Low-Altitude Airborne Remote Sensing by Microlights and Microdrones: New Powerful Tools in Geographic Research
The recent, convergent developments of technology in the fields of sensors, image processing softwares and civil aeronautics allowed for the advent of new, accessible and very powerful tools at the service of Geographic research. Applications of traditional airborne remote sensing can be now significantly expanded by the use of innovative joint configurations of minimal manned and unmanned aerial platforms with low-cost sensors and consumer-level computing and processing systems. The potential of such integrated technologies to science and operational contexts is very wide and only partially explored to this day. A scenario involving the joint, integrated use of light aircraft, micro-drones and everyday hardware/software systems offers much more than the accessibility of traditional airborne RS. More users can access the technologies and this means that more scientific and practical work can be done and coordinated among a higher number of operators. Surveys can be more easily tailored on the specific needs of many different kinds of geographic investigation; new types of data can be included in the geographer’s analyses; whole new operational envelopes appear, suggesting that new methods can be envisioned for applying RS to a deeper understanding of both spaces and places. This fact indicates that a wider use of the new tools is recommendable, and that European regulations on these devices should take the new opportunities into proper account; which does not appear to be always the case. The presented work summarizes the methodological and practical conclusions reached on the topic by the author, after six years of lab and field research.