Headwall Photonics Blog

We're Giving Drones a Good Name

Posted by Christopher Van Veen on Wed, Oct 07, 2015

Drones seem to be in the news for all the wrong reasons. The media reminds us that they're nothing but nuisances: peeking at people, crashing into stadiums, hovering over the White House, and causing airliners to take evasive maneuvers. The FAA in this country is taking an active stance on the safe operation of drones, and the topic is being explored elsewhere around the globe. What everyone recognizes is that it's a world full of both promise and uncertainty. Indeed, the automobile was born under the same set of circumstances!

Having just returned from a week-long conference in Reno, Nevada, my post today is meant to emphasize the good work drones can do. The biggest among them is precision agriculture, where a drone outfitted with the right instrumentation can hover over orchards and vineyards and spot telltale signs of diseases that aren't readily seen from the ground. Monitoring irrigation levels and fertilizer effectiveness are two other key applications, as are climatology, pipeline monitoring, and geology.

Two makers of UAVs present at the conference are Headwall customers. PrecisionHawk builds a fixed-wing system while ServiceDrones offers a multi-rotor craft. There are reasons for using either. The amount of room you have to take off and land is one consideration; the overall battery life (flight duration) is another; and payload capacity is a third. The key task is to match everything to the mission, which is why integration is so important.

All told, the packaged technology of drones and sensors allows researchers to 'see' the invisible and learn more about the environment. Primarily this is territory largely inaccessible by any other ground-based means, which puts the risk to humans (and airliners) at the lower end of the scale. The use of drones has exploded for two primary reasons. Chief among them is affordability, which positions them much more favorably compared with manned fixed-wing aircraft. Second is ease of use. Drones are now more 'mainstream' than ever, and their ability to carry reasonable instrumentation payloads allows them to do this kind of scientific 'remote sensing.'

Instruments such as hyperspectral sensors are getting smaller, lighter, and more affordable. With them, scientists can now unlock hidden secrets and spot trends by analyzing very detailed, data-rich images.  We are helping to create a 'new set of eyes' for the scientific community. The drones themselves become a vital 'delivery system,' and the pairing of these technologies is giving birth to the kind of conference such as the ASPRS Mapping event in Reno. It was a combination of test flying and presentations, with the flying happening in gorgeous Palomino Valley located about 35 miles north of Reno.

Through it all, safety was paramount during the flying demonstrations. FAA inspectors were with us every step of the way to make sure that all the programmed flight plans were adhered to. Each drone had 'N' registration numbers, as a regular aircraft would. This is serious business with huge upside potential for geologists, crop scientists, the petroleum industry, and for environmentalists. It pays to understand the regulations and work within them, because this whole business is a 'new frontier' for everyone. And while the term 'Drone' conjures up a rather negative image, the more proper description is, "Unmanned Airborne System," or 'UAS' for short. These truly are 'systems' because they pair a flying machine (either fixed-wing or multi-rotor) with instruments they carry.

And what kind of instruments? For precision agriculture, a hyperspectral sensor covering the Visible and Near-Infrared (VNIR) range of 400-1000nm will spot disease conditions on tree canopies. With entire economies depending on crops (hello, Florida citrus!), the ability to spot tree-borne diseases and other plant-stress situations is massively beneficial. First, the instruments are precise and can spot the 'invisible.' Second, the drones allow for the rapid and complete coverage of remote areas that might take days or weeks to map. And perhaps most telling, some disease conditions will only be visible from the top down rather than from the bottom up. An inspector on a ladder under a tree will likely miss something that the drone spots, and this can mean the difference between a bountiful harvest and a financial catastrophe. Any high-value crop (think citrus, wine grapes, pistachios, coffee beans, walnuts, etc.) needs this kind of imaging oversight. Our Nano-Hyperspec is extremely popular for this kind of work.

When it comes to airborne work, one of the most desired attributes of a hyperspectral sensor is a wide field of view. Simply put, the sensor needs to deliver crisp hyperspectral data at the edges of its field of view just as it would directly underneath the flight path. The wider and more sharp the field of view, the more efficient the flight path can be. And when it comes to drones, battery life determines the overall flight duration. So a hyperspectral sensor having an aberration-corrected wide field of view can cover more ground for a given flight envelope. More image data is thus collected for every flight, making the research project very efficient.

In addition to hyperspectral sensors, drones will also need a GPS to tie the incoming spectral data to its exact geographic location. Another frequently asked-for instrument is LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging Sensor), which provides some elevation detail that is paired with the hyperspectral data. Obviously the combination of all these separate instruments makes for a payload that consumes valuable weight and space, and thus out of the realm of possibility for today's new breed of hand-launched UAVs. With that in mind, my company (Headwall Photonics, Inc.) takes time to engineer and 'integrate' the sensor so that it is as small and as light as possible. Combining the data storage inside the sensor is one way; direct-attaching the GPS is another. The connecting cables you don't need mean weight you don't have to lift!

Finally, conferences like the ASPRS event in Reno are places where people can learn. Understanding the challenges and potential integration pitfalls is what we at Headwall were there to convey, and our message was very well received. The mistake we all want to avoid is having users blinded by the promise of airborne hyperspectral imaging, dashing off and grabbing any affordable UAV and bolting instruments onto it. For one, such an approach is dangerously naive. Second, the time needed to integrate everything is practically always underestimated. And third, it becomes a very costly endeavor when the price of time is factored in.

At Headwall, although our business is the production of the industry's best hyperspectral imaging sensors, we understand integration issues better than anyone. We're here to help navigate the process and get the scientific research community in the air faster, doing all the good things 'drones' can do.

Tags: hyperspectral, Remote Sensing, Sensors, UAS, VNIR, UAV

History Made, History Seen with Hyperspectral Imaging

Posted by David Bannon on Mon, Mar 03, 2014

As the market for hyperspectral sensing technology moves forward and advances, Headwall’s Application Engineering team has been able to gather a rare view into the past through the hyperspectral scanning of some of the most important historical artifacts and papers in the United States. For the first time ever, hyperspectral VNIR and SWIR imaging was conducted on key historical documents from the US Civil War period.

The Gettysburg AddressBy working collaboratively with the researchers in the Cornell University Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections and the Cornell Johnson Museum of Art, Janette Wilson and Kwok Wong of Headwall’s Application Engineering team spent a few days conducting VNIR and SWIR hyperspectral scans of some of the most important artifacts held by Cornell University. Of particular interest was the hyperspectral scanning of the University’s collection of original Lincoln documents signed by president Abraham Lincoln during his presidency. This collection included the Gettysburg Address (seen at left), the Emancipation Proclamation, and the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.

The scanning of documents and artifacts with hyperspectral imagers is particularly well suited for the purposes of both 1) research and 2) for establishing a baseline of spectral/spatial information for monitoring change in the artifacts to better preserve objects of cultural heritage.

For a couple main reasons, hyperspectral imaging is particularly appealing to collection-care experts. First, and probably most important, is that the technology is non-destructive. The instruments don't interface with the documents and the lighting is called 'cold illumination.' That is, there is no risk of themal damage to the items under inspection. Second, previously unseen features immediately 'come to light' when viewed hyperspectrally. Note the image below, which represents a stamp on the Gettysburg Address that cannot be seen visibly but can when looked at within the VNIR and SWIR spectral range. Collection-care experts are fascinated by unseen features, which can be used to build the body of knowledge with respect to documents or artifacts.

Unseen Features

Tags: hyperspectral, SWIR, VNIR, Cornell University, artifacts, documents, Gettysburg Address

Headwall Remote Sensing Capabilities Seen “Down Under”

Posted by David Bannon on Wed, Jul 31, 2013

melbourneThis past week, Headwall remote sensing team finished a productive week Down Under at the International Geoscience and Remote Sensing Symposium (IGARSS) in Melbourne, Australia.  The conference, organized by the IEEE, comprises a ‘Who’s Who’ across the global remote sensing community. But curiously absent were representatives from the United States, probably reflecting the topic du jour: sequestration. Imagine holding a geo-spatial and remote sensing conference and no one from NASA was able to attend?

From an international perspective, we observed tremendous interest from customers looking to gain spectral capability for their manned aircraft and also surprising interest from organizations looking to buy “all-inclusive” UAV configurations that include the Micro-Hyperspec imaging spectrometer, a GPS/INS unit, a lightweight IGARSS 2013 Boothembedded processor, and an suite of application software. This complete airborne package was a big hit at IGARSS because while users have good grasp on the benefits of airborne hyperspectral, they need help making it work in particular application.  Two very nice UAVs on display at IGARSS created a lot of buzz in the Headwall booth. Although Headwall doesn’t make the UAV platform, we make them do some pretty amazing things within the realm of hyperspectral remote sensing. That message came through loud and clear, as our stand at IGARSS was phenomenally busy from the start right through the end.

A bit further up in altitude were visitors interested in hyperspectral remote sensing from space. A major point of interest throughout the conference was a demonstrated need for cost effective, space-qualified hyperspectral sensor payloads.  With most of the world’s planned remote sensing missions being delayed for budget reasons, VNIR (380-1000nm) and SWIR (900-2500nm) space-qualified imagers are hot commodities. This is an area that Headwall Great Ocean Roaddeveloped over the last five years with its own space-qualified sensor payloads.  There was also strong focus from attendees on how satellite collaboration could be established among the world’s most notable remote sensing programs.  Japan’s ALOS-3 (2016 launch?), European ENMAP (2017 launch?), and NASA HYSPIRI mission (2023 launch?) represent three of several.

Even with all the activity at IGARSS, Headwall’s remote sensing team led by Kevin Didona, Principal Engineer at Headwall, also took some hyperspectral scans of rock wall formations at some very scenic places along the Great Ocean Road on the South Coast of Australia.

As Headwall has developed extensive experience in the application of hyperspectral sensors specifically designed for UAVs, please drop us a line or give is a call if we can provide some information to meet the objectives of your remote sensing research.

Email us at [email protected]

Visit us at www.HeadwallPhotonics.com

Or call us at Tel: +1 978 353 4003

Tags: hyperspectral imaging, hyperspectral, Headwall Photonics, Airborne, Remote Sensing, Sensors, Micro Hyperspec, UAS, SWIR, Sensing, VNIR, Satellites, UAV

Satellite Hyperspectral Sensing Boosts Environmental Research

Posted by David Bannon on Wed, May 16, 2012

Last week, I participated in the bi-annual Earth Observation Business Network 2012 (EOBN) conference, a small group of industry leaders brought together in Vancouver, British Columbia and sponsored by MDA of Canada.  A tip of the hat to John Hornsby, MDA VP of GeoSpatial Strategies and his team, who hosted a very informative and interactive conference.

This year’s EOBN theme was "Operational Decision Making From Earth Observation." The conference featured application sessions from both government and industry leaders who addressed the tactical impact and requirements of satellite and airborne imagery. From aviation to land surveillance/intelligence to the Arctic and Antarctic, leading end-users and providers offered their unique perspective of capabilities and requirements for remote sensing and earth sciences.

It is clear that remote sensing capability is not only a critical and strategic capability for nations, but also for commercial satellite providers developing advanced data products and imaging services. The challenges of working within such harsh environments as the Arctic Circle – whether maritime transport or mineral exploration – require data products that are fused with satellite and spectral imagery.

Arctic Exploration







Photo Source: CBC

With our current ability to provide hyperspectral sensor payloads for small satellites covering the VNIR (380 -1000 nm) and SWIR (950 – 1000 nm), it is clear that Headwall will continue to play an expanding role in the development of remote sensing capabilities throughout the world.

Tags: hyperspectral imaging, Headwall Photonics, Airborne, Remote Sensing, SWIR, VNIR, Satellites