Zen and the Art of Drone Repair in Rural Sicily
This past summer I had the pleasure of working on the Geospatial Team of the Contrada Agnese Project at Morgantina. As part of the Geospatial Team, I was trained by Ben Gorham to operate the team’s Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), a quadcopter affectionately known as Tina. The first few days training with Tina had their ups and downs; I found out quickly that flying a UAV under field conditions is a bit more difficult than in the video games I was used to. However, by the end of the first week I felt comfortable enough to take Tina on a flight over the Hellenistic altars in the agora of Morgantina to take pictures for 3D model that Ben was building for Prof. Malcolm Bell, co-Director of the American Excavations at Morgantina.
The Geospatial Team continued to use Tina to create 3D models of the site for the rest of the season. The final model of our trenches can be seen here.
Conducting proper maintenance on a UAV while in rural Sicily is not without its challenges. One time, we needed to find new wiring for the UAV’s battery and traveled to three different hardware stores in Aidone and three in the neighboring town of Piazza Armerina in search of the correct wire. The wire we needed was nowhere to be found, so we decided to improvise by removing the wires from a different device and asking a local auto mechanic solder them into the arrangement that we needed. To our great relief, the improvised wiring worked and Tina was able to fly again! Later in the summer, Tina had a particularly rough landing on a windy day that dislodged her antenna. Being in rural Sicily, it would have been impossible to get a replacement antenna in time to fly the rest of the week. Instead of decommissioning Tina, I asked our conservator if she had any adhesives that I could use to put the antenna back in place. She told me to go down to the hardware store and ask for “Attak.” I thought this would be some sort of professional grade adhesive, but it turns out that Attak is merely an Italian brand of superglue. I wound up performing UAV surgery on Tina with nothing more than a screwdriver and some superglue. Thankfully, it worked, and Tina flew perfectly the rest of the season.
For all of the technical issues and surgeries, Tina was a resounding success this past season. We were able to keep a daily visual log of our trenches by creating 3D models after every day of excavation. We are now exploring methods for storing and accessing this data more effectively. We are also beginning to tap into the tremendous potential of integrating these models with our geospatial data to create better visualizations of our site. It was a pleasure working with the whole CAP team this past summer, and specifically with Tina, and I’m excited to build on our progress next season!
– Kevin Ennis