Making the decision to purchase a drone, or unmanned aerial system (UAS), requires a thorough plan encompassing a number of considerations, from flying to data analysis to safety.
It’s not a simple process, and people need to be mindful when making the decision to invest in a drone for a project, says Michael Singer, CEO of DroneView Technologies, at an AGG1 Academy education session.
The process begins with project evaluation. The aggregate producer considering a drone should map out the project requirements, location, desired outputs, accuracy requirements, project timelines, available personnel resources and budget to determine if a drone is the right fit for the project at hand.
In some cases, a drone isn’t the best solution.
“We have end cases where they’re developing, pushing into areas that may have forestation or foliage where lidar may be a better or more appropriate sensor for that particular use case,” Singer says.
Once a company decides to purchase a drone, it needs to understand the requirements for using a drone from both a legal and safety standpoint. For instance, drone use in commercial operations requires users to pass an initial aeronautical knowledge test at a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)– approved knowledge testing center. The drone also has to be registered by the FAA once the user passes the test.
Safety is another critical consideration to keep in mind when deciding to use a drone.
“You still have to realize there’s a safety factor,” Singer says. “As you think about bringing drones to your operation, it’s an important component to think about.”
The FAA has a number of safety requirements in place. According to FAA regulations, a drone operator is prohibited from flying a small UAS over anyone not directly participating in the operation, under a covered structure or inside a covered stationary vehicle.
Finally, drone operators must learn how to correctly and accurately evaluate their results, as well as determine how they’ll transfer data, maintain privacy, and store and download large files.
“As you start out, understanding who’s going to use it [the drone] and what flavor of reporting they’d like to see is an important way to find success to a program, whether it’s just starting or expanding in an organization,” Singer says.
Drones produce large data files, and users need to decide how they’re going to extricate the information. In many cases, users need up-to-date programs and enough free space on their computers so the data doesn’t download at a slow rate.
“Where that data goes, how you manage that data, is an IT problem that you need to think about in advance,” Singer says. “Understanding the data component from the beginning is important. Make sure you have the right storage in place, as well as the right capacities to do it.”
Whether an aggregate operation chooses to use a drone for mine planning, stockpile measurement, inventories, stripping, topographic mapping or any other use, it’s important to consider these factors. A proactive approach will help users see the return on investment.