Although many fossils are simply exposed to the soil surface, finding all of them will require researchers to walk a lot across different terrains,media reported. Now, a new automatic hexagonal drone can help because it uses lasers to search for fossils at night. The drone, called Laser Raptor, was developed by Michael Pittman, an assistant professor at the University of Hong Kong, China, and Thomas G. Kaye of the Scientific Age Foundation.
It uses an existing process called laser-stimulated fluorescence.
During the day, the drone is pre-set a flight path that covers the search area. By night time, the drones will automatically follow the programmed GPS waypoint while maintaining an altitude of 4 meters above the ground
During the flight, it shines a laser on the soil. If fossils are present in the scanned area, their unique mineral content makes them fluorescent, while the surrounding rocks and soil remain dark. The advantage of searching for fossils at night is that it prevents sunlight from interfering with the laser.
After the drone’s flight, the computer analyzes the footage taken by its integrated down-facing camera. If any fluorescent signals are detected, their GPS coordinates are recorded so that paleontologists can then travel to these places. Still photos on the ground are illuminated by on-board flashes to help scientists find fossils.
Laser Raptor has successfully completed tests in the wastelands of Arizona and Wyoming. The road can also be used to find precious metals, gemstones and even archaeological artifacts, according to reports.
The study has been published in Methods in Ecology and Evolution.