Rationale: We want to photograph small trees & shrubs from above in arid and semi-arid systems. The rationale is that in most systems/publications, and our experience, you measure the height as best you can, the width, and then calculate shrub volume. However, this is a relatively imprecise set of measures for the canopy effect.
Solution: Use a drone with HD camera to photograph shrub from above to estimate canopy effect on microsite. This beats a step ladder.
Implementation: Here are the sets of ideas we are currently examining.
1. We selected the Parrot AR Drone 2.o versus the other major competitors for photography such as the DJI Phantom 2 drone based on price primarily and also because the Parrot syncs with our field ipad for control and photo/video storage. We purchased the Parrot model that included two HD batteries and extra propellers for a total of 36 mins fly time.
2. The camera built in facing downwards is inadequate for our purposes. However, the front facing HD 720p – 30fps nose camera is great.
3. We recommend the following mod to face the HD nose camera downwards. Here is a youtube video showing it step by step as well. All the mods involve carefully cutting the styrofoam nose, not cutting the wires from camera to body, and placing camera on hinge or at angle as desired.
4. Finally, we are testing the flight recorder GPS chip that plugs into the USB port on drone as well. This enables GPS tagging and programming of the drone to fly a route.
Viability: Good so far. More to come. However, this does not resolve overlapping canopy measurements nor capture understorey dynamics. It might also be the best solution when shrubs & small trees are overdispersed with limited aggregation. We are also considering mounting a GoPro Hero3 camera underneath the drone but this will reduce fly time.
Disclaimer: Parrot did not sponsor this research. I did however email them to inquire as my grant is tiny but had no reply.