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 An Oblique View of Terrain Mapping
Ryan Hamilton
Ryan Hamilton
Ryan Hamilton majored in Environmental Studies at the University of Colorado and has been employed within both the LiDAR and IFSAR mapping worlds since 1998. His interests (that all appear to be tied to mapping) include blue water sailing, backcountry skiing and big mountain and downhill mountain … More »

Droning on about drones

October 1st, 2013 by Ryan Hamilton

Five years ago at the ESRI User Conference, I had my first close encounter with a mapping drone or UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle). I was instantly intrigued and wanted to jump right in and invest my life savings into starting my own aerial data collection company. But alas, I actual looked before I leaped and found a whole bunch of FAA regulations that prohibited the use of such drones in the good ol US of A. So I spent my money on mountain bikes instead.

Well, a lot of progress has been made over the years to help get us closer to a commercial, drone-friendly airspace but unfortunately they are still associated with raining hell fire from above and not recognized for the greater utilitarian services they can provide. Case in point, there is a large segment of people from certain political persuasions that are convinced drones in US airspace will be used by the government to spy on or exterminate us. In the rural town of Deer Trail, Colorado these conspiracy nuts can even buy drone hunting licenses.

In truth, the advantages of commercial UAVs, especially remote sensing drones, are huge. They are inexpensive, autonomous (you use a computer to make a flight plan and off it goes), they can take off and land instantly and almost anywhere, and they can fly in areas with low cloud cover or tight canyons where utilizing a regular plane would be unsafe to make turns for multiple passes.

Drones once again proved their value just last week here in Boulder while the rains were falling and the rivers flooding. No traditional aircraft could fly into the canyons to assess the situation in towns like Lyons, Estes Park, and James Town. The company Falcon UAV sent its drone out to map the area and see if roads could be used to evacuate stranded residence. They managed one sortie and gathered valuable data that no one else could get. But, due to a lack of foresight and no formulated plan to integrate the drone into the recue process, Boulder Sheriffs told Falcon UAV to immediately ground their drone or face arrest, so this valuable data was never used

See the data they collected as a Google KML here:

A more seething view of the cluster curse:

So instead of having real-time information, the rescuers had to rely on eyewitness accounts from stranded residence that could not always be verified. Now to be fair, it was not all the sheriff department’s fault that these drones were not used, this job is public safety and they did not want the air to start filling up with UAVs that could cause a rescue helicopter to crash. Falcon UAV should have been proactively involved with the Boulder Office of Emergency Management long before the flood ever happened.

Hopefully now that the value of the drones have been demonstrated, emergency response teams will start integrating drones into their tool box of life saving equipment so that the next time a disaster happens, the drone reconnaissance process will be a bit more harmonious.

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Category: Oblique view of terrain data

One Response to “Droning on about drones”

  1. Bill R. says:

    Great thinking, Ryan, but “You break no bones when flying Drones.”…:) keep up the great articles. Thanks.

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