Back in 2007 we took a look at the concept of capturing aerial imagery from drones. Since then a lot of progress has been made in drone and camera technology. Now it is no longer the technology that is an issue, but rather regulations surrounding the flying of drones. For example, we told you last year how Falcon UAV were assisting with the emergency response to flooding in Colorado, but were stopped by FEMA.
The senseFly eBee, an example of a commercially available drone capable of capturing aerial imagery and producing 3D elevation models.
In the US the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has strict rules regarding drones, especially around airports, flight paths, and populated areas. Drones operated for hobby and recreation purposes fall under a special exception and are subject to different restrictions, but may not be used for commercial purposes under this exception.
However, there have recently been some reports of drones being approved by the FAA for use in capturing aerial photography. For example, this article about Le Sueur county being the first county in Minnesota to get FAA approval for drone operations. However, even in that instance, there are still tough restrictions.
Here in South Africa drones are already being used for commercial filming and anti-poaching operations, and possibly in the near future, for crime prevention and disaster management. South Africa, however, also has strict rules about the use of drones, and many of the current users are probably breaking the law.
Drones have a significant cost advantage over manned aircraft and provide the variety of models – check this out – which means that aerial imagery can be captured much more frequently, as well as after natural disasters or other important events. As the use of drones for aerial imagery acquisition takes off around the world, we should start to see a major boost to both the quality of imagery as well as the frequency with which it is refreshed.
In April this year, Google acquired drone maker Titan Aerospace and it has been speculated that capturing aerial imagery may be one reason for the acquisition, although another possibility is that Google wants to use them for providing internet access similar to Project Loon.
Google has also been developing drones for use in delivery of goods, and they chose Australia for the tests because it has less restrictive rules for flying drones. For more on that project, see the video below.
Do any of our readers know whether any of the imagery currently in Google Earth was taken by drone?