Over the past five years the use of drones or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) in modern warfare is becoming more prevalent. But UAVs are not only for use on the battlefield they are being put to civilian use in the capture of aerial images. With a small UAV, you can for instance: photograph properties for sale, monitor construction progression, asses the quality of crops and farmland, inspect and map disaster sites, and even observe and protect archaeological sites.
A variety of UAV’s are commercially available. (A) Octocopter fitted with thermal and daylight sensors,
DLR German Aerospace Centre (B) senseFLY swinglet CAM system.
UAVs are not only for the wealthy, as a number of online forums and shops will easily guide you in the use and construction in a range of aircraft from a helium filled blimp to the ultimate octocopter (a small flying device with 8 helicopter style rotor blades) with integrated GPS and controllable high resolution camera.
Helikite helium balloon has been used extensively as a low cost aerial platform for recording archaeological
excavations by the Discovery Programme.
What makes these Remotely Controlled (or RC) devices so attractive for archaeologists is the fact that they can provide different perspective and point of view over a certain subject of research. Indeed, RC crafts (whether glider, motor airplane, helicopter or multi-copter) can fly at lower altitudes then traditional airplanes, which is good for avoiding haze and provides potentially higher resolution imagery. Images collected can be processed to produce 3D models and orthoimages.
Vertical image of the medieval tower discovered during excavation at Tulsk, Co. Roscommon.
UAVs have other advantages as they can and take off from small clearing, rather than an airfield and can be mobilized quickly. This is great if you know crops in a field are starting to show marks of archaeological sites. However, as they are much smaller than conventional aircraft, strong winds and bad weather can easily effects their stability. A summary of the pros and cons of remotely controlled UAV aerial photography is presented in the table.
Image Credits: Octocopter: DLR German Aerospace Centre (Credit CC-BY 3.0), Plane: Korecgroup.com. Summary of Pros and Cons: Gianluca Cantoro, Faculty of Archaeology, University of Leiden