I’ve been getting a lot of interest in aerial survey methods for both the Parrot Bebop 2 (copter) and the Disco (plane) for live-view surveys, since both drones now come with FPV (first person view) goggles. Here is a great example of what the video from Disco looks like for coastal monitoring.

Bebop 2 will get you ~ 25 minutes of flight time per battery and Disco will get you ~ 45 minutes. Both drones get up to 2km of range (terrain dependent) with the live video feed, which means you can run surveys over quite a large area. Awesome for ecological applications!

First thing, make sure you have the Parrot Free Flight Pro app downloaded on your smart phone (iOS or Android) and opened. Within the Free Flight App, you will have to purchase FlightPlan ($20 add-on to the free app) so that you can design an autonomous survey route.

Here is a tutorial on Flight Plan if you need it.

Your survey methods will vary for different ecological applications, so it’s really up to you to decide on the necessary altitude, speed, distance, and overlap you want to design in Flight Plan. This will take some experimentation to dial in. I recommend a standard ‘lawn mower’ pattern to start with, going down, over, and back up to in repeated parallel transects. When you are happy with the flight you have designed, you should save it to the Flight Plan gallery so that it is there for you to fly again, should you want to repeat the aerial survey in a standardized way.

Next, boot up the Skycontroller (same controller and headset works for both Bebop 2 and Disco). Pickup the FPV headset and slide out the phone holder. Place your phone in the holder and plug in the standard charging cord to the phone. Connect the other USB end of the cord to the Skycontroller. Before sliding the phone into the googles, you’ll want to open Free Flight if you haven’t already and connect to your drone through the app.

Note: if you are having connection issues, make sure your drone isn’t connected directly to the wifi on your phone. It needs to be connected through the app.

Put FreeFlight into FPV mode so you see two eye-shaped circles on the screen display. Slide the holder back in the goggles and you should see what the drone is seeing.

Note: If you see what is directly in from of the phone, it could be either that you are not connected to the drone OR you are in ‘phone view’ mode instead of ‘drone view’ mode. Click the right trigger on the front of the controller and it will toggle between what the drone camera sees and what the phone camera sees in front of you (i.e. so you don’t have to take off the goggles for situational awareness).

From there, you launch the drones (read the instructions for Disco or Bebop 2 auto launching…both are as easy as it gets). Use the left scroll on the controller to adjust the camera downward for the survey. Then, you can use the goggles and maybe a hand clicker to do your aerial survey in real time. Alternatively, you can let someone else wear the goggles and call out data to you while you keep visual line of site of the drone. Some of this depends on the rules of the country you are in.

Note: FPV goggles take some getting used to, so watch out for motion sickness.   If you don’t want to use the goggles, you can use a tablet for a live view. Just make sure to purchase a sunshade so you can see the screen. The nice thing about the goggles is that they cut the light out and allow you to focus. The other nice thing is the goggles fit over most prescription glasses.

Both drones record HD video (1080p). This means can also review the video later in the office for further study. Moreover, if you design your flight plans with enough overlap, you can stitch video later using Pix4D should you want an orthomosaic for mapping.

In sum, all of this should take you maybe 8-10 minutes of setup and be fairly straight forward. If you are not very technically savvy (e.g. you still don’t have a smart phone nor know how to use one), then just find your teenage child or maybe an undergrad somewhere to help you. It will be easy for them.