#214 ArchAerial vs EVERYTHING ELSE

Disclaimer: This post has nothing to do with drone legislation and the use of drones in the United States. I’m just assuming that it will all work out and that people won’t be dicks about letting other people use drones for work purposes. I’m also hoping people will stop being so damn paranoid that someone is going to spy on them in their backyard. Most of us are not interesting enough to be spied on anyway. Chances are that if you are interesting enough for a drone attack, you’re doing something illegal. Enough of that rant…on to the post.

I saw a news article on Live Science about the use of drones supplied by ArchAerial for archaeological photography. The drones don’t seem expensive since, according to the founders:

"We use a lot of 3D-printed parts," founding member Ben Martin, 25, said. "It's really useful to be able to go from design to implementation within a few hours, which is something that wasn't possible until recently.”

ArchAerial also uses an open-source flight software. So, why are their drone packages so expensive? From the Live Science article:

“Right now ArchAerial is selling their archaeology drone kits for $3,800 and leasing them for three-month field projects for $1,800.”

My guess is that they are playing on the technological insecurities inherent in most archaeologists. Many archaeologists either don’t understand most technology or don’t choose to understand it. Either way, when something tech-related needs to be done we hire a specialist and get price-gouged along the way because there aren’t very many of them. If we would just take a little while to learn about new and emerging technologies we could save our projects a lot of money, academic and CRM included.

I understand that you get a lot with the ArchAerial package, including technical assistance. If, however, all you want to do is take some good photos of your excavation or site, there are way cheaper ways to do it.

AR Parrot Drone 2.0

This inexpensive ($300) drone would be great for a large number of projects. It’s a robust flying platform with a 720p HD camera on the front that you can record video on and take high-res JPEGs. There is also a downward-facing camera for taking shots straight down. It’s also used for navigation and stabilization. The Parrot Drone is controlled with a smartphone or tablet by watching the screen like a video game.

You can even program the Parrot Drone to fly a route with GPS accessory:

The Phantom costs more than the Parrot, but, you get greater range and a better camera. At 1000m, the range of the Phantom is more than you could ever need. If you go out of range, or, the radio stops working for some reason, the Phantom is programmed to use GPS to go back to its original location. That’s pretty cool.

Without the GoPro camera (buy it separately) you can get the Phantom for under $500.

There isn’t an onboard camera (see below) that ships with the Phantom. There is, however, a GoPro mount that you can use to attach the latest GoPro camera too. GoPro’s are great for HD video and high-res photos. The one downside, as compared to the Parrot Drone, is that you can’t see what’s on the camera. You have to either set it to record at take-off or set it to take pictures on an interval prior to take-off.

The Phantom 2 Vision. At $1200 you get the new Phantom 2. This quadcopter has the onboard camera but reduces the range of video transmission to 300m. You can still fly further, you just won’t be able to see what’s on the camera.


So, why is ArchAerial so expensive? As I said above, you get a lot more than just a quadcopter with your purchase or lease. You get support and education. If you don’t think you can figure this stuff out, or you don’t know a 13 year old that can show you, then this is a good option. If, however, you aren’t intimidated by technology that’s designed to be easy to use, go with one of the options above. Also, maybe their operating costs are really high and will come down as more orders come in. In the mean time, I’d go with something that’s already established and works very well for a fraction of the cost.

Either way, field survey will be a thing of the past as soon as we can develop software that can “see” artifacts. Don’t say it won’t happen because it will. It might take a few more decades, but, it will. Adapt and overcome.

Have you used any of the drones above for field survey or site photography? What about other options? Some people use kites, but, you don’t have as much control and there needs to be wind, of course. Comment below.

Thanks for reading and I’ll see you in the field!