Today we took some tentative first steps towards developing a method for landscape condition monitoring using a drone (a.k.a. an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), a.k.a. a quadcopter, a.k.a. a remote controlled helicopter thingy with a camera attached).
The test consisted of two flights, each around 15 minutes long (the maximum amount of time provided by a fully charged battery), at Pikefish Farm in Kent. Essentially, the idea was to fly the drone to a decent height (we're not yet able to access the altitude data recorded by the drone's on board GPS unit as that requires a dedicated add-on we currently don't have), and then slowly rotate it to capture a 360 degree panorama of the surrounding landscape using a GoPro Hero 3 camera attached to its underside. You can view a sample video of the results of this test below:
Although we've captured short segments of footage with the drone before, the footage from this first "serious" test was taken with the addition of stabilizing gimbal, significantly reducing levels of camera shake in the footage. This helps to produce a smoother panorama and enables landscape features to be discerned more clearly.
The next stage will be to undertake further test flights, perhaps going even higher to try and better capture things like field pattern and woodland extent. But in the mean time our initial test flight has highlighted the following issues that will be key for developing a more refined landscape monitoring methodology:
- The importance of selecting a representative suite of sites that we will be able to easily return to and re-fly in the future -- and that preferably have a lengthy past record of photos, maps and other associated information to allow us to examine longer term landscape change.
- The need to attain the add-on that enables altitude and other useful telemetry to be quickly and easily recorded.
- The potential value of placing ground-based reference points (such as ranging poles) at set distances apart to provide a spatial reference and to aid in the interpretation of the images.
So all in all a productive first test. Stay tuned for further developments...