Drones, or Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) or Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) carry the researchers' eyes and instruments into the air.

The UvA Dronelab, housed at the 4DRL, is an ROC certified drone operating research unit that is specialized at drone-based remote sensing and all kinds of related airborne data and imagery/videography capturing.

Drones for Research

In digital humanities, the use of drones is a fast developing innovative technology. Using various cameras and sensors, drones can help to capture landcapes and identify sites and architecture in 2D and 3D.

Drones have become essential to carry out modern archaeological fieldwork (both surveys and excavations). However, datasets collected using drones, whether aerial imagery/videography, high quality 3D models or thermal orthophotos can benefit any research area studying architecture, infrastructure or landscape.

Since drones are generally cost-effective, operationally flexible and easy to use, they enable the creation of new and valuable datasets, allowing research questions that have not been possible before.

What can they do for us?

Drones fill a niche between terrestrial scanning and geophysical remote sensing on the one hand, and airborne reconnaissance using planes, as well as spaceborne reconnaissance using satellites on the other.

Being able to fly at low altitudes, move unobstructed over uneven surfaces, hover in mid-air and cross water, they provide opportunities to collect unique and valuable data at very high resolutions. The ongoing miniaturization of sensor types such as thermal cameras, georadar and LiDAR, opens up a range of possibilities for advanced data collection techniques. Drones in combination with photogrammetrical software (Image Based Modeling, or IBM) turn into flying 3D scanners.

UvA = Airborne!

Drone operating at Siegerswoude (NL)
Drone operating at Siegerswoude (NL)

ROC = RPAS operator Certificate

In short, the ROC authorizes the UvA Dronelab for operating >4kg drones, flying at an extended altitude and distance from the pilot, enter restricted airspace, and requesting clearance for entering urban areas, military areas and (parts of) airport controlled areas.

ROC information on ILT


DML logo cropped



The DroneML project, funded by Open eScience, aims to develop machine learning-based software that can rapidly screen multiple feature types (e.g., regularly shaped features that contrast with natural soil and grassland surroundings) and multiple multimodal input layers simultaneously, to enable rapid processing of large datasets for subsequent manual assessment of identified features.

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This project aims to test and implement various technological innovations in archaeological field research, as part of an ongoing collaboration between ACASA and the 4D Research Lab. The various projects can be split into four main components: Paperless Archaeology implementations at the excavations at the Magoula Plataniotik, Drone Remote Sensing at the Magoula Plataniotiki, Drone remote sensing at the Voulokaliva, and Deep Learning approaches to the Voulokaliva.

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Preliminary visual data model of drone LiDAR survey of the Magoula Plataniotiki
Point cloud of the research area generated by thousands of drone photographs

Large-scale drone remote sensing at Rijnenburg, Utrecht

2023- 2024

Commissioned by the municipal archaeology of Utrecht, 350 hectares were documented and analyzed using multispectral, thermal, optical and lidar sensors as a way to bring archaeological investigation to the forefront of urban development planning.

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Commissioned by the municipal archaeology of Alkmaar, this project aims to investigate the buried remains of 13th century AD castles using drone remote sensing.

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DJI M300 RTK ready for takeoff in the Oudorperpolder
A graphical abstract of the ARCfieldLAB project.


2022- 2024

ARCfieldLAB is an E-RIHS-funded project aimed at improving the quality of archaeological fieldwork and research in the Netherlands. Achieved by collecting information on the most important technological and methodological innovations of the last ten years in the field of archaeological remote sensing.

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Medieval site of ‘t Huijs ten Bosch, Weesp


The drone remote sensing operations investigated the Medieval castle ‘t Huijs ten Bosch in Weesp. The project entails an investigation into both the application and comparative value of innovative sensor techniques for prospection purposes as well as nature, extent, and state of preservation of the site itself.

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Thermal mosaic from castle site at Huys ten Bosch, Weesp, June 2022.
Drone Remote Sensing


2022 - 2023

The archaeological landscape of ancient Halos in central Greece provides a good testing ground for the possibilities that drone-based prospection has to offer. Using thermography and multispectral imaging, we contribute to the research of the site being done by the University of Amsterdam, in collaboration with colleagues of the Greek Archaeological Service (the Ephorate of Volos).

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Siegerswoude (NL)


In a short fieldwork operation at Siegerswoude (NL) in collaboration with the Rijksdienst voor Cultureel Erfgoed (RCE), high quality data was collected from an agricultural field featuring an archaeological anomaly. The slightly sunken elongated feature was interpreted as a ditch dug as part of a Medieval peat extraction settlement under construction.

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Drone operating at Siegerswoude (NL)
spot of 1937 B&W photo

Troy (TR)

During one week of fieldwork at the famous site of Troy in Turkey in the context of the Archaeology of Archaeology at Troy Project, an extensive 2D, 3D and thermal mapping of the site were carried out. The main purpose was to create an accurate model of parts of the site for the above mentioned project, as well as to experiment with drone thermography.

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Acquarossa (IT)


The drone remote sensing operations were part of an ongoing ACASA investigation. Optical and thermal sensors were used, accompanied by a GPR survey, which together revealed features of a 7th-6th century BC Etruscan townscape.

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Thermal (red-yellow) and GPR (blue) data combined and anomalies mapped.