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IoT-Based Drone Seeks Treasure for History Channel

PrecisionHawk brought a LIDAR-based drone with wireless connectivity to map out the terrain in the Philippine jungles, in order to search for the hiding places that Japanese soldiers might have used for the treasure they captured while occupying the island during World War II.
By Claire Swedberg
Apr 26, 2019

When Ample Entertainment, a production company for the History Channel, launched a project to look for World War II-era hidden treasure in the jungles of the Philippines, it needed a way to see through the thick vegetation and identify roads or paths that could have led to a stash of gold and silver. The vegetation was so thick, and the terrain so potentially hazardous, that flying over the area was the safest way to map out the area.

The solution chosen was a LIDAR imaging-based Internet of Things (IoT) system from PrecisionHawk to capture digital images from a drone that transmitted its location and status to a receiver on the ground. The remote location required the entire solution to be wireless, with 2.4 GHz transmissions between the drone controller and the drone, and satellite connectivity from the onsite computer to the cloud-based server. With that data, the production company was able to safely explore the jungles and shoot a two-part TV program, The Lost Gold of World War II, that showed off not only its investigative efforts, but also the IoT technology used. The program aired earlier this month.

With the LIDAR-based drone, the History Channel was able to safely explore jungle areas while filming The Lost Gold of World War II.
PrecisionHawk is a technology company that serves the agriculture, energy, insurance, government and construction industries, according to Jamie Young, the firm's general manager of LIDAR. The company was founded in 2010 as a manufacturer of unmanned aerial vehicles that were used to dispel predatory birds over vineyards. PrecisionHawk began utilizing LIDAR approximately four years ago, and the company has since been expanding its platform to meet the needs of a growing number of customers. It is a member of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Pathfinder Initiative, for instance, as well as the NASA UTM Program that tests prototype drone-based technologies.

The History Channel began working with PrecisionHawk in May 2018, and the drone company went to the site in July of last year. "They wanted us to use LIDAR as a way to remove vegetation" blocking the view of what was below that might date to the World War II era, Young explains. That removal wasn't physical, but rather digital—creating images of the surface floor as though the vegetation weren't there.

Jill Wrenn
According to legend, Japan's General Tomoyuki Yamashita, while leading the occupation in the Philippines during World War II, stored treasure (which his army had looted in Southeast Asia) in the hills of Luzon, but the jungle foliage has since hidden all trace of such hiding places. "It's in a remote area of the Philippines," Young states. "Trees and dragon fruit and grass all served as a screen that made it hard to view what was there." Additionally, the New People's Army, an armed guerilla group in the area, represented a threat to the crew onsite, so they wanted to obtain information that would direct them to the right location without their having to spend excess time on the ground.

PrecisionHawk conduced as much preparation as it could before traveling to the Philippines, including identifying the equipment and network connections. "The production company couldn't give us an exact picture of what to expect on the ground," says Matt Tompkins, PrecisionHawk's team leader and director of flight operations. "One of the things we did was to study terrain models based on satellite data. They then determined where they could take off and land from."

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