In unstable atmospheric conditions, using on-board irradiance sensors is one of the only robust methods to convert unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)-based optical remote sensing data to reflectance factors. Normally, such sensors experience significant errors due to tilting of the UAV, if not installed on a stabilizing gimbal. Unfortunately, such gimbals of sufficient accuracy are heavy, cumbersome, and cannot be installed on all UAV platforms. In this paper, we present the FGI Aerial Image Reference System (FGI AIRS) developed at the Finnish Geospatial Research Institute (FGI) and a novel method for optical and mathematical tilt correction of the irradiance measurements. The FGI AIRS is a sensor unit for UAVs that provides the irradiance spectrum, Real Time Kinematic (RTK)/Post Processed Kinematic (PPK) GNSS position, and orientation for the attached cameras. The FGI AIRS processes the reference data in real time for each acquired image and can send it to an on-board or on-cloud processing unit. The novel correction method is based on three RGB photodiodes that are tilted 10° in opposite directions. These photodiodes sample the irradiance readings at different sensor tilts, from which reading of a virtual horizontal irradiance sensor is calculated. The FGI AIRS was tested, and the method was shown to allow on-board measurement of irradiance at an accuracy better than ±0.8% at UAV tilts up to 10° and ±1.2% at tilts up to 15°. In addition, the accuracy of FGI AIRS to produce reflectance-factor-calibrated aerial images was compared against the traditional methods. In the unstable weather conditions of the experiment, both the FGI AIRS and the on-ground spectrometer were able to produce radiometrically accurate and visually pleasing orthomosaics, while the reflectance reference panels and the on-board irradiance sensor without stabilization or tilt correction both failed to do so. The authors recommend the implementation of the proposed tilt correction method in all future UAV irradiance sensors if they are not to be installed on a gimbal.
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited