When You Give A Classic’s Major a Blog Post (on the same day they see an archaeological dig)

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Camping is always an adventure, even if said camping is in a schoolhouse.

The schoolhouse in Stöd is both clean and cozy, with a carpeted little atrium–that has become a kind of common space–and plenty of little nooks and crannies (like the upstairs foosball table, or the little office space I am currently using to write this blog post). Everyone has been impressed with the living situation, enjoying the space to roam and the opportunity to get a little bit of personal space during the quiet moments.

The day started busy, a quick but enjoyable breakfast and then a hop over to the dig site at Stöd. The site has been, thus far, a four-year venture– with multiple hands and great minds involved. The day before, Rannveig expressed that coming to work at the site was like a holiday, she only does it one month out of a year–so, the equivalent of four months of excavation. While four months may not seem like a lot of time, the site itself is exceedingly impressive. I am an Ancient Classics Major with a Medieval Archaeology minor, thus, the dig at Stöd was like walking into a candy store. While this is the first archaeological dig site I have viewed in progress, I have seen the final product of excavations and know a little bit about the process; I was very impressed by the amount the Stöd team had uncovered and how intact a lot of it appeared to be. Yes, the site does look like barebones to the naked eye–however, the number of walls and floors they have excavated and the length is surprising. You can actually imagine the structure there–whereas, there are a lot of sites (mostly older) that just look like a pile of rocks or scattered artifacts.

We were met at the site by Rannveig and Bjarni and educated on the history and rough outline of information about the site. What they have found is that there are the remains of two separate buildings, one bigger and older building and a smaller and newer building built inside the older. It is assumed that whoever created the smaller structure found the ruins of the older and found it more convenient and maybe offered more insulation to build within it. Additionally, the question that hangs in the balance is whether or not it was truly a settlement or just a waypoint (the latter being more common for Vikings to build). This depends on what DNA they find (especially in Midden heaps), if there are remnants of cattle then it is more likely that it is a settlement and not a waypoint.

After we were all caught up we parted ways, separating into teams. We had Porter, Lilli, Jordan, Li, and Mubi working on drones–flying the flight plans and collecting visual data on the site (the first batch of photos were high definition photos which will later be used for a 3-D display of sorts; the second half was with the NRA camera, to help see if there is anything below the surface by capturing the UV light from the plants). Another team (E, Katherine, Joyce, and Sydney) was in charge of the soil samples we collected at Solo. Meanwhile, C ran around answering questions and helping as the Jack-Of-All-Trades and vehicle driver. And I was left to soak up as much information about the site and feed my passion–getting a feel for what a dig looks like, meeting everyone, asking questions, and observing the excavation as it is and what it will hopefully turn into.




Since it was a holiday (Wit Monday, following Pentecost), the Stöd team was not digging today, however, they were available for questions and willing to share information. By about lunchtime I had been shown the artifacts (AMAZING! There are stones, a nail head, a part of an Arabic coin, some beautiful beads, etc.) and I had discussed the finds in their newest test pit (they found a bit of a wall and a hearth); while also asking some basic questions about identification of settlement and what the work looks like on a normal day.

Again, it was a holiday so all the businesses were closed today. Except, there was a wonderful restaurant/gift shop called Brekkan which welcomed us in and served us lunch. It was a fabulous meal! Baked Fish with a cream sauce, fries (or chips), some sweet dark bread, and salad with grapes. It was all delicious and very much appreciated. Everyone at the table had their fill (maybe even a little too much–I certainly felt like I had to be rolled out the door afterward) and sat, very satisfied. 

We came back to the schoolhouse to gather more layers (the wind was biting cold and the sun was just not warm enough to make up for it like our previous nine days) and to split up again. This time Lilli stayed behind to work on uploading the available drone photos, while the rest of the drone team headed back out to take the NRA photos. Soil people stayed behind to continue their diligent work in the dining room area of the schoolhouse kitchen (you gotta do what you gotta do).

I left with the drone group to continue my archaeology observation. I worked for a time creating a (ROUGH) sketch of the site, sitting in the grass and feeling the brisk cold wind. I certainly appreciated the blanket scarf I had picked up after lunch and the warm sun on my back. As I sat I heard unique bird calls, though I was unable to identify where they were coming from and what species was calling out. It is fascinating to observe the variety of birds that live in Iceland, so many species that are different from the ones I am used to in the States (in addition, I’ve grown up in Alabama and Indiana my whole life, which limits my avian knowledge to a limited area).
After sketching, I sat in Rannveig’s “office” (the back of a huge van, with camper chairs and a tiny table). This is where we discussed the different sections of the site (using my sketch as a reference), how it compares to other sites, the work she has done in the past, my research knowledge of Norse raiding and settlement in Ireland, and about the different jobs and activities Rannveig has done or is a part of throughout a year’s time. It is interesting to note, there are several positions open for archaeologists to become consultants for the government or building/electricity organizations, but it lasts about half the year due to weather constrictions.
The drone group finished up around 3:15pm (15:15) and we packed up. We were all eager to take showers in the pool facility and looking forward to taking a dip into the hot tub or swim in the pool. The facilities did not disappoint. We were all able to rinse off and enjoy the hot tub or pool, whichever suited the fancy. I noticed Joyce, Roger, C, Mubi, and Katherine floating around in the pool– while Sydney, E, and Lillian lounged in the hot tub (Rannveig joined the hot tub later–as did most of those swimming in the pool).

It took a bit of encouragement from Sydney to get me out in the open–the wind was still freezing, but this time I was wet from the shower and in a bathing suit. The hot tub appeared way too far away and when I opened the door the first time, and the wind hit me like a wall of ice. E later commented on how it appeared as if watching a cartoon– the door opened, I yelped, and the door was quickly closed again. However, nothing was colder than the 4-6 celsius cold tub. Sydney dipped inside first, staying in long enough for a photo! She later said it was as cold as the glacier runoff she had waded through at Solo (after dipping into the tub myself, I have a newfound appreciation for the determination Sydney, C, Jordan, and Porter had to science that day, at Solo– jeeeeez, it’s cold!). After a bit, most of us at least tried the cold tub– including Lilli, C, Rannveig, and I– which, honestly, really added to the whole swimming in Ice(land) experience.
In a minute, we are going to be treated to Grilled Cheeses and Tomato Soup made by Lilli and Porter. And C has recently collected all the NRA photos and pieced them together–now we wait for the code to be able to adjust the light according to the native plants.
Exciting new developments in Archaeology!!! Hopefully more is revealed as we continue to explore and experiment.



Indiana Jonesing For Some Sun

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The day began like many others at Skalanes, grey and rainy. Despite the dreary day Emi, Neil, and I set off to visit an archaeological dig a few fjords south of us. The relentless rain kept the rivers high, forcing us to make the trek out to the parking lot on foot yet again. Conditions were slightly better today, and we kept a quick clip, arriving at our car in under an hour, hitting the road at around 8:30. Along the way we got to go through a 6 km long tunnel dug through a mountain, which I found far more impressive than the tunnels of my native Pittsburgh. Apart from the tunnel we arrived without incident, and were greeted by the sight of several heavily clothed figures kneeling in the dirt.  We were then introduced to Bjarni, who explained the goals and methods of the dig, and took us to several holes pointing out the various tephra they were using to date the soil. It continued to rain. After the tour we enjoyed some excellent pizza and fries in Brekkan, a restaurant in the town of Stöðvarfjörður with the dig team. Following lunch we stopped in Egilsstaðir to pick up Mark and Susana, Earlham photographers who will be recording the rest of our travels, and returned to the house on Skalanes. During the afternoon the rain let up enough that Oli was able to ferry us  and all our gear, back in a single trip! And the sun came out! Although briefly. But it was much appreciated.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, porpoises were spotted in the fjord. Also various bug fixes in software, progress.

Taking the LiDAR out for a spin

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We took the LiDAR out for a spin on Friday. We had a beautiful (read: high tech) rig that consisted of Neil driving, Kellan holding the LiDAR out the sunroof, and Nic spread out across that back seat with the drone (Kia), laptop, and router, collecting data from the LiDAR. We re-learned that Kia doesn’t like having a lot of metal around, so our plan to collect GPS data was challenged, more on why GPS data is important below.

This is us trying to get a good GPS signal on Kia, not us actually driving with Kia sitting on the roof…
Note: Kia is the drone not that we are in a KIA car



After a lot of indoors practice with the LiDAR, we determined that the best way to set up Kia when in Iceland is to have a balanced rig with weight evenly distributed to the sides. The elements that we have to consider are the LiDAR, a wifi transmitter as well as battery packs for both. Neil and Charlie are working on getting these built in a reliable prototype.


Our ultimate goal is to create point clouds from the LiDAR data based on GPS coordinates. During our test run on Friday we collected data but are still mapping this data based on time instead of GPS. Our plans for Monday are to pull the GPS data from our Friday test run from the Kia and align the GPS/telemetry data with the LiDAR data in a point cloud. This will allow us to correctly map the data in a point cloud. We can’t map the LiDAR data using time because the LiDAR spins faster than our time readings and time is linear and our flight most likely won’t be linear. If we were to create the point cloud using time, we would have a straight line where the data would be stretched out and repeated.


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In some sense the amount of activity going on is inversely proportional to the posts we’re making here to document it… Here’s a quick summary of what we’ve been working on since my last post:

o LiDAR – We have new unit which is much more capable. We built a test-rig in Hopper to simulate having it on Kia, we’re just starting to collect data. Nic and Kellan are working on the algorithms/workflow to analyze it. Charlie is working on mounting it on Kia.
o Image processing – Kellan and Nic are working on a workflow for extracting features from the images. Charlie built a map (headed to QGIS) with marked known POIs on the Skalanes peninsula to use as part of the training data.
o Glacier forefield sampling – Tara and Charlie are developing a sampling plan and 16S RRNA workflow for processing the soil samples.
o Benchmarks for registering multi-modal data collected by sensors on the RPA.
o Discovered Siggi’s yoghurt.
o Kristin and Charlie are working on Field Day, mostly on the BLE plumbing.
o Checklist App – More news to follow.
o Gail and Charlie have done lots of logistics and planning.
o Emi is working on the avian surveys and the MinION workflow for processing glacier forefield soil samples
o New ambiance platform (single chip) is designed, construction to follow.

More regular updates to follow, we’re all psyched.

Some set backs

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This week has been a bit frustrating, but it all seems to be looking up now.

After taking some test images with the UAV last weekend I realised that there was image fragmenting going on with the camera. This meant that one of the cables was either lose, dirty, or damaged. So, after quite a few hours of hardware debugging (cleaning plus some cable re-seating, etc) Im reasonable certain the ribbon cable that transfers the actual image to the tablet receiver needs to be replaced. I still have no idea what caused the actual damage in the first place, but thats a little beside the point. Unfortunately that means until that comes in the camera will be out of order. (…Charlie ordered two just in case…)

BUT FORTUNATELY, that gave me an excuse to take the whole camera gimbal off which means its time to fly without the camera and stress-test how much of a payload it can carry! *cough* I mean, purely in the interest of knowing our payload total for the UAV+CAMERA+LIDAR.

In other news, after setting up a physical router I was able to solve the uplink problem. Essentially it turns out that having complete control over your ports when trying to control ~6 different java servers worth of information transferring all at the same time is really useful.

Super large backlog update

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Okay, so a lot has happened over the last month!

Early this month I started to dive a bit into how we are going to stitch our images together. I approached this through OpenCV so that I have access to python libraries like numpy. At its core this is taking a directory of images as an input, detecting key points, matching descriptors and features as a vector, before processing them through homography and warping the images to fit. The results are PRETTY good right now, but could be better. Ive since spent quite a bit of time working with the code getting it to accept more images on the first run. skalanes_stitch_1-copy

The Earlham College poster fair was also earlier this month and I wrote up and designed the poster detailing some highlights in our research, a pdf of the poster can be found here –> uas-poster-2016.

I suggested that Vitali and Niraj use OpenCV for object detection of archaeological sites. Ive also started to look into the different ways in which things like animal activity and vegetation health might be done through computer vision as well. Interestingly enough, vegetation is not only easy for computer vision to find but to also get rough calculations of how nitrogen heavy the plants are.

Ive continued to work with UGCS’s open software packages. I recently got integration of custom map layers (i.e., GIS) to appear in the flight program. As the majority of the sdk comes undocumented it feels a lot like reverse engineering and takes more time than I would like.

This weekend I had the intentions to fly a programmed flight over our campus to make a high resolution map that Charlie had asked me to do. I’ve since run into networking problems though and cannot proceed further until I get them figured out. I cannot get an uplink to the UAV but can receive download and telemetry data. This is mostly a networking error I suspect but one thats continuing to confuse me.

Moving forward: First off my plan is to get the ground station working correctly again and this is my highest priority. Second off, while Niraj and Vitali handle the computer vision software I will start familiarising myself a bit more with QGIS.

Script for batch conversion and algorithms to find rectilinear shapes

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This week, I and Vitalii started off by writing a bash script that takes a set of images from a directory, converts them (one at a time) and saves the converted images in a sub-directory or any other directory. The converted files are saved as TIFF and will have the same file name as the original. Because a single image takes more than 3 minutes to convert using ImageMagick, a batch of image could take quite a while. So, for now we will be using the nohup command to run the conversion in background but will work on parallelizing the conversion which should not be difficult considering that it is embarrassingly parallel.

For the rest of the week, we looked at algorithms which could be useful to detect rectilinear shapes from aerial images. We found that most of the algorithm, for accuracy, take multiple aerial images of the same region, often shot from different angles, to determine any man-made objects on the ground. However, we also found a convincing research article which uses Boldt Algorithm to find rectilinear shapes in aerial imagery.

Up next, analyzing aerial images from Skalanes

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Vitalii, Niraj and I talked about how to proceed with the aerial images from Skalanes. For now we are going to focus on two aspects, identifying possibly anthropomorphic surface features and measuring the extent of the lupine. There are a couple of algorithms that look promising for feature ID but they require stereo images. We will look into doing that next year. There is also at least one approach that uses mono images that they will start with. The automated image conversion scripts they wrote will be used to tune the input characteristics of the images for the algorithm(s). We haven’t decided on an approach yet for the lupine but I did have an idea for doing it based on a color map seeded with human input. It’s on the back of an envelope in the Hopper lab…

I guess this is why they call it research

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Starting off, this week has been spent reading and studying up on the current tech thats useful for us. The pun is fully intended in the title of this as this is maybe the 5th time I’ve had to look at all the new technology and advances made (damn you Moore’s law).
Looking into a more advanced LiDAR system had me sifting through nearly all viable models that fit our budget. Sample rate, beam power, light shielding, and mass were a few of the deciding factors that went into looking at different models.

  • A high sample rate allows for the LiDAR to be traveling faster and not suffer a loss of resolution.
  • The power output of the laser beam itself is important to get greater distant, our original system only had a usable distance of ~1.5m above the ground in broad daylight.
  • light shielding, though it can be added later, is best done built in as close to the laser output as possible. The shield itself allows through only the recognisable light of the laser receiver and blocks out as much UV light as possible.
  • Because the goal is to have the LiDAR mounted on the UAS mass needs to be taking into consideration.

After making up a list and handing it over to Charlie to look over he submitted it to the scientific equipment fund.

I also took the time this week to put together a new abstract for our research. Since first starting on the research our knowledge and capabilities have expanded drastically and I felt our abstract should reflect this. As of today we submitted to be a part of the Earlham College “Natural Sciences Division Undergraduate Research Poster Conference.”

Back into the swing of things

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Now a few weeks into the new semester its time to stop procrastinating and get back to work!

Ive started off by essentially doing what seems like mass updating of hardware, software, firmware, etc. The DJI drone system and ground control software both had to be brought up to date. Initially there were a lot of errors in getting them talking to one another again but as of Wednesday this week they are fully happy and working properly. I’ve also taken the chance to update the plug-ins and various parts of the website. Ive also made accounts on the blog for Vitalii and Niraj who will be joining us by working on some of the back end coding.

In an effort to stream line our massive photo cache I’ve copied all photos onto our media server here on campus to allow us to situate things. After talking with Charlie and Erin we have decided to sort initially by day and then by capture device. This means though that we have to map all photos to their correct day which has proved to be more difficult then I thought… If the EXIF data on the images doesn’t contain a date – the date is just set to be the most recent “creation date” which means when I copied them. Thats left me and Erin with a whole lot of images that need to be sorted and sifted by hand still. Im also still finding places where images are stored, such as the google drive, etc, and have been working on getting all of those to the server as well. Its sort of like a  big game of cat and mouse and is tedious at best.

With Niraja and Vitalii joining us I have also been doing my best in catching them up to speed on all the projects and details there in. Much of this involves working with the UAV images and how to post process them. Much of this is trying it out on proprietary software and then figuring out to best do it in large batches and with open source programs. Ive most recently been trying to figure out if its possible to get a 3D topographic image without needing to apply a LIDAR point cloud layer. While not as accurate it would certainly be quick and would be used more as an approximation.

As time becomes available, Ive also started going through all the video footage that we have saved and started to throw together a very (VERY) rough storyboard for the documentary. Im hoping to have a solid chunk of time this weekend to work on this a bit more. Really I’m just focused on getting some generic shots worked together so that we can use them as filler for voice over and context.

As things move along I’ll keep posting! Cheers!

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