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Calibration tests a big step toward drone application

John Seelmeyer
jseelmeyer@nnbw.biz

A technical symposium in Reno next month marks an important step toward the adoption of drone technology in photogrammetry, the science of making measurements from photographs.

And the symposium — which is expected to draw about 500 people from across the nation — shows how use of Reno-Stead Airport for tests of unmanned aerial systems will begin to pay benefits to the region’s economy fairly quickly.

Here’s what’s going on during the event sponsored by the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing:



Professionals in photogrammetry, which is used in applications ranging from topographic mapping to manufacturing quality control, were quick to see the possibilities of drones to gather photographic information from locations that are dirty, dangerous or difficult — an inspection of an oil rig, for instance, says Jeffrey Miller, owner of Iphone Drone Imagery, a Bay Area company, and media coordinator for the October event.

Miller, for instance, is working out methods to use drones and iPhone cameras to collect data that’s currently gathered much more expensively by satellites and manned aircraft.



But before professionals in photogrammetry and the related field of remote sensing are comfortable with the potential use of drones, they need to ensure that they can calibrate the drone-driven results to meet their exacting standards.

A calibration test course established at Reno-Stead Airport for the conference that’s scheduled on Oct. 21-22 marks the first time that the calibration data will be collected on an FAA-designated test course.

“This is a really big deal in our world of mapping professionals,” says Becky Morton, chair of the UAS Mapping 2014 Reno symposium. She works as senior program director at Towill Inc., a survey and mapping company in Concord, Calif.

Andras Ladai, another Towill employee, will be coordinating work to gather data from the calibration course.

Drone-mounted units will gather information on the test course to calculate distances across flat ground and the height of objects. Other tests will calibrate systems’ ability to map an undulating surface or recognize a standing object such as a deer.

And some of the tests, Ladai says, will be secret until the very moment they’re sprung on developers of drone-mounted systems.

Most of the calibration course will be left in place after the symposium leaves, allowing continued testing operations.

Along with the much anticipated calibration tests, the UAS Mapping 2014 symposium will include talks by experts from the industry, government and academia about the likely direction of drone-supported photogrammetry and remote sensing.

Along with professionals in the field, participants are expected to represent a wide range of industries that rely on photogrammetric mapping — mining and construction companies, urban planners and environmental engineers.

Widespread use of drones for mapping, however, awaits approval of the FAA. It’s banned drones from most airspace in the United States, with the exception of designated test areas such as Reno-Stead Airport.


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