7 Disc. Forum - Differences between rules and regulations  End of week 7 3
8 Certificate of Authorization (COA) draft End of week 8 7
9 Exercise 2 - Product Generation using UAS imagery in Pix4D End of week 9 8
10 Disc. Forum - UAS and Ethics End of week 10 3
11 Digital Image Classification assignment End of week 9 5
Total 50%

Grades Scale:

Letter grades will be based on the following percentages (percentages refer to the proportion of all possible points earned by the student):

Letter Grades and Corresponding Percentages
Grade Percent
A 94% to 100%
A- 90% to < 94%
B+ 87% to < 90%
B 84% to < 87%
B- 80% to < 84%
C+ 77% to < 80%
C 70% to < 77%
D 60% to < 70%
F 0% to < 60%

Class participation will be considered in grading for those whose final course grade is close to the next letter grade. Extra credit opportunities will be provided by the instructor from time to time during the course. In order to qualify for use of extra credit points in the calculation of the final grade, the student must submit ALL lesson quizzes, hands-on activities, discussions, and final project deliverables. Exceptions to the extra credit policy may be granted by the instructor on a case-by-case basis in special circumstances.

Due dates for all assignments are posted on the syllabus and course calendar in Canvas.

To view your grades during the semester you need to do the following:

  1. Click on the Grades tab in the Navigation Bar

Make-up Examination Policy

Make-up exams will be granted only through the approval of the course instructor for legitimate and excused absences. Prior notification and approval for a make-up exam must be obtained by the student at least 72 hours prior to the scheduled exam. Special circumstances will be considered on a case-by-case basis. No make-ups will be allowed for the comprehensive quiz in Lesson 10 or for the Final Project report and presentation.

GEOG 892 Course Schedule

imagePrintable Schedule

Below you will find a weekly schedule for the activities for this course. This course is ten weeks in length and each lesson is one week long.

NOTE: See the Canvas Syllabus or Calendar for a full semester calendar of events.

Week 1
Activities and Deliverables:

Weekly Zoom call Thursday 8-9pm eastern

Week 2
Activities and Deliverables:

Discussion Forum due - Agreements and Differences in UAS Classification

Lesson 1 Quiz due

Lesson 2 Quiz due

Weekly Zoom call Thursday 8-9 pm eastern

Week 3
Activities and Deliverables:

Discussion Forum - SWOT Analysis

Lesson 3 Quiz due

Weekly Zoom call Thursday 8-9pm eastern

Week 4
Activities and Deliverables:

Discussion Forum - Human Elements of UAS

Lesson 4 Quiz due

Weekly Zoom call and Pix4D training Thursday 8-9pm eastern

Week 5
Activities and Deliverables:

CONOP and Risk Assessment Analysis for UAS

Lesson 5 Quiz due

Weekly Zoom call and Mission Planner software trainng Thursday 8-9pm

Week 6
Activities and Deliverables:

Discussion Forum: FAA Roadmap

Exercise 1 - Product Generation using UAS imagery in Pix4D

Lesson 6 Quiz due

Weekly Zoom call and Pix4D training on ex. 2 Thursday 8-9pm eastern

Week 7
Activities and Deliverables:

Discussion Forum - Differences Between Rules and Regulations

Lesson 7 Quiz due

Weekly Zoom call Thursday 8-9pm eastern

Week 8
Activities and Deliverables:

Certificate of Authorization (COA) draft

Lesson 8 Quiz due

Weekly Zoom call Thursday 8-9pm eastern

Week 9
Activities and Deliverables:

Digital Image Classification assignment

Exercise 2 - Product Generation using UAS imagery in Pix4D

Final Quiz: Comprehensive Quiz due

Weekly Zoom call Thursday 8-9pm eastern

Week 10
Activities and Deliverables:

Discussion Forum - UAS and Ethics

Technical Requirements

For this course, we recommend the minimum technical requirements outlined on the World Campus Technical Requirements page, including the requirements listed for same-time, synchronous communications. If you need technical assistance at any point during the course, please contact the IT Service Desk (for World Campus students) or Penn State's IT Help Portal (for students at all other campus locations).

Internet Connection

Access to a reliable Internet connection is required for this course. A problem with your Internet access may not be used as an excuse for late, missing, or incomplete coursework. If you experience problems with your Internet connection while working on this course, it is your responsibility to find an alternative Internet access point, such as a public library or Wi-Fi ® hotspot.

Mixed Content

This site is considered a secure web site, which means that your connection is encrypted. We do, however, link to content that isn't necessarily encrypted. This is called mixed content. By default, mixed content is blocked in Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Chrome. This may result in a blank page or a message saying that only secure content is displayed. Follow the directions on our Technical Requirements page to view the mixed content.

Remote Sensing Program Technical Requirements

Minimum technical requirements for the MGIS program apply to this course. They can be found on the Online Geospatial Education Technical Requirements web page.

The following additional requirements apply to all courses in the remote sensing curriculum:

  • Mobile computing platforms (smartphones and tablets) can be used for reading online material and for some course communications, but are insufficient for lab work. Laptop computers that meet the minimum technical requirements below can be used for this course.
  • A 64-bit version of Windows 10 or higher is required.
    • Mac users should be able to run all of the course software using a virtual Windows OS, such as Boot Camp or Parallels. Instructors are not able to offer support for Apple OS implementation of course software. Please refer to instructions provided by Esri when installing ArcGIS on an Apple computer.
    • Software at Penn State for students has downloads for Windows and Office 365. You can contact the World Campus helpdesk if you need help with installation.
  • You will need an administrator-level password for your computer to be able to install the software required for this course.
  • An open GL-compatible video card is required.
  • A second monitor is not required, but if you have one available, you will find it very helpful.
  • General program technical specs call for at least 4 GB of RAM. Requirements for the individual remote sensing courses vary based on the software used, but if you are selecting a computer to use for the Remote Sensing and Earth Observation Certificate Program, 8 GB or higher is highly recommended.
  • Your computer should have at least 60 GB of free disk space for course-related materials and data.
    • Storing lab and project data on an internally installed hard drive will yield the best performance with remote sensing software. USB flash drives are useful for archiving lab work, but should not be used for active projects.
    • SSD hard drives will yield the best performance with remote sensing software but are not required.
  • You must have a reliable, robust high-speed Internet connection on a daily basis. The course may require you to watch streaming video as well as downloading files that may be as large as 1 GB.
    • It is not possible to send course materials by mail or email. You cannot download entire lessons once a week to work offline.


If you have any questions now or at any point during this week, please feel free to post them to the Software Installation and Technical Questions Discussion Forum in Canvas.


This course must be viewed using the latest version of Firefox, Safari, Chrome, or Edge. Internet Explorer is not supported. If you use any other browser, or if you are not using the latest version of your browser, some pages containing equations may not render properly. In addition, javascript must be enabled for equations to render properly. If you have any issues with equations not rendering properly, please update your browser to the latest version or try using a different browser. If you need additional technical assistance at any point during the course, please contact the HelpDesk (for World Campus students) or the IT Service Desk (for students at all other campus locations).

Penn State E-mail Accounts

All official communications from Penn State are sent to students' Penn State e-mail accounts. Be sure to check your Penn State account regularly, or forward your Penn State e-mail to your preferred e-mail account, so you don't miss any important information.

Academic Integrity

This course follows the procedures for academic integrity of Penn State's College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. Penn State defines academic integrity as "the pursuit of scholarly activity in an open, honest and responsible manner." Academic integrity includes "a commitment not to engage in or tolerate acts of falsification, misrepresentation, or deception." In particular, the University defines plagiarism as "the fabrication of information and citations; submitting others' work from professional journals, books, articles, and papers; submission of other students' papers, lab results or project reports and representing the work as one's own." Penalties for violations of academic integrity may include course failure. To learn more, see Penn State's Academic Integrity Training for Students

Course Copyright

All course materials students receive or to which students have online access are protected by copyright laws. Students may use course materials and make copies for their own use as needed, but unauthorized distribution and/or uploading of materials without the instructor’s express permission is strictly prohibited. University Policy AD 40, the University Policy Recording of Classroom Activities and Note Taking Services addresses this issue. Students who engage in the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted materials may be held in violation of the University’s Code of Conduct, and/or liable under Federal and State laws.

For example, uploading completed labs, homework, or other assignments to any study site constitutes a violation of this policy.

Accommodations for Students with Disabilities

Penn State welcomes students with disabilities into the University's educational programs. Every Penn State campus has an office for students with disabilities. The Office for Student Disability Resources website provides contact information for Campus Disability Coordinators at every Penn State campus. For further information, please visit the Office for Student Disability Resources website.

In order to receive consideration for reasonable accommodations, you must contact the appropriate disability services office at the campus where you are officially enrolled. You will participate in an intake interview and provide documentation. See documentation guidelines at Applying for Services from Student Disability Resources. If the documentation supports your request for reasonable accommodations, your campus’s disability services office will provide you with an accommodation letter. Please share this letter with your instructors and discuss the accommodations with them as early in your courses as possible. You must follow this process for every semester that you request accommodations.

Change in Normal Campus Operations

In case of weather-related delays or other emergency campus disruptions or closures at the University, this online course will proceed as planned. Your instructor will inform you if there are any extenuating circumstances regarding content or activity due dates in the course due to these delays or closures. If you are affected by a weather-related emergency, please contact your instructor at the earliest possible time to make special arrangements.

Reporting Educational Equity Concerns

Penn State takes great pride in fostering a diverse and inclusive environment for students, faculty, and staff. Acts of intolerance, discrimination, or harassment due to age, ancestry, color, disability, gender, gender identity, national origin, race, religious belief, sexual orientation, or veteran status are not tolerated (Policy AD29 Statement on Intolerance) and can be reported through Educational Equity via Report Bias.

Counseling and Psychological Services

Many students at Penn State face personal challenges or have psychological needs that may interfere with their academic progress, social development, or emotional well-being.  The university offers a variety of confidential services to help you through difficult times, including individual and group counseling, crisis intervention, consultations, online chats, and mental health screenings.  These services are provided by staff who welcome all students and embrace a philosophy respectful of clients’ cultural and religious backgrounds, and sensitive to differences in race, ability, gender identity, and sexual orientation.  Services include the following:

Counseling and Psychological Services at University Park  (CAPS): 814-863-0395
Counseling Services at Commonwealth Campuses
Penn State Crisis Line (24 hours/7 days/week): 877-229-6400
Crisis Text Line (24 hours/7 days/week): Text LIONS to 741741

Military Personnel

Veterans and currently serving military personnel and/or spouses with unique circumstances (e.g., upcoming deployments, drill/duty requirements, disabilities, VA appointments, etc.) are welcome and encouraged to communicate these, in advance if possible, to the instructor in the case that special arrangements need to be made.

Connect Online with Caution

Penn State is committed to educational access for all. Our students come from all walks of life and have diverse life experiences. As with any other online community, the lack of physical interaction in an online classroom can create a false sense of anonymity and security. While one can make new friends online, digital relationships can also be misleading. Good judgment and decision-making are critical when choosing to disclose personal information to others whom you do not know.

Deferred Grades

If you are prevented from completing this course within the prescribed amount of time for reasons that are beyond your control, it is possible to have the grade deferred with the concurrence of the instructor, following Penn State Deferred Grade Policy 48-40. To seek a deferred grade, you must submit a written request (by e-mail or U.S. post) to the instructor describing the reason(s) for the request. Non-emergency permission for filing a deferred grade must be requested before the beginning of the final examination period.  It is up to the instructor to determine whether or not you will be permitted to receive a deferred grade. If permission is granted, you will work with the instructor to establish a communication plan and a clear schedule for completion within policy.  If, for any reason, the coursework for the deferred grade is not complete by the assigned time, a grade of "F" will be automatically entered on your transcript.


This course will be conducted entirely online. There will be no set class meeting times, but you will be required to complete weekly assignments with specific due dates. Many of the assignments are open for multiple days, so it is your responsibility to complete the work early if you plan to travel or participate in national holidays, religious observances or University approved activities.

If you need to request an exception due to a personal or medical emergency, contact the instructor directly as soon as you are able. Such requests will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Diversity, Inclusion, and Respect

Penn State is “committed to creating an educational environment which is free from intolerance directed toward individuals or groups and strives to create and maintain an environment that fosters respect for others” as stated in Policy AD29 Statement on Intolerance. All members of this class are expected to contribute to a respectful, welcoming, and inclusive environment and to interact with civility.

For additional information, see:

Mandated Reporting Statement

Penn State’s policies require me, as a faculty member, to share information about incidents of sex-based discrimination and harassment (discrimination, harassment, sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, dating violence, domestic violence, stalking, and retaliation) with Penn State’s Title IX coordinator or deputy coordinators, regardless of whether the incidents are stated to me in person or shared by students as part of their coursework. For more information regarding the University's policies and procedures for responding to reports of sexual or gender-based harassment or misconduct, please visit Penn State's Office of Sexual Misconduct Prevention & Response website.

Additionally, I am required to make a report on any reasonable suspicion of child abuse in accordance with the Pennsylvania Child Protective Services Law.


Please note that the specifics of this Course Syllabus can be changed at any time, and you will be responsible for abiding by any such changes. All changes will be communicated to you via e-mail, course announcement and/or course discussion forum.