News

Technology: Putting aerial drones to the test

James Nason, 04/09/2014
TUM drone 8

Refuelling at Top Springs roadhouse in the NT. Click on images for a larger view – more at bottom of article

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The Quad Copter and gimbal-stabilised camera.

The craft is controlled by dual joysticks while the camera lens is controlled by a Smartphone app.

The craft is controlled by dual joysticks while the camera lens is controlled by a Smartphone app.

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A GPS guidance systems helps the four rotored copter to maintain its authority in the air.

THERE has been a lot of talk in agriculture lately about aerial drones fitted with cameras, much of it coming from animal liberation activists who see the technology as an ideal way to “spy” on farms.

While the use of remote controlled flying cameras for spying continues to spark debate on privacy, ethical and legal grounds, there is no doubt that the simple devices now available can be quickly and easily used to capture detailed, and often quite stunning, images from above.

On his recent visit to Australia, Daryl Hasan, general manager of Tanjung Unggul Mandiri PT (TUM), demonstrated the capabilities of a Phantom 2 Vision+ Drone Quadcopter fitted with a 14 Megapixel High-Definition camera.

The integrated drone and camera unit costs about $1500 to buy.

Daryl uses the Quad Copter to capture aerial pictures and video of TUM’s own cattle feeding operations in Indonesia.

He brought the device to Australia to take some unique images of the properties they visited, some of which will be framed for the TUM office walls back in Jakarta.

The Quad Copter is flown by a simple hand held controller with dual joysticks. Just like a toy remote control helicopter, the left joystick controls up/down movement, the right controls sideways and backwards/forwards movement.

The remote control also has a clasp to hold a smartphone, which allows the operator to view what the camera sees while it is in the air. This allows the zoom lens to be easily positioned in the most optimism spot to capture whatever the operator wants to film below.

The camera is mounted to a gimbal which provides stabilisation and ensures surprisingly smooth and seamless video, unaffected by the vibrations of the craft.

At a Darling Downs feedlot Daryl flew the Quad Copter to a height of about 100 metres above the ground before moving it over the cattle.

The device made a distinct buzzing sound while in the air, but was launched far enough away from, and flown high enough above, the feedlot to eliminate any chance of disturbing the cattle below.

However, it also seemed clear that in the hands of someone with little cattle sense, or with a deliberate intention to fly low enough to ‘spook’ the animals, an aerial drone could cause problems for cattle in a feedlot environment.

Also surprising was how stable the light-weight copter was in the air, aided by its four rotors and a GPS-enabled guidance system. Even at a height of 100 metres in a strong Darling Downs wind, the drone held its position and retained its authority in the air as Daryl maneuvered it around.

Daryl has shared some of the pictures he took on his tour around Australia recently which can be clicked on below this article.

For privacy reasons we have not identified the location of places pictured, but they demonstrate just how effective new generation, low cost drones are at capturing stunning and detailed aerial images.

To view more pictures from the drone click on thumbnails below

Qld farmer receives world’s first Google Drone delivery

Meanwhile, in another drone-related development, a farmer from Warwick last week became the first person in the world to receive a personal delivery via a  Google Drone. Google is trialing the use of unmanned aerial drones as delivery devices, and Warwick farmer Neill Parfitt was chosen to trial the first delivery last week. His delivery carried dog food, a Cherry Ripe and a Crunchie Bar, but similar drones could be used in future to deliver anything from farm inputs to life saving medicines. According to the Warwick Daily News about 30 people from technicians to film crews were on hand to watch the history making delivery, which travelled from a nearby property to Mr Parfitt’s property. Mr Parfitt told the paper the device was battery operated, had a wing span of around one metre, and a flight speed up to about 90km per hour. Read more on the Warwick Daily News website here

  • Read more about CSIRO’s application of robotics in aerial weed control here

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