Survey operator APEM Limited has been adding to its fleet of aircraft, which have just been fitted with a new ultra-high-definition camera for surveying and identifying sea birds and mammals from a high altitude.
In service since last year, a Britten-Norman Islander has been used primarily for over sea based surveys, mostly of the wind farms located off the UK's north west coastline. It has approved modified camera hatches enabling APEM to install the appropriate camera required for each survey to obtain the best images possible.
The surveys assess the environmental impact of the turbines, which is important for offshore wind farms as they cannot be commissioned until a reliable environmental survey has been carried out to prove that habitats are not adversely affected. APEM believes its aircraft may be the first in the world to use the new £340,000 Leica camera for this purpose.
The camera allows far clearer images than could ever be seen by the naked eye, meaning the aircraft can fly higher and faster over a site while still gathering accurate data on the ecosystem below, without disturbing it. "The old method involved biologists visiting sites by boat or low-flying aircraft, which disturbed the creatures and only gave about 40% data accuracy; this one will give over 80%," says APEM.
The camera can detect wave-lengths humans cannot, so as well as spotting birds and mammals it can also identify chlorophyll patterns.
APEM says that it has had interest in this technology from all over the world, and is basing global expansion plans on it. There are also diversification plans to use the same technology to detect leaks from water pipes, or to detect air leakage from buildings in order to identify inefficient heating.