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Book Review: Unmanned vehicles: past, present and future

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), Remotely Piloted Vehicles (RPV) and drones are the names given to a class of vehicles which can carry payloads and be guided remotely through wireless controls. Their use, from recreation to warfare, has been around for several years and their use in Geomatics has been steadily rising. The book titled ‘Towards Robotic Mapping’ is an excellent addition to the knowledge base of Unmanned Vehicle Systems as it covers many aspects­ — technology, operations, the theoretical basis of data acquisition and processing and applications. It is interesting that the word aerial has been left out of the title, and rightly so because while UAVs tend to steal the show, there are many remotely piloted systems for land-based and waterborne robotic vehicles.

The introductory chapter gives an excellent overview of the technology and in particular its use in mapping. It covers systems, their usage, sensors, navigation, regulatory issues and limitations. The second chapter establishes the mathematical framework for the reference coordinate system and transformations in the context of mobile mapping. It then goes on to mission planning, before explaining other aspects like bundle block adjustments, sensor georeferencing and associated mathematics. A section on 3D surface reconstruction using dense image matching and a combination with LiDAR point clouds to generate a complete surface model is well discussed.

It is also to be noted that the problems associated with land-based RPVs in terms of localization in an unknown environment is unique. There is a complete chapter on the mathematics of localization in terms of position and orientation of sensors on robotic ground vehicles. Use of such systems for outdoor and indoor mapping is included.
Sensing and control of UAVs is covered in detail with attention to all types of UAVs and includes discussion on advanced areas like intelligent systems of control and sensing. Hardware for control and sensors ranging from cameras to LiDARs, as well as non-imaging sensors, are discussed. A brief discussion on the pros and cons of low-cost UAVs is presented cogently. Though today most regulations insist on line of sight control, the book also discusses the future possibilities of autonomous flight planning and execution.

The core issues of data acquisition and mapping is discussed briefly and illustrated with many examples to bring out best practices. The book ends with two very important chapters. One is on the emerging trends in technology where the discussion is focussed on the trends relevant to Geomatics. The other chapter is on the future outlook and challenges. The latter discusses issues related to privacy, government regulations, legal aspects, as well as technological issues.

The technology of Unmanned Vehicles is still evolving and their serious use for mapping is at a nascent stage. This book does a very good job of bringing together all aspects of UVs for Geomatics applications and should be an essential textbook for professionals in the field, or those contemplating an entry into the field of robotic mapping in Geomatics.