Such internationally acclaimed research centres and universities as Stanford University, Rochester Institute of Technology and Aurora Research Institute have studied, tested, and used in their work the drone control software UgCS (Unmanned Ground Control Software), developed by Latvian company SPH Engineering. The software was used to study coral reefs, snow depth, and species diversity as drone flights could be pre-planned and adapted to highly specific requirements of each research project. The cooperation partners of SPH Engineering have a high opinion of UgCS, emphasizing the stability and irreplaceability of the software.
At Stanford University in the United States, UgCS is used in education. Under the supervision of Professor of Earth Sciences Robert B Dunbar, the Latvian software has so far been used at two locations employing DJI Mavic Pro and Phantom 4 Pro+. Pre-programed missions were flown to teach the students about mission design, autonomous flight and imaging control, that is suitable for repeat data collection. Pre-planned drone flight missions using UgCS helped students learn more about and monitor coral reef ecology and health. A specific data processing software was then used to produce 3D point cloud and textured models of the reef.
“We have found that in clear water, the drone imagery can resolve individual coral branches and bathymetry down to depths of 5-8 meters so it is quite a useful tool. The advantage of using pre-planned and saved missions in UgCS is the opportunity to fly repeat missions that can be used to establish trajectories of change on shallow coral reef tracts,” explains Professor Dunbar.
Aurora Research Institute in Canada has successfully used UgCS with DJI Phantom 4 and Inspire 1 Pro drones to capture photogrammetric data of snowfall and detect snow depth variations at temperatures of -20 degrees Celsius.
Aurora Research Institute’s web application and database developer Eric Cheyne says that, during the summer of 2017, the institute travelled to the northwest end of Banks Island, a remote location without internet or telephone access, to test several apps with photogrammetric software. “These applications failed to complete preset mission. The apps suffered software issues, required further updates, internet access, and constant troubleshooting,” explains Cheyne. However, the institute was able to setup pre-planned missions with UgCS before arriving at the remote location, and complete multiple missions without any need for internet access, troubleshooting, or software issues. “It simply worked,” Cheyne says laconically.
In the meantime, Rochester Institute of Technology in the United States uses UgCS software to, for instance, create a flight plan that keeps the drone a certain distance off rooftops and always perpendicular to the roof it faces. “We have written Python and Matlab scripts to generate the XML that we then import into UgCS, upload to the platform, and then execute these custom missions,” says Professor Carl Salvaggio from Rochester Institute of Technology. He describes the UgCS code as “invaluable”.
Over the past two years, SPH Engineering has signed 103 cooperation agreements with different universities and colleges in 30 countries, where students are also taught to pilot drones and use different research methodologies. The education partners use UgCS software in practical research as well as in planning and flying different drone missions.