Inside Unmanned Systems

FEB-MAR 2018

Inside Unmanned Systems provides actionable business intelligence to decision-makers and influencers operating within the global UAS community. Features include analysis of key technologies, policy/regulatory developments and new product design.

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AIR RESEARCH 18   February/March 2018 unmanned systems inside sure they have all the relevant maps available off line in the field. "We pre-program a f light plan, usually a grid, that the drone then f lies automatically," Lev said. "Because most of our targets are in remote locations, we normally download the maps and f light plans to the field tablet or smartphone ahead of time." The aerial photos the drone takes help the scientists classify the surfaces the lava was f lowing over. They are also used to construct three-dimensional digital topography maps of the lava f lows and estimate their shape and volumes. "The reason for studying the topography of old lava f lows is that it can teach us how the f low moved before it froze, and therefore how quickly the magma was erupting," Lev said. "Previously, people had to walk and mea- sure each block along a transect, a task that would take hours and would only sample a tiny fraction of the terrain. The drone data complements and enhances satellite-derived topography maps and images that give a wider perspective on f low field, while the drone pro- vides the finer details." "For my current application, precision of around 10 centimeters in the horizontal, and about 5 centimeters in the vertical is suffi- Photos courtesy of Black Swift Technologies. The Black Swift drone had to be small enough to transport over rough terrain. cient," Lev said. "We achieve this when we are being careful to use reliable ground control points." Lev and her colleagues augment their drone findings with data from ground instruments and their personal observations. For example, high-accuracy mobile GPS antennas walked along the margins of lava f lows map them to a scale of less than 10 centimeters; LiDAR scan- ners help capture the topography of volcanic vents with millimeter resolution; thermal cameras record temperatures at cracks and hot springs; and the scientists themselves recorded characteristics of the lava f lows such as their roughness and texture. The weather around volcanoes can prove extreme. For example, in Iceland, the scien- tists may deal with chilly temperatures even in August, and on occasion daily forecasts may call for rain, sun, gusty winds and fog all for the same day. "Winds can cause the drone to lose lift and crash," Lev said. "Fog means the pilot and observer can't see the drone anymore, not to mention that the data would be useless. The chilly temperatures make the batteries much less efficient, making f lights shorter than desired—in Chile, for example, we were

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