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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

PrecisionHawk's team mounted a LIDAR sensor to the base of the drone, which fired its LIDAR pulses at the ground at a rate of 100 pulses per second. The system then measured the amount of time it took for the light to bounce back up from the jungle surface, Tompkins says.

On the ground, PrecisionHawk set up a base station with satellite connectivity and GPS functionality, as well as a computer for interpreting the collected data. Due to the fast planning and the remote location, the team needed to be versatile. Jill Wrenn, PrecisionHawk's director of operations for LIDAR, was the onsite processor to create a map from the data. "The first day there," she recalls, "we needed more access to GPS satellite, so we had to call our GPS company to add on worldwide access to satellite. Thankfully, it only took a day to figure that out," since the team had only days to complete their work.

Matt Tompkins served as PrecisionHawk's team leader and director of flight operations.
During the actual flights, the crew required real-time control of its location. "My role on the ground was to plan a flight, and that data is sent to the aircraft over a 2.4 GHz transmission," Tompkins explains. Once the drone was in the air, it transmitted data back to the base station via its 2.4 GHz connection, forwarding both its GPS-based location and its elevation. At the same time, LIDAR data from the drone was captured on a SIM card, after which Wrenn processed that data on the computer once the drone returned to the ground.

Jamie Young
The LIDAR data enabled Wrenn's team to create a map of the terrain without vegetation, as well as detect a series of potential roads and pathways that might have been used by the Japanese military. They were then able to present the production crew with digitized images showing those details that could indicate where treasure had been buried more than 70 years ago.

The team did not find the treasure they sought, but they did discover indications that it might still be there—and the project gave PrecisionHawk an opportunity to test what it could do in a short period of time on challenging terrain. "It was super-fun, and those guys [the production crew] were awesome," Tompkins says. "We found enough to let them see what they wanted," Young adds, "and our experience prevented the unknown."

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