Thailand Archaeology Team’s DIY Paraglider

From James Cook University.

Queensland, Australia’s James Cook University has an interesting article up about this DIY unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) hand-developed by JCU’s Technical Manager Wayne Morris, for a JCU team in Thailand doing archaeological surveys.

The archaeology team, originally led by New Zealand’s Charles Higham,  discovered an amazingly rich trove of archaeological artifacts in a neolithic and early bronze age superburial site in Bon Non Wat, Thailand.

Now led by lecturer Nigel Chang, the team wanted to take some low-altitude, high-resolution photos of the location, a village in Northeastern Thailand that has probably been inhabited continuously for 4,000 years. The ancient trenches, apparently, can be seen from the air more easily than from the ground, so Morris set about building a cheap, low-altitude, radio-controlled UAV with an electric engine and a remote-operated camera that would let the team take hi-res pictures of the site:

“We decided to go down the paraglide route as it’s a more stable platform and flies very slowly. You can even fly it into a soft breeze and it’s able to stall and just hang there,” [Morris] said.

“This means you can take good photos because you don’t have the vibrations of motors in other devices such as a helicopter.”

The finished product can fly thousands of feet in the air and the battery pack that runs the engine lasts for up to 25 minutes. But the building process wasn’t without its trials and tribulations. Mr Morris said finding the right equipment for a project like this can be difficult.

“I had to source material from around the world. I bought the paraglider from America, for example. Half the problem of building research equipment is finding out where to get things,” he said.

“There were also some problems with wind speed – the paraglider crashes in winds of more than 10-15 kilometres. It was a great amusement to everyone when it went down on its first flight,” Mr Morris said.

“And we lost it over the top of the University Hall building. I was showing a post-graduate student how to fly it when the aircraft disappeared. Turns out it was hanging out of a big gum tree but it eventually landed safely on the other side of the building.”

Mr Morris said the aircraft has survived multiple crashes because it’s made out of very soft, flexible material so it’s not easily damaged.

“It’s pretty hard to destroy. I’ve smashed it repeatedly and it just gets up and goes again,” he said.


One of Morris’s other projects involves building a remote-operated vehicle that will carry a bottle of water and drop it on command to a person below. This would be useful for survival situations where a trapped person was in need of water, but more importantly it could probably be adapted to drop water balloons.

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