Carbomap, an environmental survey company, in collaboration with high performance LiDAR manufacturer RIEGL, UAVE and The University of Edinburgh, announced the first successful demonstration flight of a RIEGL VUX-1LR survey-grade waveform laser scanner on a fixed wing, long range unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).
This is likely the first time that such a high-performance scanner has ever flown on a fixed wing UAV with such an advanced specification for long duration (8 hrs) and long range (1,000 km).
With centimetre-scale 3-dimensional accuracy, this breakthrough development will greatly increase the worldwide accessibility to high quality laser scanning (known as LiDAR). Throughout the world, LiDAR data is used for mapping infrastructure, conducting forest inventory, and determining flood risk in river basins, for example. However, obtaining such high quality 3D data can be very expensive to obtain using conventional airborne surveys. It is difficult to process without specialised software, and as a consequence, it is rarely available in most developing nations. By bringing such instruments together into a single UAV system (named Forest-Lux or F-Lux, for short), together with its own solution-focused software, it is now possible to get a system that can be a local asset, under local stakeholder control, and be operated at an affordable price in any country in the world.
F-Lux is the result of successful cooperation between Carbomap Ltd (Scotland), RIEGL Laser Measurement Systems GmbH (Austria), UAVE Ltd (Wales), and the University of Edinburgh. The development was also supported by the Forestry Commission (UK) and Scottish Enterprise.
The results of the test flight (see images below) demonstrate the quality of the data that can be collected by the F-Lux. The test flights were flown by UAVE at West Wales Airport.
F-Lux brings together high quality hardware elements and bundles them together with optimised software for forest monitoring and flood risk mapping requirements, which automatically processes the data in near-real time to quickly produce high quality metrics that the users need.
F-Lux is based around the 4 m wing-span Prion Mk3, manufactured by UAVE, which can fly beyond visible line of sight courtesy of an onboard autopilot. With a 1,000 km range, the F-Lux can cover up to 800 km2 in a single day. The key advantage of using a fixed-wing UAV for forest monitoring over a multi-rotor is the flight endurance, which significantly brings down the cost of data collection per hectare.
The LiDAR sensor is the RIEGL VUX-1LR, an industry leading, compact and lightweight, long-range LiDAR sensor, equipped with an optional waveform output – for the first time in a RIEGL VUX. Thus, the sensor provides RIEGL’s proprietary Smart Waveform® included in the data stream – resulting in an information and attribute rich, intelligent point cloud. It can operate up to 650 m in altitude and collects full waveform LiDAR data, collecting data throughout the forest canopy and can provide vital information about what’s happening on the forest floor. World experts agree that this ability is vital for producing the very best forest metrics.
The final element in the bundle is the real-time processing component, called instant-Omega. The instant-Omega is the software element of the F-Lux package, developed by Edinburgh-based, forest LiDAR experts, Carbomap. This software can achieve real-time processing and metrics production, which is being developed to offer the users the unique ability of having the data already on The Cloud by the time they return to the office. A built-in hardware solution for this software is under development.
The goal for F-Lux is for it to be a local or national asset, held in every forested country in the world (i.e the 143 countries with >10% forest cover). This means that the cost of mobilising the system is low, significantly reducing the overall cost of collecting data. Whilst our focus has been on using it to do the very best forest monitoring with this cutting-edge technology, F-Lux can be applied to a range of other applications, such as mapping power lines, roads, and other infrastructure, as well as agriculture. The ability to rapidly deploy F-Lux means it can also be used in post-disaster situations, collecting and processing high quality, vital data, quickly and on demand.
Day to day, this ability means you can plan around the weather and enables users to get optimum usage of the system. The data quality is comparable with putting boots on the ground, yet the coverage is closer to that of airborne data collection — but at a fraction of the cost.