Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it Superman? No, it’s a camera with wings powered by a battery pack.
by James Luckhoff

drone 1

 

The Swiss-made Swinglet CAM weighs in at a hefty 500 grams with a wingspan of 80cm and a 16 mega-pixel camera on board. It is used for aerial surveying, and flying at a height of 400m, it covers an area of up to 400ha in 30 minutes.

For more detailed photos, the drone will fly at a lower height and has an image resolution of 3-30cm/pixels depending on flight altitude. The drone is hand launched, reaches speeds of up to 35km/hour, can manage winds of up to 25km/hour and has a landing radius of 20m.

The drone has become part of Mozambique- based Chikweti Forests’ planning team and is used for aerial photos to update maps, measure roads and fire brakes, plan contour ripping, monitor field operations and even to determine compartment stocking. The system is GIS compatible and to set up the flight path takes five minutes at most. Using Google Earth as the base map, the four corners of the area to be surveyed are marked, the flying altitude is entered into the computer and the drone is launched. No remote control is needed as the flight path is calculated and controlled by the drone communicating with the laptop computer, which is the base station on the ground.

Landing is easy as the drone returns to the spot from where it was launched and flops down on the grass. After the flight, the memory chip from the camera is plugged into the computer with the appropriate software, from where the images are downloaded and processed into the aerial photo. Your old Google photo is replaced with an up-to- date image. Distances and areas to be measured is now just a click away.

Software for the production of 3D images enables the planning team to produce maps with contour lines for field use. Contours of 3m are used for the planning of rip lines in the field. These maps are then down- loaded on hand-held GPS for field use, which makes compartment planning a breeze. Cross sections can be drawn through any object or structure on the photo to determine the height of the object. Further research will still have to be done to see what the accuracy is for measuring tree heights in-field.

Published in June 2013

drone
The drone is launched by hand, controlled from a laptop, and produces aerial images useful for a variety of mapping and planning functions.
drone map
An aerial image captured by the drone.


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