Large scale particle image velocimetry (LSPIV) is a nonintrusive environmental monitoring methodology that allows for continuous characterization of surface flows in natural catchments. Despite its promise, the implementation of LSPIV in natural environments is limited to areas accessible to human operators. In this work, we propose a novel experimental configuration that allows for unsupervised LSPIV over large water bodies. Specifically, we design, develop, and characterize a lightweight, low cost, and stable quadricopter hosting a digital acquisition system. An active gimbal maintains the camera lens orthogonal to the water surface, thus preventing severe image distortions. Field experiments are performed to characterize the vehicle and assess the feasibility of the approach. We demonstrate that the quadricopter can hover above an area of 1×1m2 for 4–5 minutes with a payload of 500g. Further, LSPIV measurements on a natural stream confirm that the methodology can be reliably used for surface flow studies.

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