California is experiencing one of the worst droughts in history, and nobody is feeling it harder than the San Joaquin Valley (SJV) farmer. The SJV is the most agriculturally rich place in the world, and considering that it only makes up 4.5% of the total land mass of the United States, it’s remarkable to imagine that that it ranks first in production of 48 different different crops.
Nevertheless, farms need water, and every drop matters, especially during a drought of this magnitude. So when a group of farmers found their irrigation lines chewed up by coyotes, the need for an aerial survey became necessary. That’s when the company HoneyComb stepped in, providing thermal imagery from one of their drones. The thermal imagery provided the pinpoint locations of water leaks, making it incredibly more efficient to fix the problems and save water.
Zach Sheely, farmer, had this to say about the technology: “So if I can eliminate that job,” he says, “or use that person more wisely than just drive up and back mindlessly looking for leaks, it’s going to benefit my business, and he’s probably going to like his job a little bit better, too.”
Similar to the United States, many European countries find themselves in a UAS regulation limbo. Unlike the United States, however, most of those countries do not have the FAA scrutinizing the very existence of commercial drones.
The call for comprehensive UAS regulations in the United States has been voiced by everyone in the community, and the FAA has a deadline of September 2015 to appease. A similar universal set of regulations has been proposed for all of Europe by the European Commission. Recognizing the incredible growth potential of the billion dollar industry, the Europeans are trying to collectively establish guidelines by 2016.
“The standards will cover the following areas:”
- “Strict EU wide rules on safety authorizations.”
- “Tough controls on privacy and data protection.”
- “Controls to ensure security.”
- “A clear framework for liability and insurance.”
- “Streamlining R&D and supporting new industry.”
Being that each European country operates UAS under it’s own jurisdiction, this is an obvious step in the right direction of bridging the regulation gaps for all of Europe.
Here’s something you don’t see everyday. Although a day late, this article should please all of the 4/20 fans out there.
Criminals are now using drones equipped with thermal cameras to locate pot farms – only to later rob them and sell the drugs on the street.
“It is no surprise enterprising criminals would want to get the upper hand in the criminal underworld by using drones.”
Apparently, the amount of heat generated from these establishments is quite detectable, even with a low-resolution thermal camera. Take a look at the photos below, they’re pretty remarkable!
As applications continue to grow, I wanted to share an article from the the U.K. about engineering firm MACAW using sUAS for pipelines, energy facilities, and other infrastructure.
“The investment in SUAS will enable us to inspect challenging or previously inaccessible locations, such as bridge crossings and wind farms, in an efficient and safe manner.” – Paul Casson, MACAW Principal Engineer
I wanted to pass along an exciting event hosted by the American Society of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ASPRS) Northern California Region! The UAS Technical Demonstration and Symposium will take place October 21-22 in Reno, Nevada. An abstract of the event is below:
The ASPRS Northern California Region is hosting a 2-day symposium on unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in Reno, NV on October 21-22, 2014. The purpose of the event is to assemble academia, UAS developers, survey and mapping companies, government agencies, and UAS enthusiasts, to share information, showcase new technologies and demonstrate UAS systems in action (in flight). The event will be held at the Reno Stead Airport, an FAA-designated UAS test site, as well as at a symposium hotel in downtown Reno. The mission of the event is to advance knowledge and improve the understanding of UAS technologies and their safe and efficient introduction into our national airspace, government programs and business.
Looking forward to seeing you all in Reno!
No matter the scale, flight planning has always been key to any successful aerial photogrammetry/remote sensing project. The rules for UAS are no different. Additionally, a successful flight plan is characterized by knowing the specifications of the camera/sensor and having a UAS that is capable of flying with that sensor mounted.
Part of the planning process involves defining a number of specifications for the desired end-product before going into the field. Some basic considerations include:
- Image resolution: How much detail is desired? A smaller ground sample distance (GSD or pixel resolution) will have a higher resolution compared to a larger one. The flying height and focal length of a cameras sensor determine the pixel resolution.
- Image overlap and sidelap: Image overlap and sidelap are essential for the establishment of tie points that orient the images and create the 3D model. Traditional standards call for 60% overlap and 30% sidelap, however, UAS acquisition usually requires higher variations of both.
- Sun angle and weather: Reducing the amount of shadows is very important when capturing aerial imagery. Having the sun at it’s peak height in the sky minimizes shadows and allows the sensor to receive as much light as possible. Wind also plays an important factor. How powerful is your UAS? How powerful of wind gusts can in handle and still maintain a level position?
So you are ready to make a successful flight and have all of the flight planning figured out. The next question, however, is how geographically accurate should it be? If one is only interested in a product that is marginally accurate, say within 5-10 meters, than the GPS from the flight log file or camera would be sufficient.
For survey grade accuracy however, having a set of survey control points measured from a professional land surveyor is necessary. Control points are the most accurate way to ground truth any georeferenced product. Land surveying is expensive, however, so a product with an accuracy within 5-10 meters may be enough for some.
For flight planning, I use Mission Planner, sponsored by 3D Robotics. It is free to download and very easy to use. I have an ideal ground station by combining this software and the supplied telemetry antennas that came with the 3DR IRIS. With a few simple clicks, Mission Planner is able to display flight data in real-time through a series of interchangeable gauges.
The Flight Plan tool allows the user to plan varies autonomous missions and tasks by establishing GPS waypoints. For my project, I used the survey (grid) tool. Within minutes I had my area of interest (AOI) polygon, entered my camera specifications (the iPhone 5s’ focal length is 4.12 mm) and set my overlap and sidelap (70 and 60 percent).
On top of flight planning, Mission Planner also acts as the control station for the IRIS. By using the supplied telemetry kit, my laptop was able to send and receive data in real-time to the copter. A log file was also recorded storing all of the flight parameters.
The desired pixel resolution for this project was 1 cm. Considering the highest resolution from traditional manned aircraft missions averages between
1-3 inches, resolution to this degree from a consumer grade product like an iPhone is quite remarkable.
During the flight, the camera shutter was activated using an intervalometer feature from an app called CameraSharp. The app allows you to set the seconds interval at which you wish to snap photos. For this project, I went with one photo every second. I have yet to determine the exact amount of overlap I averaged, but considering the flying speed of the IRIS was well below the necessary limit for 70%, I’m guessing I achieved an overlap somewhere in the 75-80% range. I’ll post those results in a few months when my research is complete.
The flying height was set at 28 m to obtain a pixel resolution slightly better than 1 cm at the sites lowest point. The figure to the right illustrates the iPhone 5s and flight specifications.
Having a professional land surveyor measure ground control points (GCPs) is the best way to accurately ground truth any geospatial data. Thankfully, I have some friends who had experience and equipment to measure GCPs for me at the Lime Ridge site. The control was measured using a Trimble real time kinematic (RTK) device. The RTK provides real-time corrections of GPS information by way of a network base station enabling the measurements to be accurate with 1 cm.
Aerial targets were fabricated using some poster board that were cut 5 cm wide at the edges. Nine targets were placed around the site providing a sufficient ground truth throughout. The targets were measured during image processing.