For a short while now I'm using a kite for lifting my camera to 500m-1000m in a city to obtain ortho imagery for mapping in OpenStreetMap. I'm planning a full photo map of the city.. unfortunately with the range covered by a single kite flight I'd need to do about 80-120 flights to cover the entire city area, and this is assuming good weather conditions and good availability of green space / parks / squares in all the districts (the launch usually requires a decent piece of space free from electricity cables, optimally without any high structures on the two sides determined by the wind direction). Hence I'm looking at trying out drones instead of the kite. Does anyone have experience with any UAVs suitable for relatively high flights, that would help me cover a big area?
My biggest concern now is the RC range. I haven't found any good breakdown of the RC range achievable in different environments, for example I know big cities generate considerable noise in all frequencies so I'm not sure if any standard RC kit will allow me to rise to, say, 750m altitude, with some buffer for horizontal movement (still with reliable control over the UAV). My kite camera just takes pictures every 15s so there's no need for RC, however I imagine that even using GSM (EDGE / GPRS / 3G, etc) to control the device would be quite okay for a kite, despite the latency. For example I could use a Palm Pre or Android-based phone which would let me log into it remotely, take a picture and even download it. For a UAV I also need to steer the UAVs flight and the GRPS latency might be too high.
Then the 2.4GHz and 433MHz ranges (normal RC) might not be very reliable at 500m distance, from what I understand (as I said I haven't found any good statistics on the web, I'd be happy to hear about other people's experiences).
What is the approximate range of the IR in the Blimpduino? (perhaps much shorter?)
Another issue is the battery range -- the quadcopters for example just fly for about 15 mins on a fully charged battery.
All in all I was thinking of first getting one of the "ready to fly" models of those tiny RC helicopters. They have decent battery life, they're relatively cheap ($200 for everything) and don't require soldering etc (I'm a software guy, I could do some limited soldering but I don't really 'enjoy' it nor am I good at it). These factory made toys are usually cheaper than the sum of all the parts they're made of. I'm not sure what radio control range I can expect from them, and is the steering even doable beyond the sight range? Or do I absolutely need a Arduino that I can program to go to altitude X, take a pic, and safely come back?
Are there any cheap models that can lift as much as 100-200g weight (phone or CHDK camera)? I know there are some 5MP and 7MP tiny solid-state cameras that just weight about 10g and can be connected to an Arduino to store images to a card, so that is an alternative.