Autonomous Service Drones for Multimodal Detection and Monitoring of Archaeological Sites
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Constant detection and monitoring of archaeological sites and objects have always been an important national goal for many countries. The early identification of changes is crucial to preventive conservation. Archaeologists have always considered using service drones to automate collecting data on and below the ground surface of archaeological sites, with cost and technical barriers being the main hurdles against the wide-scale deployment. Advances in thermal imaging, depth imaging, drones, and artificial intelligence have driven the cost down and improved the quality and volume of data collected and processed. This paper proposes an end-to-end framework for archaeological sites detection and monitoring using autonomous service drones. We mount RGB, depth, and thermal cameras on an autonomous drone for low-altitude data acquisition. To align and aggregate collected images, we propose two-stage multimodal depth-to-RGB and thermal-to-RGB mosaicking algorithms. We then apply detection algorithms to the stitched images to identify change regions and design a user interface to monitor these regions over time. Our results show we can create overlays of aligned thermal and depth data on RGB mosaics of archaeological sites. We tested our change detection algorithm and found it has a root mean square error of 0.04. To validate the proposed framework, we tested our thermal image stitching pipeline against state-of-the-art commercial software. We cost-effectively replicated its functionality while adding a new depth-based modality and created a user interface for temporally monitoring changes in multimodal views of archaeological sites.