SmartPlanes unmanned survey and mapping


Some of you may have heard about SmartPlanes in Sweden. We have been quietly working with survey and mapping from UAV's for about 5 years now and keeping a bit of a low profile. I have just been putting a bit more information on our homepage about the kind of work we do and wanted to share it with you guys here at DiYDrones. I know a lot of you have ambitions of doing something commercial with UAV's in civilian applications and I'd be glad to share our experience.

Our plane was designed to be a portable system for aerial photography that can handle professional use in the field. We use a flying wing made out of covered EPP with vacuum formed polycarbonate fuselage that can be disassembled into 3 pieces for transport. It has an aft mounted electric motor and weighs about 1.1kg with camera and flys for about 35min on a 2500mAH flight pack. Our first version of this plane used a MicroPilot 2028g, now we use paparazzi autopilot. ask me why. It is hand-launch and manual landing. Flight planning is done by defining a single rotated rectangular block with dimensions and one waypoint. The actual navigation path is calculated in the autopilot code.


I think that aerial photography over small areas and single objects is a very good first civilian application for UAV's. We have seen a lot of interest in the technology, but the market is really undeveloped. For most mapping applications though, it is not enough to just take pictures from the air- you have to be able to generate a georeferenced photomosaic that you can use in a geographic information system. This is an area we have put a lot of effort into, within smartplanes and through some partners. We now have some software that allows you to create a good georeferenced mosaic already in the field on a laptop. For the more demanding applications that require true orthophotos and surface height models, we send the data in for processing.

We have found a lot of interest especially in making surface height measurements over small areas, because you can then measure volumes of things like gravel piles, sawdust, peat, rock aggregate, garbage, compost. Whatever people scoop up into big piles, they usually need to measure it and it is expensive to do it with conventional ground survey or aerial photography.

We normally cover an area of about 500x500m in a single flight because aviation regulations in most places require flying within line-of-sight. We can however join several flights into a large block for mapping larger areas. I think the largest block we have done to date had 30 blocks and almost 8000 photos. Very interesting to know it can be done, but at this size, laser scanning becomes more competetive.

Anyway I just want to tell you a little about our work and invite you to have a look at our homepage. Leave a comment here if you have any questions.

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  • Hi Steve
    I am wondering how do you get 35min flights with 2500mah batteries... which motor and pro do you use?
  • Thanks for the comments. sorry I've been away for a few days.

    Chris: Don't worry we follow the regulations that are in place for both flying permits and export restrictions. As you heard I am not in US, but anyway we have export restrictions here through the Wassenaar arrangement where Sewden is a participating state. I realize that an open-source autopilot doesn't exempt you from the export rules. The key difference for us is that the export process is through our own government for the end user, which is not the case if we get an OEM autopilot from another country. If you do come to Sweden, you should try to pay us a visit.

    MarcS: The flying patterns and camera control are some functions I added to the paparazzi code some time ago but never integrated in the main source. I would like to re-do them with this new 'module' functionality and release them. Send me a note if you want more details and tips.

    Leonardo and EricT: The software we use for processing images came out of a development project with a partner in Finland. They have plans to offer it as a web-service for general purpose UAV mapping. We also make use of some commercial software from Inpho and do other in-house development. We have used mostly canon compact cameras like the ixus70, and are moving over to the S90.
  • Those kind of systems are not very complicated. Take a look at microsoft silverlight, its a low level version.
  • Hi Steve,

    Can you share with us which software you use to merge the picture and also to do the 3D measurement?
    The pictures looks really nice. Which camera are you using?

    Thank you,
  • google earth needs this this would be a great add on to google earth because sattalite pics have low resulution when zoomed in to ground level plus with the 3d mapping the terain would be a lot more acurete
  • no words for such a gr8 piece of work. kudos to u nd ur team. if u can topographically map a terrain along with pics, it makes way for a breakthrough tech. cheers again bro.
  • Thanks for the info! Both Dean and I plan on going to Sweden this coming year. Sounds and looks like a nice place.
  • Hi Chris,

    see the first line of his post... The company is located in Sweden.
    European laws and the laws of the countries also limit the export of UAV´s but I think within the European Union it is not that bad. Not that I am a lawyer, just experience...
    Here we have more problems with the airspace regulations. But even this is easier opposed to the US as I hear.

    Just come over, it´s nice here :-)
  • Steve,

    You got a very nice system there!
    I have no idea if you are in the USA but given your complaint about export laws I am going to assume you are based in the USA. Please don’t take this wrong, I am not trying to get into an argument. I am rather trying help others understand the export laws as they actually are rather than risk the chance of the ridiculous fines and ramifications of breaching USA export laws.

    Just because you use an open source autopilot does not relieve you from export. In fact, the system you created falls under higher restrictions then the autopilot itself. IF you build a UAS in the USA it then falls under ITAR instead of EAR. IF you buy and open source autopilot, assemble the unit and install code in the USA it also then falls under EAR export restrictions. We don’t like it anymore then you. It has all but killed our company.

    Again I am not trying to be the guy who screams ITAR. I really do not want to see good fellow DIY members get stiffed by our government due to very poor thought out export laws.

    The fix:
    Don’t assemble an autopilot or complete UAS system in the USA and try and sell it outside the USA. We got the short end of this stick!
  • Hi Steve,

    very nice work! I noticed your homepage some time ago but the new one is much better!

    Since I´m flying paparazzi planes, too, it would be very interesting to know which flight plan you use to perform you patterns. The standard or even the OSAM survey are a nice start but you seem to get more performace...
    I tried with a CHDK modified Canon camera but the images are not as well aligned...

    Thanks for any help

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