BUDGET UAV SYSTEMS FOR THE PROSPECTION OF SMALL- AND MEDIUM-SCALE ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITES
Keywords: Archaeology, Photogrammetry, UAV, UAS, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, Platforms, Mission Planning, Mapping
Abstract. One of the popular uses of UAVs in photogrammetry is providing an archaeological documentation. A wide offer of low-cost (consumer) grade UAVs, as well as the popularity of user-friendly photogrammetric software allowing obtaining satisfying results, contribute to facilitating the process of preparing documentation for small archaeological sites. However, using solutions of this kind is much more problematic for larger areas. The limited possibilities of autonomous flight makes it significantly harder to obtain data for areas too large to be covered during a single mission. Moreover, sometimes the platforms used are not equipped with telemetry systems, which makes navigating and guaranteeing a similar quality of data during separate flights difficult. The simplest solution is using a better UAV, however the cost of devices of such type often exceeds the financial capabilities of archaeological expeditions.
The aim of this article is to present methodology allowing obtaining data for medium scale areas using only a basic UAV. The proposed methodology assumes using a simple multirotor, not equipped with any flight planning system or telemetry. Navigating of the platform is based solely on live-view images sent from the camera attached to the UAV. The presented survey was carried out using a simple GoPro camera which, from the perspective of photogrammetric use, was not the optimal configuration due to the fish eye geometry of the camera. Another limitation is the actual operational range of UAVs which in the case of cheaper systems, rarely exceeds 1 kilometre and is in fact often much smaller. Therefore the surveyed area must be divided into sub-blocks which correspond to the range of the drone. It is inconvenient since the blocks must overlap, so that they will later be merged during their processing. This increases the length of required flights as well as the computing power necessary to process a greater number of images.
These issues make prospection highly inconvenient, but not impossible. Our paper presents our experiences through two case studies: surveys conducted in Nepal under the aegis of UNESCO, and works carried out as a part of a Polish archaeological expedition in Cyprus, which both prove that the proposed methodology allows obtaining satisfying results. The article is an important voice in the ongoing debate between commercial and academic archaeologists who discuss the balance between the required standards of conducting archaeological works and economic capabilities of archaeological missions.