Model Airplane Offers Unique Aerial View

21st Feb 2012 Press Releases

An experimental program that uses a model drone airplane to conduct aerial surveys of vital rainforest habitat in Indonesia has quickly proven a success – returning with images of both orangutans and the sad effects of deforestation.

The radio-controlled drone was tested recently in Indonesia, and relayed images that would previously have only been possible with low-flying airplanes. Those flights, however, are both dangerous and prohibitively expensive.

The thick forest canopy in Indonesia makes visual identification difficult of orangutans in the high treetops. But the drone’s mounted cameras clearly showed orangutans nesting in the trees.

It is believed that systematic drone flights will be a valuable tool in developing accurate counts as to the number of orangutans left in the wild, which previously had been estimates.   The autopilot drone was created by a team of ecologists and software developers led by Lian Pin Koh (ETH Zurich), Serge Wich (PanEco and Anthropological Institute and Museum of the University of Zurich), Calving Cheng and Stefan Talaparu (Odeon Consulting Group Pte. Ltd.), and funded by the Denver Zoo and the Orangutan Conservancy.

The plane is a low-cost Hobbyking Bixler RC model, fitted with an ArdupilotMega steering system. The camera is a GoPro Hero HD (version 1).

In addition to still pictures, the drone captures film of its routes (see YouTube video below).

#1: Logging transect, http://youtu.be/IOm9v0Ewcek

#2: Orangutan search, http://youtu.be/hXTbJA-304k

#3: River mission, http://youtu.be/4icq_takJLw

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