Drones and Aerial Observation: A Primer (And a Review)

Kate Chapman, CTO

Imagery can serve as an important starting point in delineating land claims. There are multiple options for obtaining imagery, including existing free imagery (typically from governments), purchase of commercial imagery from satellite providers, aerial collection by aircraft, and use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs or drones).  As part of Cadasta’s overall technology strategy, I’ve been looking into what is available and most appropriate for our partners depending on their specific needs. I’m excited to be attending the launch today of the New America Foundation’s drone primer with the support of the Omidyar Network (note: the Omidyar Network is also a main supporter of the Cadasta Foundation).

The Primer, Drones and Aerial Observation: New Technologies for Property Rights, Human Rights, and Global Development, serves as an introduction to the current state of UAV technology and provides a breakdown of potential UAV applications, citing real world examples from around the globe. I’m excited to have a “101” level document to share with partners and colleagues looking to wrap their heads around usage of UAVs. Beyond simply being an introduction, it helped fill gaps in my own technical knowledge of UAV operation. Admittedly, I usually focus on the use of imagery rather than the process used to obtain it; as a result, I had a general idea of how to make a map with a UAV, and Chapter 4, How to Make Maps with Drones, enhanced that knowledge base.

As it is intended to be a primer, I understand why some aspects were not expanded in further detail, but there are chapters where I would love to see a “201” version follow. Chapter 2, The Political Geography of Aerial Imaging is particularly relevant to Cadasta, as we believe that communities should own their data, and that appropriate consent plays a crucial role in data ownership and management. I would like to see a discussion of the privacy and ownership aspects of data, particularly relating to imagery and property information that focuses on emerging economies as opposed to the context of an industrialized nation. For example, the primer could build on The Engine Room‘s post Modeling Consent Policies for Civil Society Data, with specific applications to UAV usage. Defining required consent and then implementing it is an entire field of expertise, but for ethical UAVs clearer guidance is needed. There are ongoing efforts to create guidelines, but nothing beyond draft form that I am aware of.

Overall, I find the primer to be useful and will recommend it to my colleagues. I’m excited to be attending the launch to further the discussion and learn about New America’s next steps.

Image via New America.