Drone Adventureswas founded a year ago, and they've been busy conducting post-disaster autonomous UAV mapping missions in places like Haiti, where updated maps can be critical to aid distribution (in the short term) and infrastructure management and repair (in the long term). Their most recent adventure (that they're willing to tell us about, at least) happened last November in Japan, where they partnered with the Center for Spatial Information Science at the University of Tokyo to explore how the area devastated by the Fukushima Daiichi disaster has been recovering.
Drone Adventures traveled to three different towns around Fukushima, including Iidate, Hisanohama, and Tomioka. From the sound of things, it's still pretty bad:
We set up around the local school, which was abandoned suddenly during the disaster and hasn’t been returned to since. Classrooms are still full of books, desks, and chairs. The school greenhouses are now full of weeds, and the plastic pots have most likely been knocked over by wild boars. We launched two flights of our drones from the school’s baseball field and a third one from a local rice field, and were able to map the entire village, surrounding fields, and local forest. Piles of contaminated soil are clearly visible from above.
The embedded map below shows an aerial view of Tomioka, which is just 10 kilometers south of Fukushima Daiichi itself. Zooming out a bit, you can see the drone imagery overlaid on top of older satellite imagery, with nearly seamless georeferenced alignment.
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Tomioka is the closest thing we have ever seen to a nuclear wasteland. The town is on the coast, only 10 km south of Fukushima Daiichi, and it has yet to be cleared of damage caused by both the Tohoku earthquake and the subsequent tsunami. Half-collapsed buildings are surrounded by downed power lines and rubble deposited by the receding waves. Upended cars lie in piles along the road, weeds grow out of broken windows.
We set up in the parking lot of Tomioka train station, whose tracks are overgrown with weeds and blocked by a few cars. We launched another two flights to map the village, staying just outside the airspace of the power plants both north and south of the town. Given the scale of the damage and contamination, Tomioka may never return to being the town it once was.
All of the data that Drone Adventures collected was donated to local municipalities, and presented at geospatial data conferences in Japan and elsewhere. And don't forget, while Drone Adventures is doing some incredibly sophisticated stuff, they're using off-the-shelf hardware and software from SenseFly, which you can pick up for yourself. The drones are tossable and completely autonomous, and when paired with the mapping software, you can just highlight a region on a map and let them fly. They'll take off, navigate, snap pictures, gently crash-land right in front of you, and then build a seamless high resolution 3D map while you sit back sipping your latte. Good deal.
[ Drone Adventures ]
Evan Ackerman is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Since 2007, he has written over 6,000 articles on robotics and technology. He has a degree in Martian geology and is excellent at playing bagpipes.