Satellites and aircraft are integral parts of modern geography.

But an associate professor of geography at the University of Waterloo believes the future of geography is in drones.

Derek Robinson teaches a course at the university that teaches students the ins and outs of drones, from piloting to required certifications and regulations.

His students get to practice on less sophisticated, less expensive flying devices called quad copters.

He said that he teaches his students these things to make them more job-ready in an evolving field.

“One of the things we’re doing in the drone course is we’re seeing what are the new kinds of data that we can collect,” he said.

Using drones allows the collection of data in places that are difficult to access by foot.

Mountainous areas and wetlands are two examples Robinson cited when identifying the usefulness of drones.

The smaller craft are also able to capture more specific data, like individual plants or soil erosion, which can be hard to see from something as far as an aircraft or a satellite.

In emergency situations like river ice-jams, they also offer on-demand mapping with much less coordination than traditional methods.

Robinson’s students learn how to retrieve, use and analyze data, as well as flight planning with state-of-the-art software.

The hands-on skills aspect is developed by actually going out and flying drones.