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   PSM  |  Red Pages  |  Aerial Mapping  | Field Notes  |  Connect                                       January 15, 2013—No. 81

Pangaea Flies the Falcon UAV

The competition in the geospatial UAV market just got hotter with the introduction of the U.S.-made Falcon UAV last year by the Denver, CO-based company of the same name.

The first impression of the Falcon UAV is . . . big. With a wingspan of 8' and a weight of 9.5 lbs, it is much larger than other UAVs that readers may be familiar with such as the Gatewing X-100 and the senseFly eBee. The vehicle is a multi-mission-capable UAV that offers "military capabilities at a civilian price," according to its developer Chris Miser, a former U.S. Air Force officer with nine years of combined military and civilian UAV R&D experience and pictured here launching his creation.

The first customers of the Falcon UAV have been law enforcement agencies. However, the UAV has already been used for applications beyond law enforcement missions. Applications include aerial mapping, hyperspectral imaging for mining exploration and precision agriculture, volumetric surveys, pipeline and power-line monitoring, land planning, disaster response, and a host of others. Falcon UAV teams with DroneMapper to provide turnkey imaging services, including high-resolution Geo Referenced Mosaics, Digital Elevation Models (DEMs), and Digital Surface Models (DSMs).

In early January I was invited for a demo flight to see firsthand the capabilities of the Falcon UAV. The unit's modular design allows for ease of assembly and disassembly. When disassembled, the entire UAV fits into a hard-sided rifle case and can even be backpacked into remote areas. After assembling the Falcon, Mr. Miser set up the ground station, comprised of a Windows-based laptop with software and communications gear. Programming the mission was simple. The ground control software uses Google Earth; one simply adds waypoints to define the subject area.

Once the mission is defined, the Falcon is hand launched (alternatively a bungee launch can be used, no ramp needed) and the UAV climbs to its pre-designated altitude and begins its mission. One innovative feature of the unit is that it has built-in two-way communications that allow for re-tasking in-flight. Sensor-wise the UAV also takes a modular approach: a number of imaging devices can be rapidly installed: Canon and Sony cameras, GoPro Hero camera/video, FLIR (forward looking infra red), and a hyperspectral imaging camera are all available.

In addition to using it in autonomous mode, the user can also semi-autonomously control the UAV through a joystick. Mr. Miser let me take the controls, and I flew the Falcon while watching the craft overhead and by looking only at the control interface. It was surprisingly easy.  At the end of the mission, the Falcon is recovered by parachute or belly landing. The parachute recovery allows missions in confined spaces.

A key feature of the Falcon UAV is its low cost. A unit configured for aerial mapping applications can be purchased for $20,000 for the airframe and another $9,000 for the ground control components. What's more, later this year, the Falcon UAV will be available with the open-source ArduPilot (autopilot) and ArduPilot Commbox, putting the cost in the $21,000 range for both airframe and ground control.

In the next issue we will talk about DroneMapper and some geospatial projects they've worked on with the Falcon UAV.

Until next time,


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News

LizardTech Releases Free GeoViewer Application for Android
LizardTech a provider of software solutions for managing and distributing geospatial content, announced the release of its free GeoViewer application for Android devices, designed to view geospatial imagery and vector overlays. With this latest application, Android users will be able to view their imagery in MrSID and JPEG 2000 formats, as well as popular vector data formats. User friendly, this latest application includes intuitive tools for band selection and coordinate display. It also comes equipped with measurement functionality as well as geolocation support. The free download is available on their website.
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New Autonomous Maritime Research Vehicle
Clearpath Robotics from Canada has introduced the Kingfisher M200 Remote Survey System, a responsive, customizable platform for remote sensing and environmental monitoring. Typical applications include bathymetric data collection, shore erosion monitoring, sediment mapping and flow rate measurements, dam inspection and harbor safety.
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"The Journey of a Roadway Project" Webcast Series from Autodesk Now Available Online
In case you missed any of these presentations, you can now view them at your leisure. View these presentations and learn how BIM solutions assist how engineering firms and government agencies to improve performance on their infrastructure projects. Register to get access to the recordings and earn PDH credits.
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