Drone Challenge - Goonhilly and Eden Project flights

Members of EESE’s Human Interface Technologies (HIT) Team took on a major challenge recently when they flew one of their small unmanned air vehicles (sUAVs) at two iconic sites in Cornwall within a 24-hour period, taking advantage of a brief window in the autumn weather.

Eden Project drone

At the invitation of the Goonhilly Earth Station near Culdrose and the Eden Project near St Austell, the Team combined both sites in one visit and gambled on the weather remaining suitable for flying, despite an area of low pressure approaching the west coast of the UK.  The aim of the flights was to conduct an exacting test of new aerial video-to-3D conversion software recently acquired by the team by flying over two well-known sites with significantly different geographical, natural and man-made features.

Flying conditions were marginal during the Goonhilly flights, especially around the large antennae, each of which presented its own unique wind-channelling and turbulence characteristics.  Nevertheless, the Inspire 1 Quadcopter performed extremely well, both under the manual control of the HIT Team’s sUAV pilot, PhD student Chris Bibb, and in autonomous flight mode, where a standard raster search pattern is flown within a graphical box overlaid onto a DigitalGlobe satellite image (similar to Google Earth), the size and coverage of which is defined by the pilot.  As well as the flight sequences conducted to obtain images suitable for conversion into 3D models, it was possible to fly the quadcopter close to the surface of one of the inactive antennae dishes, to establish the level of visual detail that could be recorded using the onboard 4K camera.

In contrast, the flying conditions on the second day at Eden were near-perfect and, despite a very overcast morning, two autonomous flights captured some spectacular autumn images within the site, as well as sufficient data to develop a detailed 3D model of the area around the familiar Eden biomes.  In order to avoid danger to visitors, the flights were only permitted one hour before opening time of 09:00 and the two wires of the attractions Sky Wire ride had to be avoided at all costs!

In both instances, and as well as the strict operating procedures developed by the HIT Team for all sUAV flights, permission was sought – and granted – from local Air Operations personnel based at the Royal Naval Air Station at Culdrose and Newquay Airport.

The video imagery and 3D models created as a result of the two flying sessions will now be used by the two establishments to consider how future aerial images, coupled with their recreation as interactive Virtual Reality scenes can support future planning activities, for applications as diverse as the construction of new antenna “farms” within confined sites to evacuation planning for concert audiences.

Goonhilly from drone