- Author: Sean Hogan
There are so many exciting new developments happening in respect to drones within the University of California system it is hard to know where to start. The FAA has granted the UC both a blanket Exemption 333 and a Certificate of Authorization (COA) to fly small unmanned aerial systems (sUAS), and meanwhile technologies capable of supporting scientific applications of sUAS are also continuing to advance rapidly.
One of the key technological advances that promises to greatly enable future scientific exploration using sUAS is in the area of image processing. This week one of the premier companies in this field, Pix4D, held an outstanding nine hour workshop at UC Berkeley, which covered a number of the cutting edge capabilities of their Pix4D Mapper Pro application. Among these capabilities, Pix4D can seamlessly stitch collections of sUAS images together into geo-referenced orthomosaics while simultaneously using automated photogrammetry to render highly accurate digital terrain models. One of the amazing things about this process is that it includes a near complete removal of internal (lens and sensor) and external (pitch, roll and yaw) errors in the mosaic results. After these corrections, the accuracy of the mosaics are typically within 1-2 pixels horizontally, and within 2-3 pixels vertically from where the true ground positions of the pixels should be. To put this in context, a typical 20 minute flight using a 3D Robotics Solo quadcopter can collect imagery covering approximately 55 acres at 2.5 inches of spatial resolution. After running an image collection such as this through Pix4D, the expected spatial error of your results would typically be less than 5 horizontal inches and less than 7.5 vertical inches.
As a further exciting development, Pix4D has partnered with ESRI to power their new Drone2Map application using Pix4D's image processing algorithms. For those of you who are interested, you can Click Here to try out a free beta version of this application, which is temporarily available from ESRI. Although this application might not be quite as robust as the most up-to-date version(s) Pix4D's application, Drone2Map undoubtedly will have the advantage of being fully integrated with other ESRI products, which may be of interest to you GIS users.
Stay tuned, as we will be providing blog updates on upcoming changes to the UC's sUAS regulations, in addition to sharing our thoughts on the new Parrot Sequoia Multispectral camera from Micasense, which we currently have on order.