Students and professors with the University of Maine at Presque Isle’s geographic information systems program have been getting acquainted with two new drones this fall.

In September, the GIS students at UMPI were using the DJI Phantom-4 drones in Mars Hill, taking aerial photos of the Kings Grove Cemetery that will be used to create a plot map for the town office. It’s one of a variety of practical applications offered by drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles, said Chunzeng Wang, a geology professor and head of the GIS lab at the university.

“Drones are among the most important technological advances in remote sensing and GIS,” he said.

UMPI’s drones are the first UAVs being used by a college GIS program in Maine, according to the university, and they were purchased through funding under the science and technology bond program approved by Maine voters in 2013, according to a news release from the university.

The small, lightweight drones wired with high-resolution cameras greatly improve and reduce the costs of aerial mapping, which have previously relied on satellite imagery or photography by plane, Wang said.

At the Mars Hill cemetery, the students took photographs that will be stitched together to show the plots.

“In just an hour we went out to Kings Grove Cemetery and gathered the data we needed,” GIS student Andrew Dolley said in the news release. “This is something that could have taken days if done without a drone, or done with very poor quality if we were just using Google Earth to collect visual data.”

The GIS lab also recently used the drone to create aerial maps of Presque Isle’s Mantle Lake Park and a cross country ski trail network at the UMPI campus.

The drones “can be easily piloted by remote and can take very detailed, highly accurate and very high-resolution aerial images,” and can be applied in agriculture, forestry, public utilities, environmental monitoring and other areas, Wang said.