Autonomous wildlife surveillance with UAV and thermal camera

I am currently doing my Master's thesis at Linköping University (Sweden) and would be much grateful for advices. The task is to make an UAV autonomously plan a route as well as detect and track animals using an IR camera.

For the image processing and control of the platform there are two alternatives: computations onboard or computations on the ground.

Important parts for the image processing:
* Thermal camera with video stream to computer
* Measured sensor information (angles) from the gimbal
* GPS and sensor information from the platform

If the image processing are to be performed on the ground, a link with telemetry (including gimbal pose) and video is needed. Also a remote control that can be controlled from a computer is needed. If the computations are to take place on the platform, there must be a way to communicate with the flight controller, to control the platform. 

Is there any system that are RTF, or almost RTF, and fulfils these requirements? It seems that most flight controllers are closed, and cannot be controlled from a device onboard. Are there remote controllers that can be controlled from a computer?

Lastly, a link with some examples. The important difference is that the image processing in my project must be in real time, which introduces difficulties.
http://wildlifesecurity.se/projects/aerial/

Thank you for your input!

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Hi Cornelius, you've come to the right place!  The apm/pixhawk flight controllers that most people here use are very open and crucially they have a simple api (mavlink) that you can query in realtime for gimbal angles, gps/sensor info etc.  You can also control the flight controller through the same mavlink, so for example if you do image processing and find an area of animals through thermal imaging that you want to investigate further your code could automatically point the craft and gimbal towards that area.

http://dev.ardupilot.com/wiki/mavlink-commands/

Onboard computers are no problem, lots of people here use them and they're very simple to hook up:

http://dev.ardupilot.com/wiki/companion-computers/

Quite a few people do realtime image processing through onboard computers.  Here's a good example:

http://dev.ardupilot.com/wiki/odroid-via-mavlink/

http://diydrones.com/profiles/blogs/red-balloon-finder

Lots of people use a raspberry, and there's lots of interest in the newer nvidia and qualcomm boards.

Take a look at this new rangefinder as well which you'd probably need:

http://diydrones.com/profiles/blogs/the-sf11-c-laser-altimeter-awes...

Do post back here if you get anywhere :)

Thank you, Fnoop Dogg, for the inspiring welcome to the community!

This weekend me and my colleague have searched for and found many capable drones. Since we have a limited time for the project, we have decided to go for an RTF solution: 3DR X8+. The only things to add are a gimbal, a thermal camera and an onboard computer. Probably we will use Odroid XU4 for image processing.

As for the gimbal, we would like to have a 3D gimbal to get a stable view and be able to move the camera in all directions. Do you have any recommendations on a good 3D gimbal that can send the attitude over MAVLINK on request? We would prefer a gimbal with an included controller board and IMU. The STorM32 brushless gimbal controller looks promising, but does it ship with any gimbals? 

http://copter.ardupilot.com/wiki/common-storm32-gimbal/

Good point! A range finder will be needed in the final project, but in this demonstration a 3D map is available for simulations. The map will also be used for estimation of the camera footprint on the ground.

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