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Since Spring 2009, we have experimented with several different platforms for collecting aerial photos.

All of our aerial photo platforms are light-weight (< 2kg with payload), electric powered (if applicable: standard lithium-polymer batteries) and commercially available at local hobby shops or via online purchases.

Depending on an individuals' research budget or 'hobbyist passion' all of these platforms can be purchased for a relatively low cost when compared to the full size and scale of equipment necessary for using traditional methods. For example, a single LIDAR scan will cost a minimum of $20,000 regardless of size and even if one would like to carry different more inexpensive equipment, hiring a charter plane can cost thousands of dollars. Taking this into consideration, hobbyist level air craft can be an economical, effective investment for research.

Ecosynth is constantly researching platforms for studying local ecology, so stay tuned!

Current Platforms

Hexa Hybrid1.JPG
v5.0 Hybrid Mikrokopter-Arducopter Hexacopter

Utilizing Mikrokopter brand motors and brains, Arducopter electronics and 3Drobotics ESCs and power distribution boards, these copters are capable of achieving several more minutes of flight times than their v.4 counterparts.

UDrone Hexa.jpg
v4.0 UDrones A-RTF Arducopter Hexacaopter

Starting December 2011, we began purchasing these almost ready-to-fly Arducopter Hexacopters from the Udrones website . The nice thing about these platforms is that they are very easy to get up and running. One downside has been shorter flight times, probably due to the smaller and cheaper motors compared to the V2.0 Mikrocopter Hexakopter. Also we have noticed that each Udrones Hexacopter we get is slightly different, whether it be the shape and layout of the frame or the style of ESC. This makes it a challenge to exactly version this system.

v3.1 Hybrid Mikrokopter-Arducopter Octocopter

Developed after the retirement of the v3.0 Octocopter, V3.1 has been updated to utilize jDrones brand 30Amp ESCs and power distribution rings. This update has greatly decreased the probability of motor failures and thus crashes. While using 4 5000mAh batteries this copter has proven capable of safely performing up to 8Km scans or 30 minutes of flight time.
Here is a link to a public Google Spreadsheet for our hybrid MK-Ardu Octo build.

Platform Diameter Weight Max flight time Max load Pro Con Est Build Cost
v5.0 22min 1.35Kg Light, Responsive Does not handle well in strong winds $1500
v4.0 80cm 1.5Kg 17min 1.35Kg Can be purchased ready to fly shorter flight times $765 ready to fly
v3.1 1.2m 2.1Kg 30min 2.7Kg Powerful, Ability to lose a motor and be landed safely Cannot be purchased in a kit $2300

Retired Platforms

Ardu Octo.JPG
v3.0 Hybrid Mikrokopter-ArduCopter Octocopter

An octocopter (8 propellers) developed the summer of 2012 that uses Mikrokopter brand motors and ESCs (electronic speed controllers) with an ArduCopter 'brain', enabling efficient flying over larger areas with longer flight times.

Mobile command.jpg
v2.0: Mikrokopter Hexakopter remote controlled multirotor aircraft

Discovered by Erle at the end of the Summer 2010 season, the small (1.5 kg, 60 cm dia.) Mikrokopter Hexakopterhas proven so effective for systematic aerial photograph collections that it has become the workhorse of our research.

Platforms10 small.jpg
v1.0: Great Planes Slow Stick remote controlled airplane

Our second major aircraft tested for low-altitude aerial photography. These airplanes have a wingspan of about 1m, are powered by small lithium-polymer batteries and are relatively cheap and easy to build. The major downside was difficulty in performing a systematic photo capture over a site. We have a page describing this plane for our research on our blog:

Kite crop.png
v0.0: Delta wing kite

Our first aerial photography platform, a ~ 3m wide delta wing kite that carried a custom camera sling from helped get the cameras in the air for our initial work, but proved challenging to control. This platform collected the data used for the first paper on Ecosynth.

Other aircraft docs: