Drones, also known as a UAS (unmanned aerial system), have become increasingly popular among consumers in recent years. Despite being consumer-focused, many of these drones are powerful tools for academia.

What is a drone and why would I use it?

While drones initially made headlines due to their military benefits, consumer drones are typically small (1-5 pounds) devices with 4 to 8 rotors. They often will have a camera attached or have a cargo area to support a payload. A few of the advantages to a drone are:

  • Quickly deployable
  • Small, lightweight, and low cost
  • Capture high resolution (4K) still images and video
  • Long range of flight — over 4 miles, depending on the model
  • Offers repeatable autonomous GPS-guided flight
  • Potential for remote sensing operations

Prior to the emergence of UAS technology, the primary means to capture data of this nature would be a helicopter or small manned aircraft, which is a costly and slow process.

What are some applications?

Cinematography: Mainstream drones like the DJI Phantom 4 are capable of capturing 4K video using a built-in camera. Higher-end drones provide a platform for mounting DSLRs or other lightweight cinema cameras.  Some standard shots include flying along a path, orbiting an object, or tracking a moving subject.

GIS: Drones can be programmed to fly autonomously to capture a specific region. With the camera pointed straight down and utilizing the embedded GPS information, these photographs can be stitched together to create a high-resolution map. These maps are of a better quality and are more current than existing satellite imagery.

3D Modeling: By taking pictures of a large object (such as a building, statue, or even an island) from multiple angles using drones, special software can analyze these images to replicate a virtual 3D model of the object. With the GPS information included, these objects can be measured for length or volume. Additionally, these objects can be 3D printed or viewed in virtual reality or on a desktop.

Drones at Colby

Academic ITS has a fleet of 3 DJI Phantom 3 Professional quadcopters, which are available to faculty and students for conducting research. Please contact us to learn more by emailing acit_video@colby.edu.