Last month, a team of CAS archaeology faculty and students tested out their latest research tool: a remote-controlled hexacopter. The small six-rotor flying tool, equipped with a camera, will be used in Turkey this summer to survey dig sites.
Beginning this May, the hexacopter will be used in Turkey by the Central Lydia Archaeological Survey, a Boston University archaeological project under the co-direction of Christopher Roosevelt, associate professor of archaeology, and Christina Luke, senior lecturer in archaeology. There, it will be used for high-resolution aerial photography relating to the documentation of known archaeological sites, the discovery of previously unknown sites, and the monitoring and documentation of ongoing illicit looting and destruction of cultural heritage.
The GPS-capabilities of the hexacopter will enable the efficient collection of oblique and vertical images for photogrammetric production of three-dimensional surface models (or Digital Elevation Models – DEMs). Accordingly, it will be able to record high-resolution three-dimensional characteristics of sites of all sizes in a fraction of the time required using traditional, ground-based surveying methods, saving not only time, but huge amounts of effort and, of course, money, in the process. Not only will these accurate surface models allow analysis and visualization opportunities, but also they will preserve accurate digital models of sites and monuments for posterity, an important prospect in all areas of the world witnessing the destruction of cultural heritage resulting from looting, development, and war.
The system is a Cinestar 6 hexacopter produced by Freefly Systems and incorporating flight, navigation, and GPS controls designed by MikroKopter, a German company specializing in Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). The system was partially pre-assembled and sold to BU by Quadrocopter, LLC. in Montana. CAS Archaeology students handled the final assembly and trained themselves to fly it using less expensive, "toy-like" quadrotors and a computer-based flight simulator.
Aerial photography in archaeology has a century-long history, yet it has always involved relatively expensive use of manned airplanes or unwieldy and unpredictable use of balloons or kites. The factors that make this UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) new and particularly suitable to archaeological applications include the stability the six rotors give the aerial platform, the ability to enable "First Person View" (FPV) imagery (where a radio downlink allows those of us on the ground to see what the camera sees in real time so as to easily frame shots), and its programmable missions, enabled by its GPS. At present, we've mounted a Panasonic Lumix GH2 digital SLR camera on the Cinestar 6 for oblique and vertical aerial photography and video. Its payload of around 4 lbs, however, will allow us to experiment with other light-weight sensors, leveraging recent developments in the archaeological applications of multispectral remote sensing.