The VTOL SongBird is the carrier platform of a drone-based imaging system, used to produce high-resolution point clouds and aerial images. The SongBird and its advanced sensors are used to measure changes on the earth's surface, including natural disasters and biomass determination, opening up new research opportunities and applications.
By combining a vertical takeoff with a fixed wing aircraft, the SongBird fulfills the requirement of long flight distances with high area coverage and sufficient maximum payload (2 kg). This high payload enables the use of specialized sensors, such as LiDAR (light detection and ranging) and high-resolution medium-format aerial cameras, allowing near real-time derivation of topography. Currently, the drone is flown with a PhaseOne 100-megapixel medium-format aerial camera and a Velodyne VLP-32 C UltraPuck – a 32-channel LiDAR capable of generating up to 1.2 million points. The SongBird can autonomously takeoff vertically using four rotors, followed by a transition to glide flight when sufficient altitude is reached. The design allows flexible mounting of further and/or additional sensors (e.g., thermal or hyperspectral cameras).
The SongBird is also equipped with a high-precision GNSS IMU inertial sensor (Applanix APX 20). This IMU, along with the very stable flight characteristics, make the highly accurate derivation of topography (in the cm range) possible. An optional altitude correction by means of GNSS base stations permanently installed on the ground (two TrimbleSPS 855 receivers) increases of the Z-accuracy further, leading to precise aerial data.
Important technical parameters of the drone are tabulated below:
glass and carbon fiber sandwich
45 m/s (160 km/h)
Maximum wind speed:
19 m/s (wind force 8)
Flight time with standard configuration:
> 60 min
Table 1: Excerpt of relevant technical specifications, Source: Technical Manual for SONGBIRD v3 (2019), Manual Version 1., Revision Date: March 12, 201, p. 2-3.