Small Unmanned Aircraft System Assets

Science Center Objects

This web page describes small Unmanned Aircraft System (sUAS) assets available at the Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center (UMESC), current to May 1, 2020. These sUAS assets will change with project requirements and advancements in sUAS technology, in accordance with the Department of the Interior (DOI) Office of Aircraft Services (OAS) policy.

In accordance to DOI Secretarial Order 3379, “Temporary Cessation of Non-Emergency Unmanned Aircraft Systems Fleet Operations” issued January 29, 2020, all non-emergency sUAS operations by UMESC are ceased until further notice. The UMESC has obtained a “Commercial Off-the-Shelf Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Emergency Readiness Waiver” from the DOI and is active through September 30, 2020. This waiver provides a mechanism to ready UMESC’s remote pilots and equipment should an emergency scenario become imminent.

Small Unmanned Aircraft System Videography

Videography of a U.S. Geological Survey Super Gage on the Green River near Geneseo, Illinois using a 3DR Solo Quadcopter small Unmanned Aerial System. Remote pilot–Larry Robinson (UMESC). Photo–Kevin Hop (UMESC)

(Credit: Kevin Hop, USGS. Public domain.)

 

The sUAS assets are listed in three main categories including Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), Payload Sensor, and Autonomous Flight Controller.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicle

The UMESC is currently equipped with two 3DR Solo Quadcopter UAVs. The UMESC will soon be equipped with two BirdsEyeView Aerobotics FireFLY6 PRO UAV.

3DR Solo Quadcopter

The 3DR Solo Quadcopter is a stable system with a proven record within DOI bureaus in the capture of quality imagery for photogrammetry products. While the Solo sUAS is no longer being manufactured as of November 2017, its use will continue until replacement parts are no longer available or a viable replacement is acquired. The DOI OAS is currently reviewing replacement quadcopter sUAS.

Specifications

  • Vertical Take Off and Landing (VTOL) capabilities, allowing for limited space to take off and land the Solo Quadcopter.
  • Typical Solo mission time is 12–15 minutes, depending on weather, wind, and payload weight. Maximum payload weight is 420 grams, or about one pound.
  • WiFi range of controller is up to 2,640 feet (approximately 805 meters).
  • Cruising speed of about 15 knots (8 m/s).
 3DR Solo Quadcopter and Controller

The 3DR Solo quadcopter and controller is a multicopter small Unmanned Aerial System, and is used to capture quality aerial imagery data for photogrammetry products.

(Credit: Kevin Hop, USGS. Public domain.)

 

BirdsEyeView Aerobotics FireFLY6 PRO

The FireFLY6 PRO was approved by the DOI OAS in February 2018. The FireFLY6 PRO is fixed-wing with VTOL capabilities. Before the FireFLY6 PRO can be used by UMESC remote pilots, DOI OAS remote pilot credentialing specific to the FireFLY6 PRO is necessary. The UMESC will receive two FireFLY6 PROs with capability of Real Time Kinetics upon remote pilot credentialing. The UMESC will complement the FireFLY6 PRO with upgraded LiHV battery sets to extend flight time and a field battery charger for in-field charging capabilities.

Specifications

  • The fixed-wing design dramatically improves flight speeds over the Solo quadcopter, and coupled with extended flight time, the coverage area is up to 600 acres (200 ha) per flight mission.
  • The VTOL capabilities of the FireFLY6 PRO allows for limited space in take offs and landings, taking advantage of a multicopter UAV feature.
  • Reported mission flight time is 50–59 minutes, depending on weather, wind, and payload weight. Maximum payload weight is 700 grams, or about 1.5 pounds.
  • Wireless range of controller is up to 3 miles (over 5 kilometers).
  • Cruising speed of 30-35 knots (15–18 m/s).

Payload Sensor

The UMESC is currently equipped with four types of payload sensors for use with sUAS, including GoPro Hero4 Black, Ricoh GR II, MicaSense RedEdge, and FLIR Vue Pro R. Each sensor payload brings a different element to aerial imagery data.

GoPro Hero4 Black

The GoPro Hero4 Black payload is primarily a video camera with capability as a still picture camera, equipped with a rolling shutter. The spectral capture is red/green/blue (RGB, natural color). With the gimbaled mount, the camera can be oriented between 0 and 90 degrees, allowing for oblique video or still picture capture.

GoPro Hero4 Black on Solo Gimbal

The GoPro Hero4 Black payload is primarily a video camera with capability as a still picture camera, equipped with a rolling shutter. The spectral capture is red/green/blue. With the gimbaled mount, the camera can be oriented between 0 and 90 degrees, allowing for NADR and oblique video or still picture capture.

(Credit: Kevin Hop , USGS. Public domain.)

 

Currently, the Solo Quadcopter is the only UAV at UMESC that is equipped for the GoPro Hero payload. However, the FireFLY6 PRO can be equipped for the GoPro Hero with the acquisition of a gimbal mount from BirdsEyeView Aerobotics.

Video Specifications

  • MP4 file format (MPEG-4 codec).
  • Numerous video resolutions, including up to 4K/30 frames per second (fps) at ultra-wide field of view (FOV); up to 2.7K/60 fps at ultra-wide or medium FOVs; up to 1440p/80 fps at ultra-wide FOV; up to 1080p/120 fps at ultra-wide, medium, and narrow FOVs; and several other lower resolutions (960p, 720p, and WVGA).
  • Maximum pixel resolution of 3840x2160 with a 16:9 ratio (capable of other ratios, too).

Still Picture Specifications

  • JPG file format.
  • Up to 12.0 megapixels (MP) in wide FOV.
  • Up to 7.0 MP in mid-range FOV.

Keep in mind with GoPro Hero4 Black video and still captures, the wider FOV settings tend to produce higher image resolution with increased image distortion. The narrower FOV settings produce lower image resolution with less image distortion.

Ricoh GR II

The Ricoh GR II payload is primarily a still picture camera with capability as a video camera, equipped with a global shutter. The spectral capture is RGB. When vertically mounted on the UAV, the main use of this camera is for the production of orthomosaics or 3-dimensional (3D) models. The camera mount can be adjusted to compensate for flight angle of UAV to acquire imagery at nadir (perpendicular to the ground). The mount can also adjust for oblique video and still picture captures; however, the position of the mount is static on the UAV (stationary mount with no gimbal).

Ricoh GR II

The Ricoh GR II payload is primarily a still picture camera with capability as a video camera, equipped with a global shutter. The spectral capture is red/green/blue. When vertically mounted on the UAV, the main use of this camera is for the production of orthomosaics or 3-dimensional models.

(Credit: Kevin Hop, USGS. Public domain.)

 

The Solo Quadcopter UAV is equipped for the Ricoh GR II payload at UMESC, and the FireFLY6 PRO UAV will be equipped upon arrival.

Still Picture Specifications

  • JPG and RAW file formats.
  • Up to 16.2 MP.
  • Maximum pixel resolution of 4928x3264 with a 3:2 ratio (capable of other ratios, too).

Video Specifications

  • MP4 file format (MPEG-4 codec).
  • Maximum pixel resolution of 1920x1080 and up to 30 fps.

MicaSense RedEdge

The MicaSense RedEdge payload with its series of five multispectral sensors is vertically mounted on the UAV for the production of orthoimagery for vegetation classification and analysis. The MicaSense sensor size is 1,280 x 960 pixels and is equipped with a global shutter. As with other UAS sensors, individual frames can be orthorectified and mosaicked into larger composite images. The five discrete bands used by the MicaSense (blue, green, red, red edge, and near infrared) specifically target the spectral reflectance properties of vegetation and are similar to bands used by satellite sensors. The bands are intentionally narrow to allow for greater sensitivity and less mixing or overlap of adjacent wavelengths. The chlorophyll in vegetation absorbs the blue and red wavelengths and reflects green and near-infrared. The red edge and near infrared provide an indication of the amount of chlorophyll produced by plant. A deeper red color indicates robust, healthy vegetation and lighter red is indicative of either stressed vegetation or vegetation with minimal chlorophyll. These color differences, along with plant height, texture, and environment assist in identifying vegetation types.

MicaSense RedEdge

The MicaSense RedEdge payload with its series of five multispectral sensors is vertically mounted on the UAV for the production of orthoimagery for vegetation classification and analysis. The five discrete bands used by the MicaSense (blue, green, red, red edge, and near infrared) specifically target the spectral reflectance properties of vegetation and are similar to bands used by satellite sensors.

(Credit: Kevin Hop, USGS. Public domain.)

 

The Solo UAV is equipped for the MicaSense RedEdge payload at UMESC, and the FireFLY6 PRO UAV will be equipped with the MicaSense RedEdge-M payload upon arrival of the UAV.

 

FLIR Vue Pro R

The FLIR Vue Pro R payload is a thermal infrared camera that is temperature-calibrated and uses an electronic 360-degree gimbaled mount and 13 millimeter lens (field of view is 45 x 37 degrees) for collection of oblique and vertical thermal infrared video and still pictures. This camera uses a longwave infrared (spectral band 7.5–13.5 μm) sensor that is 640 x 512 pixels and can collect imagery at up to 30 fps. Measurement accuracy is +/-5°C or 5% of reading in the -25°C to +135°C range.

FLIR Vue Pro R

The FLIR Vue Pro R payload is a thermal infrared camera that is temperature-calibrated and uses an electronic 360 degrees gimbaled mount and 13 millimeter lens (field of view is 45 x 37 degrees) for collection of oblique and vertical thermal infrared video and still pictures.

(Credit: Kevin Hop, USGS. Public domain.)

 

The Solo UAV is equipped for the FLIR Vue Pro R payload at UMESC, and the FireFLY6 PRO UAV will be equipped upon arrival of the UAV.

Autonomous Flight Controller

Although UAVs can be flown under direct remote pilot navigation, autonomous flight controllers are used by the pilots to develop flight missions and then autonomously navigate the UAV to collect quality imagery data with precision, based on camera sensor, speed, and altitude.

Certified remote pilots must receive additional credentialing from DOI OAS to use each type of autonomous flight controller. The UMESC is currently equipped with two autonomous flight controllers, the Tower App and Mission Planner.

Tower App Controller

The Tower App controller is a tablet-based application specifically designed to autonomously fly the Solo Quadcopter UAV. With the Tower App, the best practice is for two remote pilots to run the sUAS mission; however, a more proficient remote pilot can navigate both the Solo controller and the Tower App controller together.

Mission Planner Controller

The Mission Planner controller is a computer-based software program to autonomously fly the Solo Quadcopter and the FireFLY6 PRO UAVs; however, the FireFLY6 PRO has its own version of Mission Planner software. With Mission Planner, two remote pilots are required with one pilot on the UAV controller and the other pilot on the Mission Planner controller. Clear communication between remote pilots is necessary.