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Kite Aerial Photography Helps NGO Engineers

NEW YORK – The types of places that require Engineers Without Borders (EWB) to develop infrastructure are necessarily the types of places that have not been mapped to the level of detail needed for developing infrastructure. To give those engineers the birds-eye view they need, EWB employs a special ring that combines simple kites with digital cameras to produce rugged, low cost aerial photography.

By attaching a digital camera to the undercarriage of a kite, engineers can control the targets and zoom of the camera with a consol adapted from a toy plane remote control. During yesterday’s USAID/New York Academy of Sciences “Science For Solving Global Challenges” forum at the United Nations, Yuri Estrada, a project manager with EWB, showed how an engineer can quickly survey the proposed location for any kind of project.

“Most of the time, when you want to build a bridge in these places, they don’t have a map,” Estrada told TechNewsDaily. “And you can’t advance your project past the first phase without knowing your site.”

Kite Aerial Photography (KAP), has been around for some time, but it wasn’t until 2002 that EWB began deploying the system. Initially used to assess the site of a water project in Cambodia, the use of KAP rigs by EWB has since spread.

Each rig only costs around $300 (not including the cost of the camera), placing it well within the affordability range for an NGO like EWB.

The KAP system used by EWB does have one significant drawback: no real-time feed. That means the operator can’t know exactly what they photographed until the camera comes down from the sky.

While that problem does require engineers to take a lot of pictures in the hope of getting the view they need, they are lucky that rivers, gorges and lakes do tend to hold still while having their portrait taken.

Stuart Fox currently researches and develops physical and digital exhibit experiences at the Science Liberty Center. His news writing includes the likes of several Purch sites, including Live Science and Live Science's Life's Little Mysteries.