FOSS Technologies in Drone Applications

Conducted from 17th to 19th January, 2018 by ICFOSS, Techno Park, Trivandrum.Image of 3DR SOLO Quadcopter flying

Drones and allied technologies are no more a thing of future. Thereare many RC flying clubs, hobbyists and researchers around us who make use of this rapidly advancing tech, so as to implement their proof concepts or to just play around with them. The exponential curve in the up rise of the tech is now backed up with a huge open source community. This made every piece of hardware that is available in this domain much more intelligent than before.

Nowadays, building drones are as easy as playing with those development boards which are available in the market. Drones and Photogrammetry are breakthrough technologies in numerous fields such as surveying, precision mapping, 3D modeling etc. The ubiquity of the electric multi-rotor drone was made possible by Arduino based flight software and Linux based ground station planning software. A combination of these techniques give accurate and detailed measurements which help us in planning, designing, and decision making processes across many sectors.

Although drone technologies have gained popularity, the current scenario in the sector gives limited experience to the users due to its proprietary dominance. In this sphere, ICFOSS conducted a 3-day workshop focusing on the potentials of Free Software in drone and photogrammetry technologies to open up new prospective for hobbyist and drone professionals. A few pioneering open source technologies in the field such as Pixhawk, Open Drone Map, 3DR and mission planners were explored during the workshop. ICFOSS aims to facilitate development and contribution to these open drone communities.

The training sessions were lead by Stephen V. Mather, founder of Open Drone Map and Frederick Mbuya, the Chief Technical Officer of Uhurunet. Workshops were conducted at Vagamon, Idukki on 17th and 18th of January 2018 and also at ICFOSS training centre on 19th of January, which was concentrated on data processing. 15 participants from various institutions such as CDIT, IT Mission etc. actively participated in the workshop. The workshop was organized in close coordination with the Kerala State Electricity Board and their concerned staff was also present in the board. The long term outcome of the training programme was to encourage the use of open drone technologies for various applications in government sectors.

Workshop contents & Training procedures

The modules of the workshop consisted of Introduction to  ‘Open Source flight controllers and hardware options,  Drone assembly and testing, Flight planning and data collection, Image processing in Open Drone Map’ etc. The workshop was divided into daily sessions. There were presentations for briefing up the basics of drone techniques, followed by field training sessions.

Trainees preparing drones for flight

On the first day, the training session started with the introduction of invited trainers, Mr. Stephen V. Mather and Mr. Frederick Mbuya, followed by presentations on ‘FOSS technologies in Drone Projects’. The presentation showcased different usage cases in various contexts and familiarized various data products derived from drones as well as different sensors and models of drones. In addition to this, some of the accessories of flight control and telemetry were also shown. After the theoretical assembly, practical session carried out in Peermade. Peermade was selected as the optimal site for flight training sessions. The participants were given instructions on basic operations & functionalities of the drone including data capturing techniques as part of the practical sessions. Several test flights with 3DR Solo, DJI Mavic Pro and eBee were also performed.

On the second day, the sessions started with a recap of previous day’s test flights. Actual data collections for mapping and analysis were done for specified boundaries in Peermade, using eBee and 3DR solo drones. The session focused on capturing images for 3D mapping using various cameras at different altitudes. A test flight for the Winged UAV was also done on the second day. Moreover, several challenges that might occur during a flight were presented, including harsh wind conditions and rough topography. The outdoor flight training sessions were concluded after the final data collection and test flights.

Picture taken from drone on the air

On the third day, hands on the data processing sessions were held at ICFOSS Training centre, Trivandrum. The data sets captured onsite were processed using a set of open source tools, focusing on Open Drone Map and Web ODM. Camera calibration techniques to minimize the error in 3D model were also shown by Mr. Stephen V. Mather. Deriving various outputs such as DEM, DTM etc using ODM were also discussed in detail during the final session. The workshop concluded with the discussion of various applications that can be implemented in the near future. The reviews of resource personalities, Mr. Stephen V. Mather and Mr. Frederick Mbuya given in their blogs (Smathermather's Weblog, Uhurulabs) adds confidence to ICFOSS’s ventures. We thank all the ICFOSS team and delegates who actively participated in this workshop to make it a big success.