Travel Channel Episode – The Lost Colony of Roanoke

Travel Channel Episode – The Lost Colony of Roanoke

In my high school and college days I enjoyed the study of mathematics and science and just tolerated courses on history. Over the years, I’ve found myself drawn more and more to the study of history. I like to learn about the earliest evidence of mankind and watch the evolution of society over time. It is fascinating to see man’s fingerprint working its way across the globe and across time.

The previous summer (2016) we, being LIDAR USA, played a small part in the making of an episode of the Travel Channel’s series Expedition Unknown ( with Josh Gates. In our particular episode Josh is in search of the Lost Colony of Roanoke. While nothing new was found in our efforts regarding the colony itself, a lot was learned by everybody involved.
Our small part involved using our UAV LIDAR system, a ScanLook A-series system, on a multi-copter to scan about 100 acres covering some heavy woods and a field thick with soybeans. The UAV we were using was a heavy-lift quadcopter. I asked the owner of the company I purchased it from to accompany me as the pilot as he had his 333.

Our plans were to arrive a day before the film crew and have the scans completed and processed before they arrived. Well, the airlines had other plans for us and we showed up very late in the day. On day 1 we started in the early morning right on the water’s edge. After a bit of assembly, we calibrated the bird (it used a DJI A2 flight controller) and got ready to fly. We did a couple of test flights with a 2-liter bottle of soft drink and then mounted the scanner.

Everything was new. The pilot and I had only met on the phone prior to this. He had never flown a LIDAR unit. I had never seen this quadcopter fly. The area was new. The whole TV thing was new. In short, after a few small technical difficulties, we were in the air and able to get our data. Back to the hotel we go to process the data. Did I fail to mention we were pretty much in the middle of nowhere? Forget cell phone and internet connectivity. Even at the hotel I could only sometimes receive a call – thank goodness for text messages. The internet upload speed was 0.3Mbps – wow, dialup speed! So much for the idea of making a web service for LIDAR.

After a lot more time had passed than expected, and help from Daniel back in the office, we were able to produce a nice bare earth classified point cloud. The day had now slipped away so a second day was required.

The next morning the film crew and archeologists, along with Josh and several others, were all on hand for filming. We had our data, now we had to learn our parts. It’s very interesting how hours of filming get distilled into just one or two minutes of show time. Each person had their role and specialty. I think it was a bit of an education for everybody. Our small part was two-fold: 1) fly the system, scan, and film from the ground with a chase bird, and 2) the presentation of the point cloud with the archeologist reviewing for potential new findings.

So back in the air we go. First we have to explain how the copter works, how much it costs, how much it can lift, how long it can fly and then answer all of the questions you would expect any average person to ask about LIDAR. What does it stand for, what’s its range, how accurate is it, what can it do, will I go blind, can you burn holes with it, and how much does it cost? This took several hours, lots of staging and re-staging, prompting and re-iterating. You quickly learn that anything you might say can find its way onto film. It may not be used, but it will be recorded.

In the end, we hope the few minutes of air time we enjoyed will broaden the market awareness for all of us using LIDAR. Over the course of the past year we’ve had several other TV experiences but have no idea if or when they will air. Keep your eyes open. In the meantime, be sure to visit our website,, as we introduce more affordable LIDAR systems for the surveying market and much more.


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