Customer Spotlight: US Army Corps of Engineers Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory

Editor’s Note: This customer spotlight features the US Army Corps of Engineers Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (CRREL) and their creation of a HeliPod system, which utilizes RIEGL airborne scanners to allow for terrain-following surveys in high-relief areas. Enjoy!

 

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CRREL’s HeliPod system installed on an R44 helicopter for full coverage glacier mapping of the Wolverine Glacier, Alaska. Credit: Adam LeWinter – CRREL

 

The US Army Corps of Engineers Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (CRREL), in collaboration with the National Center for Airborne Laser Mapping (NCALM), has developed a helicopter pod-based airborne LiDAR system to allow for terrain-following surveys in high-relief areas. The HeliPod System accepts either a RIEGL VQ-480i or VQ-580 scanner, integrated with an iXBlue ATLANS-C IMU and a NexTrack 2 Flight Management System.

 

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CAD model of CRREL’s HeliPod System.

 

The pod, which is designed to fit the Robinson R44 Raven II aircraft, is FAA STC-approved, along with the tail-mount GPS antenna. CRREL selected the R44 for its low operational costs and its popularity, making it easily accessible worldwide. The system is operated and monitored by a single passenger, though with automatic laser triggering and logging using planned flight lines, it collects data with minimal user input.

 

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1m DEM of the Wolverine Glacier, Alaska, collected with the CRREL HeliPod and RIEGL VQ-480i on May 7, 2016.

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Wolverine Glacier terminus from a 1m DEM, collected with the CRREL HeliPod and RIEGL VQ-480i on May 7, 2016.

 

CRREL has partnered with the USGS, FEMA, and the Department of Natural Resources to operate the HeliPod in Alaska for various projects, ranging from high-resolution glacier mapping in the Chugach Mountains, identification of fault scarps below dense tree canopies along the Fairweather Fault in southeast Alaska, and landslide hazard assessments in Sitka, Alaska. The ability to fly low (down to 150m AGL) and slow (40 knots) allows for the collection of high-density point clouds in steep and varying terrain.

 

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Detail view of snowdrifts and filled crevasses on the upper reaches of Wolverine Glacier from a 1m DEM, collected with the CRREL HeliPod and RIEGL VQ-480i on May 7, 2016.

The HeliPod System can be shipped and deployed quickly and can be installed in a few hours, and therefore has the ability to be of use for rapid response during natural disasters and fast data acquisition needs. CRREL is actively integrating additional imaging sensors into the HeliPod (IR, hyperspectral), and intends to continue development and improvement of the system.

 

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Main branch of the retreated Columbia Glacier, Prince William Sound, Alaska, May 6, 2016. CRREL and the USGS collected LiDAR data of the glacier terminus and main branch in May and September 2016 in efforts to measure terminus retreat and mass balance. Credit: Adam LeWinter – CRREL.

The CRREL point of contact is Adam LeWinter, adam.l.lewinter@erdc.dren.mil.

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