We didn't go to California to scan a vineyard, but that's what happened.

The team: Finnegan, Breitkreutz, Baker, LeWinter, Gadomski.

The plan: Fly our RiCOPTER as a part of a multi-drone mission at Camp Roberts. Camp Roberts is a mostly defunct training base nestled into wine country, with a nice little airstrip, plenty of open skies, and a hanger to stage our equipment out of. Not a bad place to fly.

The reality: We very quickly figure out that our hosts haven't gotten clearance to fly in Camp Roberts airspace. The fact that all of our paperwork is all in order is no help; the whole project is grounded. Monday is a bust.

When you can't fly, you might as well take in the sights.

Tuesday was much better. Our hosts scrambled and got permission to fly over a private vineyard, Law Estates, located near Camp Roberts. For our part, we were able to do a quick-turnaround approval from USACE aviation headquarters to fly the same. We rolled up to Law Estates with well-organized ducks, if by ducks I mean drones.

Let's fly.

Part of the exercise, it turns out, was to assess the speed at which we could turn around data. So after one flight and sucking the data down onto a toughbook, I set up shop with said toughbook, a lawn chair, and some Daft Punk to see how quickly we could make a point cloud. The answer? About 70 minutes.

Mobile Nerd Unit (MNU).

After two more flights we had burned through all of our batteries, so we headed back to Camp Roberts for some additional post-processing and show and tell. One fun bit was seeing the photogrammetry data from another team's DJI Phantom about 50m above our data. When you come at the king you best not miss, so I burnt a good hour triple-checking our work before raising the issue with the other team. Know your tools.


Wednesday, after some more show and tell, we all headed home. Well, except for me; Denver got shut down by the bomb cyclone, so I went to the Deli Board.

The mayor of San Francisco walked in right after I took this picture.

All in all, we'll call the week a success, even with the ground day on Monday. Our equipment worked well, our data looks good and is accurate, and we got to show off shiny stuff to people who hadn't seen it before. We've got a lot more RiCOPTER work coming down the pike so it felt good to knock this one out and move on to the next thing.

Want to check out the data for yourself?