Students at a school in Nain are helping construct an aerial drone that will eventually film and photograph significant archeological sites in the area.
“At first it was like, ‘Wow, is this really going to happen?’ But once it started and they’re actually putting the legs on it and the propellers, they’re getting excited and we’re getting more kids to show up,” said Jens Haven Memorial School science teacher Natalie Lushman.
Through a partnership between the school and the Torngâsok Cultural Centre, upwards of 15 students are taking part in a weekly after-school program launched last month.
“The use of aerial photography has for many years been an important aspect of archeology,” explains Jamie Brake, an archaeologist for the Nunatsiavut Government, which funds the Torngâsok Cultural Centre.
The use of drones for archeological purposes is a more recent development in the field. Brake said their usefulness has been cited in places such as Peru and Israel.
“These days, you can get drones for a pretty modest amount of money and you can even get kits to build them,” he said. “It’s important for us to be using whatever the best available tools are for that task, and drones can make our lives a lot easier.
The Tasiujatsoak Trust Fund Committee approved a project proposal shortly before Christmas. A drone construction kit and a GoPro Hero 3 camera were purchased with those funds.
A remote-controlled camera mount with a gimbal so the camera can pivot around an axis will keep the camera level at all times during flight, thus ensuring it captures high-quality video and images.
For aerial images, archeologists often rely on Google Earth.
“A lot of the places other than the communities in Northern Labrador, high-resolution imagery isn’t available,” said Brake.
“Now, you can go out and order aerial photos, but there’s a cost associated with that ... and lots of times these might have been taken decades ago. With a drone, you can get high resolution, large-scale images of pretty much anywhere you want.”
The drone can either be remotely controlled or travel a preprogrammed route. Mapping work that otherwise might take days or weeks can be handled in a matter of minutes or hours by using a drone equipped with a camera, according to Brake. It can also assist with surveying land.
“It would be possible to have it all set up to pull up to an island in a boat, for example, send a drone out and survey the island for you rather than walking all over the island without knowing what you’re going to find.”
Through the project, students will learn about Inuit history, archeology, math, science and engineering. Some are even developing soldering skills in piecing together parts that make up the drone and learning how to program flights.
“The kids are planning all kinds of stuff,” laughed Lushman.
Before it flies outside, a permit from Transport Canada must be obtained to ensure use of the drone will not endanger other objects engaged in flight.
Lushman expects it will be at leas another month before it flies.