UNSW develops autonomous 3D mapping drone

Image: UNSW

Researchers from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) have created an autonomous 3D mapping drone that reduces map surveying times.

The university’s engineering researchers, together with Linke & Linke Surveys, developed the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) using spinning light detection and ranging (LiDAR) technology that produces accurate 3D maps of key areas.

It weighs approximately 12kg and can travel for up to 18 minutes over any terrain, able to deliver data in real time from 30,000 reference points per second.

The drone can be used for surveying construction projects and Linke & Linke Surveys director James Linke said it can cut down on capturing times.

“After a 10-minute flight, you can have a point cloud that covers the whole site and is available in real time,” he said.

The drone also has applications in the mining industry, particularly through asset mapping, as it could be used to keep workers safe.

“We have a research project at the moment looking at the safety of open-pit coal mining,” Dr Johnson Xuesong Shen, lecturer from UNSW’s school of civil and environmental engineering, said.

“[With the UAV] we can map out the high wall, do some analysis and figure out the risk of collapse.”

Linke added that the drone can be used to access areas where human surveyors are unable to reach, such as disaster relief situations where real time data capture is necessary.

He also highlighted the importance of speed for the success of engineering, with the drone able to provide the data to engineers to enable resources planning.

“Engineering is moving now towards real-time reporting. Information that’s two days or two weeks old is not as valuable or useful,” he said.

Although the drone is currently a prototype, the UNSW partnership received a $15,000 grant through TechConnect – a program supporting small to medium sized businesses building innovative solutions at UNSW – to deliver the technology worldwide.

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