Apis helvetica var. Jacques

I was on my way to Rwanda to do some more work with Karisoke Research Institute on Gorillas, help close out some research worked on by University of Rwanda botany student Tuyizere Jean de Deiu on how land use and land cover have changed between 1995 and present. More on that project in a later post. In the meantime, while passing through Europe, I took a side trip to Switzerland to visit with my collegue Oriol Lopez who works for Medicine San Frontiers (Doctors without Borders/MSF) Japan and WeRobotics, an NGO dedicated to drones for good.

The start to the trip within Switzerland was auspicious: the cafe where I got my first bit of green tea and food was named Helvetia. The walls were covered in Swiss Cartography.


Oriol picked me up and we headed from Zurich to Bern.

Selfie of me and Oriol

The purpose of the trip was two-fold — one was to connect with WeRobotics and see for myself the work they are doing; the other to connect a second time with Oriol.

WeRobotics team discussing how to shoot sterile mosquitos out of drones for mosquito supression.
WeRobotics team discussing how to shoot sterile mosquitos out of drones for mosquito supression.

I met and chatted extensively with Adam Klaptocz. The variety and depth of the projects WeRobotics is executing in the “Drones for good” space is captivating; from drone mapping to mosquito control, it runs a wide gammut.

Oriol himself specializes in cargo drones, the payloads (multipled kilograms), flight distances (>120km), and flight characteristics (vertical take-off and landing, fixed wing) of which are really attractive for deploying larger sensors.


Sigma SD Quattro H next to the cargo bay of the drone, "Jacques."
Sigma SD Quattro H next to the cargo bay of the drone, “Jacques.”

With a pair of 51 megapixel cameras flying in a drone like Oriol’s, we have the potential to build a 200 megapixel VTOL that can cover large areas, which is very attractive. Imagine flying at 120 meters (400 feet) and getting a ground sampling distance of < 0.4 cm. Or, where regulations allow, fly at 300m and get <2 cm pixels. For my applications, the plants I could identify with that resolution, the quality of ground images I could see in a leaf-off forest, the engineering / survey applications for that are just extraordinary.

(Side-note: a highlight of the trip was Carnival was in full swing)

Saturday, we headed to Lausanne via a scenic, if foggy, route to meet with David Rovira of Sensefly and Ana Codorniu of Red Cross. It was a really enjoyable and productive conversation. Then we explored the sights of the city a little bit as the fog lifted.

One thing that captivates me on these trips is the serendipity and opportunity in simple conversations. And beyond that opportunity, the moment to chat and reflect, to meet new and old friends, and to grow together toward solutions for what I hope is incrementally a better world.

(Shout-out to Nuria who also joined us in Lausanne).

Edit: I forgot to include the WeRobotics soldering station I reconstructed in 3D in OpenDroneMap:


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