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Sep 20 2010

The Mikrokopter Lives!

My, how far we’ve come! 

Just about one year ago I was out flying my kite almost everyday to get coverage over our two study sites on the UMBC campus.  Over this past week we have made a huge step forward, a systematic ‘test’ flight with the Mikrokopter Hexacopter over the Herbert Run forests.

Flying the large delta conyne kites (like the one shown here, image credit Into The Wind Kites http://www.intothewind.com/) was fun and got the camera in the air, but it was very hard to control both the altitude of the camera and its position over the forest.  This meant it was very difficult to test flight plans, or even begin to get at understanding the best flight plan strategy for use with computer vision.

Over the past summer we worked with several students from the UMBC GES and MECHE departments and a visiting intern from Clark University (thanks Evan, Nisarg, Garrett, and Noam) with the goal of using hobbyist aircraft to carry the cameras.  We moved away from using the Canon CHDK camera setup, instead using high-speed (~2 photos / sec) cameras with continuous shooting modes to collect huge numbers of overlapping photos.  We had a lot of promising flights and successes with the hobbyist aircraft, the Slow Sticks and Easy Stars.  But we also had a lot of technical challenges and crashes that made us question the sustainability and repeatability of the ultra-cheap systems for our scientific research and technological development stage.

Enter the Mikrokopter Hexacopter.  The Mikrokopter line of remote controlled aircraft offers precision control and GPS navigation.  Last Friday we made our first demonstration of the GPS-assisted navigation over the Herbert Run site.  The Photosynth generated from those photos is here, http://bit.ly/bqAhzL, and while it looks similar to the rest of our aerial synths, it is generated with photos taken along a pre-designated path at a constant altitude.  Remarkable!

I expect things to progress quickly this fall (that dissertation is calling) and we have set up another blog for weekly progress about the nitty-gritty of Ecosynth research, http://ecotope.org/ecosynth/blog/.  I will continue working with this blog as a reference for the methods and research progress and the ‘weekly’ should be a place to go for latest in weekly goings-on in the Ecosynth lab.

Thanks team, we could not have gotten here without all of your hard work.

Aug 01 2010

Adventures in Personal Remote Sensing

First Post! 

Welcome to the Ecosynth Blog.  I am Jonathan Dandois, a Ph.D. student in the Anthropogenic Landscape Ecology Lab here at UMBC.  I am working on Ecosynth as a system for personal remote sensing for my dissertation research in the Department of Geography and Environmental Systems.

I am building this page into a resource for those interested in using the Ecosynth system at their own research sites, or in their own backyards, and as a place where myself and other ‘Ecosynthers’ can post about their own progress and experiences with personal remote sensing.  You can find out a bit of the history of Ecosynth on the About Ecosynth page. I am building a page that details our techniques for personal remote sensing using the computer vision software Bundler and Photosynth, but that one is not ready for the world just yet.  I am also setting up a page about the history of our “adventures” doing remote sensing using RC planes, helicopters and kites. 

But, back to the fun stuff.

With the purchase of two high-speed cameras (thanks to Erle’s research), a Canon SD4000 and a Casio EX FS10, our aerial photo acquisitions have taken a giant step forward.  We attach the cameras to the underside of the GWS Slow Stick frame in a mount that holds it in place and keeps the shutter pressed so that the camera takes photos continuously. 

Here is an oqlique aerial panorama I made with some photos I took of campus with the SD4000 mounted on a Slow Stick.  This panorama was made with the free software Hugin, which uses the same SIFT feature identification algorithm that Bundler and Photosynth use.













For someone that has worked with images of the land taken from airplanes and satellites, it is very exciting to be collecting my own remote sensing imagery.  We are also generating great 3D 'synths' from the high-overlap photos collected with the SD4000.   This screen capture of a 3D point cloud was generated from a collection of 1000 photos we took over the Knoll yesterday afternoon. The photosynth can be viewed here, link. This screen-cap is from the free-software Meshlab and I used the free Photosynth Point Cloud Exporter tool to grab the points from the Photosynth website for local use.

This is really promising.  While we are still refining are choice of aerial platform, but now we are at the point where we can begin to perform our research about understanding how computer vision can be used for remote sensing, and the intricate details that will make it work reliably.















We also just purchased a Garmin Edge 500, for making a GPS track of the flight. While this is designed for biking and tracking ‘calories burned’ or ‘power’ we wanted to see how it would work for us.  It is very light-weight (57g) and easy to use.   We are still trying to work with component / data logger based GPS equipment commonly marketed for use with remote cotrolled planes, e.g., the Eagle Tree telemetry systems, but the Garmin Edge has so far proven very easy to use and likely offers the same GPS position accuracy.

Below is the track uploaded in Google Earth.  We use the Garmin Training Center software to interface with the GPS.  The software is quite user friendly and has a few nice features.  It effortlessly uploads data to Google Earth, which can then be exported to KML and then off to ArcGIS.  It plots a simple map of the track onto a background map if it has one available.  It also plots graphs of the speed and other characteristics of the flight, mostly things we don’t need though!
















Another synth I was running from a set of photos I collected over our Herbert Run site just finished, link here.

That is all for now.  A lot more progress to follow.  The cutting edge of remote sensing is quite exciting!