You're probably used to hearing about drones as these scary, deadly things causing chaos in Pakistan, but the scientific community is actually pretty pumped up about the technology. Why wouldn't they be? Drones can makes 3D maps of mountains.
The National Science Foundation recently invested in technology that makes it easier than ever to create 3D maps not just of mountains but of any landscape using nothing but a drone and a point-and-shoot camera. It's called Ecosynth and is specifically geared towards folks like ecologists who have long had a hard time gathering massive amounts of data about the land they're studying. Now, thanks to camera-equipped drones, they can do it with the push of a button.
"I flip the switch on the controller and away it goes on its own," Jonathan Dandois, a doctoral candidate at the University of Maryland, told Txchnologist. While Dandois spends his time surveying forests, he believes the Ecosynth software will have much broader applications. "It might inspire ecologists to rethink the ways they collect data."
And data they can collect. The software is being designed so that anyone from professional ecologists to amateur science can easily make 3D maps of any landscape with a few fly-bys. The drones just need to hover a few meters above the treeline, snapping photos of what's below, and the software turns everything into a 3D model. (An example of a drone photo is at the top of this post.) Gathering this amount of data would've taken years in the past. Now it takes just minutes.