Preserving archaeological cultural heritage is important for both cultural and economic (e.g., tourism) reasons. One way to discover potential dig sites is by using ground penetrating radar or synthetic aperture radar to point to places where exploratory trenches can be made. However, radar instruments are heavy and hard to mount on drones and, more importantly, they are very expensive, which prevents many groups with more modest means from finding future sources of economic activity.
The Business Development team at our university, ZSEM, together with the high tech startup Coggnix, is developing a remote sensing drone equipped specifically for archaeological surveying using photogrammetry on a StereoPi/Pi4 platform. The camera is flown on an X-UAV Talon fixed-wing drone platform guided by ArduPilot and using a modified variant of OpenDroneMap for data processing.
Photogrammetry is a technique where, in this case, stereo-imagery is converted into geometrical terrain data. This data is then post-processed and automatically analyzed for geometric and human sized features, which can indicate the presence of archeological features below the surveyed ground.
The advantage of the architecture selected for this project is primarily cost. We are targeting the platform for use in the continent of Africa and regions of central Asia. The feasibility of large scale surveys is directly coupled with the final price of the platform, which in our case is only a fraction of the typical price for such surveying platforms which ranges from multiple thousands to tens of thousands of US dollars. This affordability is a result of the deliberate choice of open source software, manufacturing with 3D printing key strictures in the airframe, and using the StereoPi as the sensor package.
The Coggnix AD Team. September 2019.