Drones add 'dinosaur hunting' to their expanding list of jobs

Unmanned aerial vehicles are helping scientists map prehistoric tracks and build 3D models of them

Aatif Sulleyman
Friday 24 March 2017 13:33 GMT
Japan's On-Art Corp's eight metre tall dinosaur-shaped mechanical suit robot 'TRX03' performs during its unveiling in Tokyo, Japan
Japan's On-Art Corp's eight metre tall dinosaur-shaped mechanical suit robot 'TRX03' performs during its unveiling in Tokyo, Japan (Reuters)

Drones are changing the ways in which scientists’ investigate the footprints left behind by dinosaurs.

Researchers in Australia have started using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to map prehistoric tracks in remote locations and are using the data to build 3D models of track sites.

They’re also using lidar, a laser scanning technology, and light aircraft to aid their research, which is detailed in a paper published at PeerJ.

“Given the limited number of flat and dry surfaces, the DJI INSPIRE 1 UAV had operational advantages over traditional ichnological mapping techniques,” reads the paper.

“As a quadcopter, it is able to perform vertical takeoff and landings within a relatively small area… a capability that proved invaluable at Minyirr with its limited number of flat and dry surfaces.”

The researchers would typically preserve tracks by photographing them and spending a significant amount of time drawing outlines of footprints by hand.

“During flight, operators can be distant (tens to hundreds of meters) from the surfaces being photographed,” it continues.

“This makes it possible to conduct broad sweeps of tracksites from a safe location, even if the site is located close to water or on a partially submerged offshore reef.”

The researchers also say that drones help them build up a clearer picture of the animals that left the tracks behind.

“You may think it's the track of a dinosaur, but after you do some 3D modelling, you'll be able to confirm what kind of dinosaur it was, if it was moving in a particular manner, or whether or not it's a dinosaur track at all,” Anthony Romilio, one of the paper’s authors and a researcher at the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Queensland, told Mashable.

“We can get a good idea of the size of the animals, if they travelled in herds, their speed. We can build up a more detailed picture of their actual behaviour.”

Mr Romilio has collected data from over 70 track sites so far, and plans to analyse the information further to see what more it can reveal about the animals.

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