Engineers at Georgia Tech Research Institute are working on an aerial observation system, to be deployed on helicopters and small unmanned airplanes, that can monitor and relay to health officials the latest information about the population in an area after a natural disaster.
The imaging system – designed by Price and senior research engineer Gary Gray – is called the “Mini ModPOD,” which stands for “Miniature Modular Photographic Observation Device.” It consists of an off-the-shelf Canon Digital Rebel XTi digital camera, a global positioning system receiver, a small circuit board that uploads mission parameters, and an inertial measurement unit that measures the aircraft’s rate of acceleration and changes in rotational attributes, including pitch, roll and yaw. The images collected from the system can be stitched together to create a complete picture of the affected area.
The research team has tested the device on several flights, selecting areas with large populations of people likely to be outdoors.
“During the first test flight, we wanted to test the clarity and resolution of the images collected during the run, and we were very pleased,” said Price. “We could see tennis balls on the ground and people reading books at outdoor tables. This was sufficient detail to allow accurate counting the number of people in an area.”
After the first flight, the researchers reduced the weight of the device and developed a more accurate geo-referencing capability, which allowed the physical location of the scenes shown in each photograph to be determined with precision.