A multirotor is used to take photos from the air. The camera is
visible on top.
These orangutan nest photos were taken
by a conservation drone in Sumatra.
for conservation at a TEDGlobal conference held June 11,
2013, at the Edinburgh International Conference Center, in
Edinburgh, Scotland. During his speech, he said that increased
distance, ruggedness, and payload are important for expanding
Keeyan Pang, who volunteers for ConservationDrones.
org, recently modified a Zeta Science FX79 flying wing
that was able to fly 100 km (slightly more than 62 miles)
in roughly two hours with winds ranging from 10 to 30 km
(approximately 6 to 18 mph) per hour!
How Conservation Drones Work
The drones are programmed to take off with a simple
toss in the air and fly their missions. In his TEDGlobal
presentation, Lian Pin said that during these flights,
“We will go grab ourselves a cup of coffee, sit back,
and relax for the next few minutes, although some
of us sit back and panic for the next few minutes
worrying that the drone will not return. Usually it does,
In the Sumatran rain forests, space for an autonomous
landing is a luxury. A controlled descent may be necessary to
circle the airplane for landing in a small open area.
The cameras on the drones take continuous video
surveillance during flight, or are programmed to take still
pictures at specific times or locations. Videos can ascertain
whether particular species are present in an area and help
determine population densities.
To monitor certain landmarks, Lian Pin and Serge have
programmed their drones to fly between specified locations
to take photos and then return home. This can be done by
programming the flight path to specific points over a broad
range, such as along a river, or using a grid pattern to ensure
that entire regions are monitored.
All flight plans are based on specific questions to aid
research efforts, such as: is poaching activity occurring in this
region? Or, are orangutans nesting in this area of the forest?
Mission planning is done on the ground before takeoff. The
length of the mission depends on what is being surveyed. They
can last anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour.
“Perhaps the most exciting part about taking pictures from
the air is we can later stitch these pictures together using
special software to create a map of the entire landscape,” Lian
Pin said in his TEDGlobal speech. Repeated surveillance of
the area allows him to monitor changes in land use, such as
reduced forest area and locations of fires. Images can even be
processed to create 3-D models of the forest.
Problems and Solutions
There are several issues that arise when using drones for
scientific research. Some of them are as follows:
Space: When asked about obstacles that he experiences
in the field with drones that hobbyists might not regularly
encounter, Lian Pin said, “The lack of landing space! It is
always a challenge having to land our drones in a confined
space of no more than 300 x 300 feet.”
Lian Pin has tried several methods for landing the airplanes
in small areas. One method is catching the drone. This can be a
useful and easy method if you have quick hands.
Another method Lian Pin has implemented is a net system,
where several colleagues hold up a large sheet that the airplane
can fly into during landing. This is a similar idea to the crash
barriers found on aircraft carriers.
A third approach to landing in small spaces that Lian Pin
and his colleagues have been testing involves using a parachute
attached to the underside of the fuselage. The videos look
33 Model Aviation APRIL 2015 www.ModelAviation.com