September 18, 2012

UAV: A New Revolution in Remote Sensing

I hate to admit it but I have been swept up a new technology fad.  Well not really that new I suppose, just new to the general public and industry.  While the technology has been around for many years, the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, or UAV, phenomenon has recently experienced an explosion of interest.  The use of this technology has been traditionally limited, for the most part, to military use with the advent initially of  reconnaissance drones and subsequently unmanned combat aircraft.  The use of these craft has been relegated to the dark recesses of military covert operations, however, recently there has been a rapid move into the public conciousness.  You may have seen many of the numerous videos showcasing the advances in UAV and drone technology like this one.



So why am I caught up in the hype?  Well the big draw for me is the ability to create "ultra" high resolution imagery at a fraction of the cost of traditional manned aerial surveys.  There is a wide range of payload sizes that can be attached to these craft, anything from 2 or 3 hundred grams up to 5 kilograms depending on the craft.  This means that the sophistication of the guidance systems and the imaging sensors can be quite impressive.  Sophisticated guidance systems (software, GPS, IMU) can allow these vehicles to collect highly accurate imagery and video.

The other thing that impresses me about UAV technology...it is already going open source.  I have seen a number of examples of both open source hardware and software projects (Paparazzi being and example where both come together).  This makes the technology even more affordable and attainable to the technologically capable.

UAV's are heavily restricted in the US, which currently allows only government and government contractors to operate these craft outside of the hobbiest realm.  However, this is expected to change some time before September 30, 2015 as per the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012.   In the mean time, many of the advances in this technology are coming from outside the US.  For example commercial UAV operation is quite legal in Canada and many other jurisdictions so there are many good examples of commercial utilization from some of these countries.  Some examples of commercial UAV use are:
  • Environmental Monitoring for Many Industries
  • Vegetation Health and Vigor Mapping for Viticulture
  • Mapping of Borrow Pits for Construction, Engineering or Mining
  • Providing Aerial Intelligence to Police
These are just a few of the current uses of UAV's.  For more information on this facinating advance in Geomatics, visit any of the following industry websites:




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