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Indiana Drones! The University of Queensland uses a DJI Inspire 1 to find dinosaurs
Using drones to detect where dinosaurs once roamed

In recent years, drones have been used in a broad range of endeavors, from the innovative tracking of marine life for conservation purposes to saving lives. Every day, new and exciting applications of this groundbreaking aerial technology are revealed. One such story is the use of the Inspire 1 to help advance the field of archeology.

Evoking fond memories of fictional adventurer Indiana Jones is archaeologist and University of Queensland researcher, Anthony Romilio. He’s one of the authors of a paper detailing use of the Inspire 1 in a project to locate a site where dinosaurs once roamed.

Anthony Romilio

In short, the Inspire 1 has simplified the investigation of footprints left behind by the prehistoric creatures. By combining data captured by the Inspire 1, planes, and handheld devices, the team created a virtual 3D model of the landscape far quicker than previous traditional methods and with higher resolution.

The research paper celebrates many of the advantages of the Inspire 1. The authors write: “As a quadcopter, it is able to perform vertical takeoff and landings within a relatively small area… a capability that proved invaluable at Minyirr with its limited number of flat and dry surfaces.”

The researchers add that incorporating the Inspire 1 helped them have a better understanding of the creatures that left the footprints behind. “You may think it’s the track of a dinosaur, but after you do some 3D modelling, you’ll be able to confirm what kind of dinosaur it was, if it was moving in a particular manner, or whether or not it’s a dinosaur track at all,” explained Romilio in a dialogue with Mashable.

The dinosaur's print left behind a wealth of data, just waiting to be analyzed
The dinosaur’s print left behind a wealth of data, just waiting to be analyzed

During the project, the Inspire 1 was used in a dual remote control setup where one remote is held by the pilot and the other by the camera operator. The aircraft was flown at low altitude and images of the surface were captured every 1 to 5 seconds with the onboard 12.76-megapixel X3 camera. The X3 has a 20 mm (35 mm format equivalent) f/2.8 lens. Photographs were taken under natural light with auto settings for ISO, shutter speed and aperture. 4K video footage was captured by the Inspire 1 and selected segments of the video MOV file format were imported into Adobe Photoshop in order to extract every 12th frame.

Some data from the peer-reviewed paper
Some data from the peer-reviewed paper

The team noted that the Inspire 1 performed exceptionally well in gusts of wind and the gimbal remained remarkably stable. The maximum communication distance between the Inspire 1 remote control and aircraft is 5km (3.1 miles), allowing the operators to cover a large range.

The manufacturer of the Inspire 1, DJI, recently launched a new version called the Inspire 2. The Inspire 2 may provide even more benefits for the archaeological community in the future, featuring a higher resolution camera, obstacle avoidance and far greater onboard intelligence and streaming capabilities.

The optional X5S camera can capture 5.2K video in CinemaDNG RAW, Apple ProRes and more. The onboard FPV camera would facilitate better pilot and camera operator collaboration on archeological projects.

Romilio has used his drone to collect data from more than 70 archaeological sites so far. He looks forward to continuing using cutting-edge technology to learn more about these incredible creatures.

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