Drones for sharks !

With already over 15 missions under our belt, we have mapped just about any landscape with our drones. But the one thing we haven’t done yet is to give marine conservation a hand. Mapping St-Joseph atoll in the Seychelles and acquiring high-resolution aerial images to identify shark and ray pups seemed like the perfect challenge to introduce our drones to the salty and wet air of marine conservation.

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The Digital Bushmen

What happens when you mix ancient Bushmen knowledge with the latest in drone technology? Our experiment of joining these two very opposite worlds presents a completely new way of counting wildlife.

By Matthew Parkan and Sonja Betschart

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Namibia 2.0: Nature conservation revisited

Exactly one year after our first mission to Namibia for the SAVMAP project, a team made up of Drone Adventures, EPFL’s LASIG lab and Kuzikus Wildlife Reserve came together again in the Southern African savanna from May 16 to 23, 2015 to apply last year’s findings and push the limits of civilian drone use for nature conservation applications one step further.

Protecting endangered animals like the Black Rhino and plants like the endemic and fascinating Welwitschia mirabilis, proposing new ways of managing land sustainably in semi-arid savannas and finding new approaches to counting wildlife were all important topics on our agenda this year.

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Using drone technology to help regenerate an ancient ecosystem

Most Drone Adventures missions to date have involved using eBee mapping drones to assist humanitarian projects. However in recent months we have taken part in an increasing number of environmental conservation projects too, such as our recent Namibia mission.

Here in Switzerland we were contacted by Pro Natura, a non-profit conservation organization with over 100,000 members, to help with a unique biodiversity project – using drones to create orthomosaics and terrain models of an ancient
peat bog in need of regeneration.
Following the redevelopment work of site one, the presence of so much surface water and tufts of new dark green vegetation now indicate a healthy site.

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Namibia’s savanna classified: from drone imagery to Vegetation Base Maps

Timothée Produit of EPFL’s LASIG lab was part of our Namibian mission in May 2014. During the mission, Tim gave lectures both at the Polytechnic of Namibia as well as at the Gobabeb Research & Training Center on how to use the acquired drone imagery to classify terrain. Once all the imagery of the mission had been processed back home in Switzerland, Tim went on to use our data for classification purposes.

In this blog, Tim and his colleague Matthew Parkan show us how to use multi-spectral imagery acquired by the eBee and converted to NIR and RGB orthomosaics with Pix4Dmapper to create vegetation base maps.

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Tim giving a lecture at Gobabeb Research & Training Center on Vegetation Indexes

 

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Airchaeology in Turkey: Taking Archaeology to the Skies

It isn’t every day that we get to fly drones over one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Thanks to our intrepid partners and hosts, the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University (NYU) and the Austrian Archaeological Institute, we’ve just returned from an amazing week in Southern Turkey where we flew over ancient theatres and temples dating as far back as the 10th Century BC. We’ll be publishing a longer, more detailed blog post once we’ve had the chance to analyze all the imagery. In the meantime, we’re excited to share a quick overview of the project.

 

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Setting up Ground Control Points (GCPs) to improve the precision of the imagery. In the background, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World: The Temple of Artemis in Ephesus, Turkey.

 

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Mapping the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan

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When Typhoon Haiyan, known as Yolanda in the Philippines, struck the South East coast of the country six months ago, on November 8, 2013, it devastated entire communities – tearing apart thousands of homes and destroying livelihoods. Many of those worst hit were ‘informal’ unplanned homes, situated at or near the water’s edge.

One of the humanitarian organisations that stepped up to help was Swiss-based Medair, which is dedicated to relieving human suffering in some of the world’s most remote and badly affected places. However after arriving in the country just 48 hours after Yolanda struck and conducting their initial assessments, the Medair team soon discovered that accurate, up-to-date maps of the region didn’t exist, with communities often having to rely on either hand-drawn maps or outdated Google versions.

This data gap is why Medair asked Drone Adventures to get involved.

    Over the course of six days in March 2014, our team helped Medair to :

  • Create detailed 2D base maps and 3D terrain models of Tacloban, Dulag and Julita municipalities
  • Assess typhoon damage and plan shelter reconstruction

We then further expanded our activities, visiting different communities on or near the East coast of Leyte island and providing leaders with physical high-resolution maps they could use to assess the situations in their communities and plan reconstruction efforts based on current, accurate data.

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Typhoon damage in Tacloban

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Thousands of homes were partially or completely destroyed by the typhoon and subsequent storm surges.

Mapping Dulag

Known as ‘Liberation Town’, Dulag is a settlement of 50,000 residents, located 36 km (22 miles) south of the administrative capital of Leyte island, Tacloban. Typhoon Haiyan made landfall just south of Dulag.

Dulag was where Medair started its work, rolling out a project to provide the most vulnerable families in the municipality with what the organization calls ‘core homes’. These dwellings offer a family disaster-proof foundations, a strong wooden frame, and a roof.  But that is all. Each family must then – with support from Medair – take ownership of its future by completing the rest of the home itself; creating all the walls, floors and interior features they require. To date, Medair has built 600 shelters, providing 3,000 people with homes.

When Medair first contacted Drone Adventures, its team had already started to collect geographic data, marking down for example the GPS co-ordinates of homes in the area and recording family details for each. However what staff were missing was up-to-date, high-resolution base maps that they could use to assess villages, see where people are currently living, monitor reconstruction work and more.

The Medair team did have access to existing local maps, produced most likely through local ground assessments, however these were not geographically accurate, for example in terms of road locations and distances.

imageAn existing map of Dulag municipality.

imageOne of Medair’s ‘core’ homes under construction.

imageAnother Medair shelter, already handed over, quickly takes shape.

 


Medair staff were also keen to assess the local environmental damage caused by Yolanda, since many local livelihoods depend on natural resources such as coconut trees. Many trees had either been decapitated by the typhoon or completely uprooted, with whole forests completely wiped out in some areas. Therefore we also mapped these regions, shown below, as part of our work in Dulag.

The white lines shown here are uprooted coconut trees, which form the livelihood of many Dulag municipality residents.
The Gift of Geography

Aside from working with Medair to assess storm damage and create base maps, our team also produced physical maps to gift to four different communities on the island: Barangay 105, Julita, Dulag and Cabacongan.

Our approach before arriving in an area was to start by getting local buy-in. So we would first contact the local ‘barangay’ (barrio) captain – effectively the village mayor – to explain who we were and what kind of data we could offer.

The response was always positive.

Leaders were excited by the opportunity of having their own accurate maps. Captains and their teams might only be using hand-drawn maps at present – never mind having computers with internet access – but they all understand how much value up-to-date, highly accurate geographic information can bring and the transformative effect proper maps could have on their work.

imageDrone mapping often turns into a community event.

imageA Medair team member launches a drone.

Our typical workflow was to arrive on-site in the morning, fly our drones, and then process the several hundred images we acquired in the evening. We would then visit the nearest local print shop and print the resulting map on a giant tarpaulin sheet, presenting this to barangay leaders the next day.

It is difficult to overstate what a difference it makes to give a community a real, physical map. With a large high-resolution photo in their hands people have something they can gather around and start using right away. And while many towns don’t have staff who know how to work with geographic information systems (GIS) – and drone data outputs like 3D digital surface models – everyone can appreciate and benefit from an accurate bird’s-eye view of their community.

imageImage processing back at our Dulag base.

imagePresenting our map of Barangay 105 to local leaders.

Meeting the Mayor

Before we left the Philippines, we also headed further up North to Tacloban, the capital of the Eastern Visayas region, to meet Mayor Alfred Romualdez.

The city is home to 200,000 people and was all but destroyed by the typhoon and its resulting storm surges. Numerous families lost their homes, particularly those who had built in unsafe, unplanned locations – so called ‘informal’ developments – near the seafront.

Following the creation of a new planning law that bans the building of homes within 40 metres (131 ft) of the waterfront, the mayor had assigned a large unused plot of land, near Barangay 105, to re-house displaced families. This area is sub-divided into numerous plots. Each one is sponsored by a different donor organisation, responsible for building their part of this resilient new community.

Since the mayor’s existing map of the region was far from perfect, our goal role was to produce a high-definition image – hosted online – which both Mayor Romualdez’s team and donor organizations could use to make better decisions and more accurately direct their reconstruction efforts.

Several drone flights later and the two images below show the difference in accuracy achieved between the mayor’s previous map and his new drone-sourced image of the same area.

imageThe mayor’s previous map of the new Barangay 105 settlement.

imageMayor Romualdez learning about mapping drones.

imageDevelopment in action – foundations being built just north of Barangay 105.

Project Statistics

During the course of our six-day trip, our two-man team, together with our Medair partners, flew 29 drone mapping flights in total with a combined flight time of 11.6 hours. We mapped 48.6 sq km (18.8 sq mi) of land and acquired 5,139 images.

These images were used to create four high-resolution maps – of Barangay 105, Cabacongan, Julita and Dulag – plus seven additional low-res versions of surrounding countryside. The typical ground resolution of these orthomosaics was 5 cm (1.96 in) per pixel for villages and 8-10 cm (3.1 – 3.9 in) for larger areas.

The value of our mission was perhaps best summed up by one of Medair’s own staff, Rob Fielding. In the organization’s report on its first drone mapping experience – online here – Rob comments, “Drones do not have a good reputation. People associate them with the military and think of them as weapons, but they can also be used for good. We are using the images taken by the drones to carry out damage assessments, to identify land that could be safer to relocate families to and to see where recovery efforts are taking place. Relief organisations are increasingly using drones to provide services not otherwise possible, and we intend to use them in response to future emergencies.”

For more photos of our Philippines mission, check out the full photo gallery at: The Philippines in pictures

Read Medair’s report on its work in Dulag.

The Drone Adventures team used senseFly eBee mapping drones and Pix4D software for data processing and orthomosaic generation. A special thanks to our friends at Mapbox for hosting all our data online.

Fukushima, a drone’s-eye view

It’s been three years since a massive magnitude 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami destroyed large parts of the eastern coast of Japan and incapacitated the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Life for many of the displaced families, however, has far from returned to normal; around 150,000 residents of the prefecture are still living as evacuees in temporary accommodations, and many villages are still too contaminated for people to return.

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