11-13 September 2013 Geneva, Switzerland – UNOSAT and the European Commission Joint Research Centre partnered to co-organize a workshop on Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) for Rapid Mapping. The event successfully brought together members of industry, academia and humanitarian actors to explore the technology´s readiness for rapid mapping and other civilian applications. The workshop spanned three days: the first day unfolded in Dardagny, Geneva, where the UASs were demonstrated and data collected; the second and third days took place at the International Environment House where post-processing presentations (day 2) and thematic sessions (day 3) awaited more than 70 participants.

Five mature, off-the-shelf systems took to the sky on day 1: the Gatewing UX5 and senseFly eBee, fixed wing systems with impressive rapid mapping capabilities and terrain model generation; the Sky-Watch Huginn X1, which has emergency management applications  for rescue operations and effective relief work; the AscTec Falcon 8 whose aerial images can be used to generate high resolution maps and 3D models; and finally the microdrones md4-1000, which also provides aerial terrain mapping and featured the ASIGN image transfer technology. These last three systems were all copters. Each system successfully completed its flight plan and collected the relevant data.

Day two offered participants the opportunity to learn more about how the software used in the data post-processing phase could generate accurate maps or 3D building models. Industry participants presented the results of the previous day´s flight missions, which, thanks to several Ground Control Points, detailed flight plans and high-performance, robust systems, yielded impressively detailed and geo-referenced maps and video footage.

The workshop ended on another high note on day three with the thematic sessions. Several fascinating presentations were given on topics as diverse as user requirements and R&D needs, urban search and rescue, legal aspects of UAS operations, autonomy & artificial intelligence and swarm deployment. Presenters included researchers, experts and end users. A question/comment segment after each presentation ensured a lively, ongoing debate that always spilled over into the coffee and lunch breaks.

Main impressions from the workshop were the diversity in technological solutions for various practical uses, the rapid turnaround time from flight to having useable data at hand in the field and a reality check on what are still challenges related to flight permissions, especially outside Europe and the USA. Nevertheless, this technology will most likely make a large impact on data collection in future emergency situations. In addition, based on what was demonstrated in Geneva, the tools are also useful for disaster risk reduction activities. The formula of allowing close interaction between UAS providers and the humanitarian end user community was highly successful according to the participants.

Image 1: Photo courtesy of AnsuR

Image 2: UNOSAT photo

Image 3: UNOSAT photo