Anyone considering using drones for research in the USA should be aware
of the FAA restrictions. Is is technically illegal to fly these vehicles
without an FAA drone license unless you follow recreationial guidelines.
If you are flying for recreational purposes you must keep the vehicle
within unaided line-of sight view at all times. Under the best weather
conditions this probably means that the vehicle must be within 300 - 400
meters of the operator. You can use FPV only if you have a second person
watching the drone (keeping it within unaided line of sight) at all
times. Anyone considering using drones for research should check the FAA
regulations. As long as you are not working for a federal agency and you
are not flying the drone for pay you can probably fly it under rules
applied to reccreationists, but these are quite restrictive.
On 9/17/2016 1:10 PM, Gregory Crutsinger wrote:
I’ve been getting a lot of interest in aerial survey methods for both the
Parrot Bebop 2 (copter) and the
Disco (plane) for live-view surveys, since both drones now come with FPV (first
person view) goggles. I
thought a quick rundown might be useful for folks. Bebop 2 will get you ~ 25
minutes of flight time per
battery and Disco will get you ~ 45 minutes. Both drones get up to 2km of range
with the live video feed, which means you can run surveys over quite a large
area. Awesome for
First thing, make sure you have the Parrot Free Flight Pro app downloaded on
your smart phone (iOS or
Android) and opened. Within the Free Flight App, you will have to purchase
FlightPlan ($20 add-on to
the free app) so that you can design an autonomous survey route.
Here is a tutorial on Flight Plan if you need it.
Your survey methods will vary for different ecological applications. It’s
really up to you to decide on the
necessary altitude, speed, distance, and overlap you want to design in Flight
Plan. This will take some
experimentation to dial in, particularly if you are not currently using drones.
I recommend a standard
‘lawn mower’ pattern to start with, going down, over, and back up in repeated
parallel transects. When
you are happy with the flight you have designed, you should save it to the
Flight Plan gallery so that it is
there for you to fly again, should you want to repeat the same exact survey
Next, boot up the Skycontroller (same controller and headset works for both
Bebop 2 and Disco). Pickup
the FPV headset and slide out the phone holder. Place your phone in the holder
and plug in the standard
charging cord to the phone. Connect the other USB end of the cord to the
Skycontroller. Before sliding
the phone into the googles, you’ll want to open Free Flight if you haven’t
already and connect to your
drone through the app.
Note: if you are having connection issues, make sure your drone isn’t connected
directly to the wifi on
your phone. It needs to be connected through the FreeFlight Pro app.
Put FreeFlight into FPV mode so you see two eye-shaped circles on the screen
display. Slide the holder
with the phone back in the goggles and you should see what the drone is seeing.
Note: If you are seeing what is directly in from of the phone, it could be
either that you are not
connected to the drone OR you are in ‘phone view’ mode instead of ‘drone view’
mode. Click the right
trigger on the front of the controller and it will toggle between what the
drone camera sees and what the
phone camera sees in front of you. This is a nifty feature so you don’t have to
take off the goggles for
From there, you launch the drones (read the instructions for Disco or Bebop 2
auto launching…both are
as easy as it gets). Use the left scroll on the controller to adjust the camera
downward for the survey.
Then, you can wear the goggles and maybe use a hand clicker to do your visual
counts in real time.
Alternatively, you can let someone else wear the goggles and call out data to
you while you keep visual
line of site of the drone. Some of this depends on the rules of the country you
Note: FPV goggles take some getting used to, so watch out for motion sickness.
If you are experiencing
nausea, take the goggles off and throw up in the nearest bush...not on your
shoes. If you don’t want to
use the goggles, you can use a tablet for a live view. Just make sure to
purchase a sunshade so you can
see the screen out in the field. The nice thing about the goggles is that they
cut the light out and allow
you to focus during surveys. The other nice thing is the goggles fit over most
Both Bebop 2 and Disco record HD video (1080p). This means can also review the
video later in the
office for further study. It could be that you don't need to do the surveys in
real time and the recorded
video is more useful that FPV monitoring. Moreover, if you design your flight
plans with enough overlap,
you can stitch video later using Pix4D photogrammetric software should you want
an orthomosaic map.
Just upload the video and tell Pix4D which frames to grab (e.g. every 15th
frame at 30 frames per sec).
In sum, all of this should take you maybe 5 -10 minutes of setup (less if your
mission is already
designed) and be very straight forward. If you are not very technically savvy
(e.g. you still don’t have a
smart phone nor know how to use one), then just find a teenage relative or
maybe one of those
undergrads in the back of your class who is always on their phone rather than
paying attention to help
you. It will be easy for them.
Hope this is helpful.
Professor of Biology
Portland State University
PO Box 751
Portland, OR 97207 USA