I’ve been trying to wrap my head around Pict’Earth, a remarkable system flagged by Frank that transmits live aerial photography from an unmanned flying drone to a computer on the ground, where it is georeferenced and served to Google Earth or ArcGIS Explorer clients in real time.
It sounds almost too good to be true, but it’s legit. Fabrice Fasquel and David Riallant are French GIS pros. A third listed contact, Thierry Rousselin has his own GIS blog, Géo 212.
So how does it all work? Before live integration with Google Earth and ArcGIS Explorer came along, there was Le Cyclope, a flying drone for taking aerial digital photography, guided remotely by a human via a live video downlink. First developed in 2000, a lot of the technical information is available in French (alas in Flash) on the site of the company that created the kit, Visions du Ciel. What follows are the technical highlights, translated.
The drone weights 2.5 kg, and can fly up to a height of 300 meters and within a circumference of 1 km, at least within the law in France. It’s velocity is between 3-25 km/h, and the engine is electric, with a battery charge that is enough for 15 minutes of flight. The effective resolution of the captured imagery is 4 centimeters per pixel at a height of 150 meters with a 5 megapixel camera. The live video is relayed via a 2.4 Ghz transmitter to a receiver in the field, connected to a laptop or to the pilot’s video goggles.
The drone is very versatile — instead of capturing imagery, it could be made to capture georeferenced temperatures, humidity, luminosity, pollution or radioactivity, on demand, depending on the installed receptor.
If you want to buy one, here are the complete technical specifications as a PDF. The price, alas, is only available on demand. (I’ve asked, in the meantime:-) Visions du Ciel also offers a processing service for images captured with the Cyclope, which includes georeferencing and stitching, with a turnaround time of 12-24 hours. Prices here too are on demand.
But what, then, is Pict’Earth? For this new technology, the specifics are not as detailed. From Visions du Ciel‘s product site (alas also in Flash), it is clear that it Pict’Earth adds a layer of functionality to the Cyclope drone by transmitting the photographic imagery it captures, along with GPS data, live to the ground, where it is processed and collated in real time and served in a format readable to Google Earth and ESRI ArcGIS Explorer. It’s not clear whether this format is a simple KML network link, but I suspect it is. As the site makes clear, the intention is to let an analysis team give Cyclope’s pilot live instructions based on the photography being transmitted in real time.
It would be great to see a live demo of this (again, I’ve asked) because I imagine the real tour-de-force lies in the automated real-time georeferencing and stitching of the transmitted photography. If that can really be done at a high level of quality, then I will be impressed, as it strikes me as a particularly difficult task to automate. Perhaps the live transmission of imagery is only intended as an initial first draft, with proper processing after the flight.
In any case, this is a wonderful innovation. Beachfront celebrity weddings will never be safe from paparazzi again:-)