The Aeromapper UAV

                            The Ecosynth Octo

    Feature Multicopter Fixed Wing Airplane

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    Flight time 30 Minutes 60 Minutes

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    Cruising speed Up to 8 m/s Min. of 12 m/s

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    Takeoff/Landing area Small Medium

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    Payload 500+g 400g

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    Versatility 3D flying Horizontal paths only

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    Safety Dangerous in a crash Parachute recovery

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    Durability Crashes are costly Medium crash resistance

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    Cost $2000 approx. $4000 approx.

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    Weight Greater than 4kg Lesser than 2kg

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    Mission Length possible 8km 30-50 km

This is a comparison of the two main hobbyist level aircraft methods available for collecting Ecosynth 3D scans.  I have used the Ecosynth Octo and the Aeromapper UAV as examples of outstanding aircraft in their respective methods of photo acquisition.  The Ecosynth Octo is a heavy duty octocopter, whereas the Aeromapper UAV is a fixed wing airplane with a built in downward camera mount.

 

Flight Time

The octocopter has 30 minutes of safe flying time.  That is to say, any flight it flies should be landed by 30 minutes.  After 30 minutes, the octocopter risks running out of battery and falling out of the air.  The Aeromapper is capable of flights up to 60 minutes.  And unlike the octocopter, landing time is not included in the battery time.  The plane can still glide on a dead battery, and the parachute recover system doesn’t require flight power to use.

 

Cruising Speed

The octocopter is capable of flying photo collection tracks safely at any speed up to 8 m/s.  The Aeromapper has a minimum cruising speed of 12m/s, it has to go that fast just to stay in the air.  Faster cameras or higher flying (like 80 meters above the canopy) would be needed to ensure sufficient front-overlap between adjacent pictures.  Because of the faster cruising speed, the Aeromapper can cover more ground in a shorter amount of time.

 

Takeoff/Landing Area

The major advantage of the multicopter over the plane is that it can launch from small areas.  The octocopter only needs a small area to launch from and land in, such as a forest clearing.  The Aeromapper needs more space to take off and land.  The Aeromapper is thrown by hand and lands via parachute, so it needs an area the size of a small field or parking lot, as long as it is not surrounded by high obstacles.  The higher the surrounding obstacles, such as trees, the larger an area the plane needs to take off from.

 

Payload

The octocopter is a heavy lifter, it can carry 500g payloads and more (hasn’t been tested but the possibility is there.)  Of course, when carrying heavier payloads the flight time is greatly reduced.  The octocopter can carry almost any type of payload, as long as it fits the weight limit.  The Aeromapper has reduced options for payload.  It can carry a limit of 400g.  Payloads also have to fit within the small payload compartment on the bottom of the plane.  There is a downward facing hole with a motorized cover in the bottom of the Aeromapper, it is ideal for taking pictures from.  However this is all its good for, the Aeromapper can only take pictures facing down, and the kinds of payloads it can carry are more limited than on the octo.

 

Versatility

The octocopter is capable of fully 3D flights.  That is, it can do more than just fly tracks.  The octo can fly vertical columns, or sloped tracks.  This presents more freedom in the areas it can sample.  The Aeromapper can fly horizontal straight paths only.

 

Safety

The Aeromapper has the clear advantage when it comes to safety.  When the octocopter runs out of battery, it simply falls.  If it’s more than a meter or two up when it runs out, it crashes.  This results in costly damage to the copter.  If it’s over trees, the copter can get stuck in the trees.  There is also the possibility of property damage or injury if the octo crashes, seeing as it weighs over 4kg and is pointed in most areas.  The Aeromapper on the other hand is much more difficult to crash.  If the battery runs out, it will still be able to glide because it is an airplane.  It also is equipped with a parachute recovery system, so botched landings are not an issue either because it simply uses the parachute to land.

 

Durability

Similar to Safety, the octo is fragile and crashes can cost hundreds of dollars in repairs.  The Aeromapper is somewhat robust, and if for whatever reason it were to strike the ground, it would also require repairs, but most likely not as costly in my estimation.

 

Cost

The Aeromapper is more expensive.  There are comparable airplanes available which cost less than the octocopter, but they require custom work to make them able to fly photo missions.  The reason for the Aeromapper’s high cost is its ready to fly status. The cost can be reduced somewhat by buying components in kit form and doing custom work to build the Aeromapper.

 

Weight

The octocopter weighs over 4kg, the Aeromapper weighs less than 2kg.  The Aeromapper’s light weiht and ability to glide make it safer.  The octocopter simply drops like a rock if it runs out of power.

 

Mission Length Possible

The octocopter can fly 8km missions.  This may be able to be stretched to 10km, but not much more.  The Aeromapper can fly 30-50km missions, cover vastly more area.  Under 400 feet altitude, the best the octocopter can do is a 500x500 photo collection, maybe more if the parameters of the mission are stretched.  The Aeromapper could easily do 1km by 1km square missions, possibly larger.

 

Conclusions

Both aircraft have their strong points.  The octocopter is versatile and can launch from small areas.  It can carry almost any instrument that is light enough, and fly it in any pattern necessary.  However, when it fails the repairs are costly.  The Aeromapper (or other planes like it) require a larger area to launch from and land in.  They also have fewer options for instruments.  The Aeromapper is much safer and much less likely to need expensive repairs.  Its mapping range is much better than the octocopter’s.  Simply put: the Aeromapper does one thing and one thing well.  It flies in straight lines to collect photo sets.  It can do this for areas much larger than what the octocopter could ever hope to fly.  It does one thing very well, but has fewer overall functions.  The Aeromapper is clearly better for collecting 3D photo sets, but other considerations make the octocopter preferable in some situations.

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> octocopter can do is a 500x500 photo collection, maybe more if the parameters of the mission are stretched.  The Aeromapper could easily do 1km by 1km square missions

Is that 500x500 meters?

Yes, my apologies for the omission.  

Thanks, this was a really useful post. What kind of payload is the octo carrying for a 30 minute flight time?

The batteries weigh approximately 2 kg, and the camera equipment and dog tracker weigh approximately 500 grams.  I would be glad to give you a more accurate payload once I get into the lab later today.

Batteries weigh 2.02 kg.  With that setup, our octos carry a 418 gram payload for 30 minutes.

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