It's been another packed few days and we have successfully completed all of our objectives for the trip. Almost every night we have been lucky enough to see a half dozen sea turtles of varying species. These tracks have been great for our research and giving us samples for our autonomous flights.
Rainforest/Volcano Day Trip
On Sunday, January 10th we took a day trip into the volcanoes and rainforests outside of Liberia. Our final destination was La Finca de Anita. (Road to La Finca de Anita, Volcano can be seen in the back)
We passed through multiple villages in the rain forest where we stopped to pick up two local high school students. Our hope was to teach these kids how to fly the drone. After some instructions they were all able to fly the drone around for a few minutes and even take some pictures.
Remote Autonomous Flight Testing
On the following day we were able to complete our final drone test. About an hour and half away from the main research station is a remote beach on the north end of the peninsula. It is a great nesting ground for sea turtles, but due to it's remoteness researchers are unable to go every day. Currently they perform weekly reviews of the beach searching for tracks and nests.
"The drone will allow us to monitor this remote beach every single day. What took a half day of hiking and surveying can now be accomplished in 14 minutes."
After I program the drone to fly this autonomous route (more than four miles), I tell the camera to take a picture every 40 meters or so. Based on our altitude and speed, I am left with a few hundred pictures that look straight down on every area the drone covered. Using georeferencing and photogrammetric software I can stitch these images together and overlay them onto Google Earth. Below is an interactive map that shows the final results of these maps. Although not perfect, the imagery shows a step in the right direction for fully autonomous monitoring of vast areas. Use the tools to zoom in and out and view different flights and multiple layers.
In addition to rendering orthographic images (2D, flat models), we have the ability to render 3D models of our images. Below is one of our smaller models, you can click and drag it around. There are numerous applications for this in monitoring beach dynamics and changes in landforms over time. With larger data samples over a longer period of time one could see significant changes in the beaches and the effects this has on nesting turtles. 3D Model (click and zoom around):
Sea turtle hatchlings
One our final sea turtle patrol night, we were extremely lucky to encounter some hatchling sea turtles. There were over 80 hatchlings that had come out during the day, and because of high risk of hatching in the day, researcher kept the hatchlings until they could safely release them in the night. It was remarkable to see these turtles awaken and crawl into the ocean.