All Mapped Up
Innovative mapping tools capture ground-level info from above
Life, Tech / 18 May 2012
GPS has made maps virtually infallible, cementing their status as the intrepid traveler’s ally. But while we’re less likely than ever to get lost, there’s still much to map that even the experts are not yet tuned into. So, to gain a better understanding of what’s on land, scientists are looking to the skies, as innovative aerial mapping methods fill in topographical gaps in academic, aesthetic, and environmental categories.
AggieAir Flying Circus: Following much tumultuous controversy about the legal operation of drones in civil airspace, the Utah Water Research Laboratory has quietly rolled out its own, environmentally focused drone program, dubbed the AggieAir Flying Circus. The lab’s small, unmanned aerial vehicle (or UVA) is launched with a simple slingshot-style bungee, making it easy and affordable to operate. Once airborne, the autonomous drone relies on GPS to carry out a pre-programmed flight route, using its two cameras to continuously capture photos of the landscape below. All told, this “green drone” system will comprehensively map the midwest’s wetlands, monitoring soil moisture and tracking species of fish and wildlife, both native and invasive.
Google Earth Balloon Mapping:
Google’s breathtaking satellite imagery has previously inspired artistic undertakings and the occasional sophomoric stunt, but the search giant’s partnership with Public Laboratory now aims to motivate users to do some lo-fi mapping of their own. Public Laboratory launched, via Kickstarter, an open-source tool kit for at-home balloon mapping. Complete with balloon, pre-wound tether, and rubber bands for creating a camera cradle, the kit contains everything map enthusiasts need to source their own aerial maps (minus the camera, of course). Selling for just $115, it’s an economic way to get a glimpse from above without risking death. Thanks to the people within the Public Lab community, Google was able to capture gorgeous aerial shots, sans satellite.
Multi-Spectral Satellite Imagery:
Archaeological research typically requires a significant amount of hands-on work at ground-level, with researchers conducting tedious tests for signs of early life in the soil. While not likely to eliminate this method entirely, a new approach may give archaeologists a head start in their search. Using multi-spectral imagery to detect wavelengths that are imperceptible to the human eye, aerial analysts can locate concentrations of anthrosol—soil that develops in the presence of long-term human settlements—which hint at the locations of long-ago civilizations. The technology is the product of an unlikely partnership between archaeologist and engineer, demonstrating once again that creative collaboration is the key to innovation.
©The Intelligence Group