Jethro Hazelhurst started the discussion "Developing a Web Application for Commercial Drones – big challenges, big prospects." in the group Agricultural UAVs on DIY Drones
Watching the sUAS Expo in San Francisco really got me thinking... we are at the beginning of a HUGE trend.
The consensus is that the number one application for Drone technology over the next few years will be Agriculture. More specifically: aerial mapping, NDVI vegetation analysis and multi spectral imaging.
This will most likely be the sector that will break social stigmas currently attached to 'drones', turning them from deadly killing machines into friendly farming tools comfortingly hovering over wheat fields.
Over the past couple of years I have seen incredible advances in 1). Affordable Open Source Drone Technology (pixhawk) 2). Affordable Sensor Technology (you can get light high resolution cameras off the shelf) and 3). Image Processing Software.
The problem I see is that for your average user, making sense of these individual products is daunting, even for those with more experience, integrating everything for efficient work flow is a major challenge.
As I see it there are 3 key components that need to be integrated:
A GPS Enabled Drone
Camera Sensor (e.g. the Sony s110)
Image Processing Software
How it should work:
The end goal is to produce valuable data in the form of images. These images help Farmer Joe make his next decision. The key is to get the hardware to talk to each other through seamless integration.
This is how I see the work-flow going...
1 – A survey grid is drawn using the flight planning software overlayed on Google maps.
2 – The drone takes off and moves to it's first waypoint in the survey grid via GPS signal.
3 – The done reaches it's waypoint and triggers the camera to take a picture of the area underneath.
4 – The onboard encrypted telemetry sends the image down to a laptop.
5 – The image processing software on the laptop starts stitching the images into a mosaic.
6 – This process repeats until the entire survey grid is completed, the drone lands and the stitched mosaic is automatically uploaded to the web-based application where the customer can analyze or share the image data in a 'Google earth' type interface.
What we have:
1 - We have a fantastic open source GPS enabled flight controller that is very powerful and fully programmable, thanks to 3DRobotics. The hardware only costs $279 with a GPS module and can already trigger cameras to take images and pre-defined waypoints.
This flight controller works with the powerful open source 'mission planner' which can do the first three points above. You can program missions using GPS waypoints and even generate survey grids.
2 - We also have low cost but high resolution cameras such as Sony cameras that offer remote API functionality: https://developer.sony.com/2013/11/29/how-to-develop-an-app-using-t ...
3 - Finally we have access to free image stitching software or Image Composite Editors (ICE): http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/um/ redmond/groups/ivm/ICE/
What needs to be done:
All the components are there, we just need to get them talking to each other. This means designing a web based program that translates their languages into one user friendly application.
The key being an emphasis on clean powerful yet simple work flow.
I can imagine a user having a log-in account where he can click on one of his fields and this brings up a Google earth type interface with the multi-spectral or NDVI images overlayed on top.
Take a look here to see what I mean: http://demo.terravion.com/#blocks
That particular company uses full scale aircraft however and are orders of magnitude more expensive.
What I really like is that you can select what overlay you want on the field be it infrared, NDVI or visual...
The closest I have seen to this idea is San http://dronedeploy.com/
I am sure many of us are also looking forward to 3DR robotics releasing "drone-share" although I could not find much info on that...
Ideally this should be integrated directly into the mission planner software. If we can get the telemetry to transmit live photos to the groundstation which can in turn perform real time image stitching and upload it to your account in the cloud for customers, then that would be a really powerful tool.
So I am looking for any input you have to offer, any current projects or programs that you think I should take a look at. What is the best way to start the development process?
This is a huge project with many challenges but even more potential. I am eager to hear what you think.
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