By Nick Carne
Drones are nothing new, but what Adelaide firm DroneMetrex are doing with them is. They’re using unmanned aircraft to capture a 25mm digital image of the Earth’s surface in the finest detail while recording the time to a thousandth of a second. You wouldn’t use it for holiday memories, but it is proving indispensable for capturing high-res images of agricultural land, transport corridors, infrastructure, mine sites and even sub-sea landscapes.
Managing director Tom Tadrowski says the company’s technology and product “is massively in front of the rest of the world.”
The TopoDrone-100, developed in partnership with another Adelaide company, Maptek, is now sold in China, Korea, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Middle East, North Africa and New Zealand, and will soon reach into Europe.
Businesses are using the TopoDrone-100 as a mapping solution because it can be used to map vast, difficult-to-access and dangerous areas. The drones are also cheap, fast, require minimal training and flying clearances and can launch and land in any terrain.
The key to the TopoDrone-100 success rests on two design features – an ability to capture digital images without being affected by movement of the craft caused by weather conditions, and the precise synchronisation of the imagery’s capture with GPS satellite data. It has five “eyes” at the front and sides of the craft and, with overlapping flight paths, captures vast quantities of data.
“A computer can then process many images all at once with all the pixels,” Tadrowski said.
“We process every single pixel – which is quite stunning when you think about it. (Consumers) might have 25-megapixel cameras, but we process every single pixel of every single camera and every single frame taken.”
The synchronisation of the drone’s camera with GPS data is important because it underpins the precision of the final imagery. The DroneMetrex system captures highly accurate American, European and Chinese GPS data and synchronises it to the millisecond with the camera’s shutter as it takes images of the earth’s surface below.
Tadrowski says a high level of accuracy is not so important during a flight – “you can be accurate to a couple of metres” – but post-flight it is really important to know exactly where each camera was during each exposure.
“Once you know where you were in the sky and you know your camera system very well, then we have the mathematics to work out where we are on the ground,” he said.