At SICS we're always looking for new ways to get sources of rich, up-to-date information from the real world into our mapping systems as quickly as possible.
One of these developing sources of interest suggests itself with the advancement of technologies related to remote control unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
Over the last several years a growing list of companies has offered several consumer grade models, generally in the form of quadcopters, such as the Parrot AR.Drone, allowing anyone with an Android or iOS device and $300 to take to the skies with a mounted camera, albeit with low resolution, an unstable picture, and extremely limited range.
These are interesting, but the picture quality, camera instability, and limited range do not allow their use for serious aerial photography applications. Also, while hobbyists are free to fly, the FAA has so far tried to prevent their use for commercial purposes, although that is changing
We've worked with these models and have experimented with fixed-wing UAVs for aerial photography as well.
But this morning, after an initial test flight, we took a new UAV up over the SICS offices to get a first look at what the platform offers. We'll have more details soon, but from our initial tests it's clear the stability and capabilities offered by this system are far above any of our previous platforms.
This is still an area of research, but it's exciting to watch this technology develop and imagine potential future uses in the field of mapping and GIS.