Hi everyone -

I've been excited by the work the Ecosynth group has been up to since I visited a few years ago and have (finally) obtained some funding to get going in the kopter-sensing game.  I'm looking for recommendations on flight systems for getting started (we had stared thinking about the quadrocopter Hexa1 base kind of setup - but I gather the field has gotten populated with more models and vendors now).

Our applications would include sites ranging from urban and suburban locations, desert and rangeland ecosystems, and potentially some mountain systems in Arizona (linked to an eddy-covariance study http://web.sahra.arizona.edu/research/TA1/towers/tower_30mEC.html).   We're interested in obtaining data for a few purposes around questions of human and natural gradients and their influence on ecosystem structure (ie, cover, density, etc.) and function (C-cycling, water flux, thermal patterns and fluxes) - linking cover with urban heat islands, thermal profiles of solar fields, evapotranspiration proxies, links between cover, greenness, ET, carbon cycling, etc.- we are looking to fly visual (ie a Canon point and shoot), thermal camera (looking at the http://www.infraredcamerasinc.com/infrared-camera-7640.html), and a multiband camera (an ADC model from tetracam http://www.tetracam.com/Products1.htm).

Flight systems have come along a bit since I first started talking with the Ecosynth lab - what would you all recommend now for a flight system - ready to fly would be great. (And we're still novices with the RC flying part too if that makes a difference!)  If anyone has experience or feedback with the camera models and appropriateness for this application, we'd love to hear it too!

Thanks for your help!

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Dear Mitch,

What size plots are you interested in?  Our standard size is 250x250 meters, which takes 12-15 minutes to fly.  This is the range that most copters can fly.  Anything larger, like 500x500 meters, needs a heavy duty copter like one of our octos.

When you say visual, thermal, and multi band, do you mean all mounted to the copter at once, or rotated through so that the copter is never carrying more than one recording device?  Any one of those devices should be in the normal cargo capacity range, but all three would once again be getting into octocopter territory.

For RTF, 250x250m plots, and one imager at a time, I recommend the 3DRobotics X8 with this maxamps battery.  The X8 comes ready to fly, and it has enough lift to it to carry that hefty battery and an imager fairly well, in my estimation.

Quadrocopter sells hexas and octos RTF.  They even sell the Cinestar 8 as an RTF, which is the heaviest lifting RTF I know of.  The main drawback I have with these copters is in their control system.  Mikrokopter has a built in 250 meter radius which they will not surpass autonomously.  You can pay extra to expand this radius.  Another drawback is that Mikrokopter does not follow lines between waypoints, it simply heads towards the next point.  Arducopter has built in line following code that keeps it on track.  I do not know if Mikrokopter has fixed this in recent years.  Other than that, Mikrokopter and Arducopter control systems are mostly identical.

If you are willing to break from RTF, then I recommend either one of our octos as seen here, or our hexas as seen here.  I consider these copters the best solution for scanning 250x250m areas, 500x500m with an octo, or even 250x250 with an octo carrying a heavy load.  These copters we use are built with a combination of Arducopter and Mikrokopter parts.  The frames and motors are Mikrokopter, while the rest of the electronics are Arducopter.  Of course, the biggest drawback is that these copters are something I custom made for our lab, so there is no instructional guide on how to build them.  Personalized training seems to be the only option right now for getting these copters into other researchers' hands, although we are working to remedy that.

So that's my initial response, please reply with feedback so I can continue to assist you.

Hi Stephen

Thanks for that info - I think the relevant parts to follow on are that the 250x250 scanning area is probably most suitable for us.  Still looking at the same payloads I mentioned previously (the Cannon, the IC thermal, and ADC Tetracam).  I think we'd like to go RTF right now since we're quite new to this approach, but it looks like the X8 isn't available anymore at the link you sent - this is the newer model?  http://store.3drobotics.com/products/3dr-rtf-x8-2014

It looks like there's a bit price difference between the X8 and the quadrocopeter models (or is the X8 just not spec'd out with the full programming and navigation options we'd need?).  Perhaps a chat offline would be ok and more efficient?





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