After 6 months of planning, designing, and testing, the MAPIR CAMERA store has launched! Here's our story of how it all started:
We were first told about the need for small, affordable mapping cameras back in December of 2014, while exhibiting at the LA Drone Expo. Being handed a MicaSense system and learning how much they cost ($6,500), we knew we needed to start a new project to address this growing demand.
The DIY community had already started modifying small point-and-shoot cameras with NDVI filters and using them for surveying, but those cameras were both heavy and cumbersome to modify. So we turned to action cameras like the GoPro Hero for a solution.
Over the years of working with the GoPro Hero cameras, we knew they were a popular choice for aerial imaging. The issue, though, is that surveying only requires photos, not video, and the high resolution 12-megapixel sensor has been on the GoPro Hero cameras dating back to the Hero 3 line. These older cameras were no longer being made, though, so modifying the current Hero 4 line was the only option for reliable new hardware. The problem was that the least expensive one that we could modify (meaning NOT the "Hero" model released in 2014), was the Hero 4 Silver with an MSRP of $400. Using this camera, plus a new lens and filter, was not a solution we knew would fall into the "affordable" part of our goal. Despite the current GoPro camera costs, we could begin testing optics and filters with them.
We knew mapping customers were already using the stock/original GoPro lens, but having to "un-distort" each image in order to stitch together was more cumbersome on the processing end, so we knew using a "rectilinear lens," one that has as little distortion as possible, would be most ideal. Our 5.4mm was a good fit as it had very little distortion and was sharp enough to resolve 10-12MP images. We began using the 5.4mm lens without an IR cut filter installed as we moved to testing various filters.
We began working with a new filter company who could not only build any custom filer we wanted, but could stand behind the quality of their products. Our goal was to create a better dual band NDVI filter than what existed currently. Having high transmission curves along with no cross-talk between the bands was important. There were two issues we needed to address, though. 1) Was a Red+NIR vs Blue+NIR filter more ideal, and 2) whether we could produce usable results with both an internal and external filter.
Since this was a single camera setup, and the ease of post processing the resulting media was important, we realized that while using a single Red+NIR filter is the closest to "true" NDVI processing, you cannot get as good results as you can with a Blue+NIR filter. Being able to easily decompose the resulting stitched photo to RGB layers is not something that can be done when the Red and Infrared bands are both in the photo's red channel. So we knew in the single NDVI filter, we would need to use a Blue+NIR filter to achieve better results. The Blue channel would hold the absorbed visible light of vegetation, and the Red channel would hold the reflected Infrared light of vegetation.
Our next tests were in locating the filters externally (we knew internally would work fine). Unfortunately, due to the narrow bands of light we were selecting for in our filters, we discovered you can't have super sharp individual bands and also use a filter externally. As the light passes through the edges of the filter and then the edges of the lens, it shifts in wavelength outside of our filters' transmission curve, and the resulting media has a halo effect. This halo is not the true "reflectance" of the vegetation and does not stitch or post process correctly. We then knew that filter wise, we needed to locate all the filters internally.
This brings us to March of 2015. We had been testing a new non-fisheye lens, the 4.35mm, and the results were very good, except we could not find a reliable supplier that could produce the lens without causing some sort of loss of focus/sharpness on one side of the image. We had planned to launch this lens on our Peau Productions store at NAB 2015, but we were unable to do so due to the fact that we had not found a quality supplier.
After NAB we moved into our new office, and work continued. We finished testing the filters and began producing them to work with our Supermount and non-fisheye lenses on the GoPro Hero cameras.
Shortly after we finally found a reliable supplier for the 4.35mm, so we began working on the camera itself.
Still looking around the action camera market, we found inexpensive 12MP models that were being used as "GoPro replacements." While not matching the video capabilities of the current GoPro Hero, the resulting photos were spot on. We began working with one of the factories directly and tweaked the firmware so that the default settings would allow any user to easily turn the camera on, hit the shutter button, and begin taking photos every few seconds. We combined our high quality lenses with our custom filters, and the resulting product was finally ready. The only issue was, what were we going to call it?
The name MAPIR is, of course, based on "mapper," as in a device you do mapping/surveying with. The IR portion refers to its main use, NDVI/ENDVI analysis, which looks at the Infrared (IR) reflectance from vegetation as it compares to the absorbed light (VISIBLE). We knew we wanted the IR to stand out and that we also wanted to have a symbol that was somehow incorporated into the logo. If these MAPIR cameras were going to be used for mapping agriculture, in the USA, corn is the largest crop produced, so using a symbol of a corn cob seemed like a natural fit. The colors in the cob relate to the color gradients most often used in NDVI satellite imaging to show where vegetation exists or not.
When deciding on which UAV platform to launch our new camera mounts for, the 3DR SOLO was an easy first choice. With an affordable $999 MSRP, a large underbelly including multiple bolting points, and a flight time of around 20 minutes with a payload up to 420g (that's about 9 MAPIR cameras), we knew that designing compatible mounts was going to be easy.
Our designer created a secure clip system which allows the user to easily attach and remove a camera without undoing any bolts while providing access to all the camera ports. We are launching with single camera static mounts for both the gimbal and accessory bay locations. This allows users to fly with the 3DR SOLO gimbal (available we hope at the end of this month) and also a single MAPIR camera. Simply fly the survey with one camera, land and swap to another.
Our other mount is a big one known as the Quad. It allows you to carry up to 4 cameras at once. There are clip holes on the Quad to allow you to secure 1, 2, 3, or 4 cameras at a time. The single clip holds one camera and the dual clip holds two. There are access holes in the center to allow our USB FPV cable to pass through. When you use the USB FPV cable, you can power the MAPIR camera and take the battery out, decreasing your per camera payload by 11g.
You can see the full line of MAPIR camera mounts on our store. There are multiple versions of the MAPIR camera that each has a different filter installed, so you can easily choose which wavelengths you want to capture.
We hope you enjoyed this summary about the MAPIR camera products and make sure to subscribe to our newsletter to stay updated on our new announcements.