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The Truth about Drones in Mapping and Surveying

Below is an excerpt from an excellent article written by Bill McNeil/Advisor and Colin Snow, CEO and Founder of Skylogic Research. It shows how drones have been used successfully in surveying and mapping thus far and outlines the lessons learned. It goes on to discuss the opportunities and challenges for GIS professionals, reviews competitive and traditional approaches offered by incumbent technology, and discusses what’s next for drones in this sector. The full text of the report can be seen HERE

Image Credit: Future Aerial

Image Credit: Future Aerial

“Drones are going to have a major impact on the surveying and mapping industry, but perhaps to a lesser degree on traditional surveyors.  As mentioned earlier, the Department of Labor is forecasting a 2% drop in the number of surveyors from 2014 to 2024.  On the other hand, the Labor Department is projecting 29% growth for the photogrammetry category.  This means more and more photogrammetrists will do surveying work and more surveyors will use photogrammetry tools for mapping.  In other words, inexpensive data collected from drones has and will continue to blur the lines between photogrammetry and mapping.

There is another issue at play here.  The process of physically flying a drone is not unique to map making.  The type of data collected is determined by the instrument payload -- not by the drone operator.  In other words, it really doesn’t make any difference if the application is precision agriculture or mapping a pipeline, the deliverables are the information extracted and processed by the crop consultant, the photogrammetrist, or the surveyor.

Drone technology is moving extremely fast.  It’s very possible many surveyors would rather hire a service provider to collect data than invest in a tool that can be obsolete is as little as six months.  They may also consider short-term leases to ensure their technology is relatively current or just rent a drone when needed.  Regardless of how small drones fit into the workflow, they will not only affect the industry, but they will also create new opportunities for independent contractors who, based on their experience, may be able to fly and collect data less expensively than surveyors.  The value add is the knowledge and data processing skills of the surveyor and photogrammetrist, not their drone-flying skills.”


What is “survey grade accuracy”?

There are numerous tasks and projects in which accurate measurement of 3D points is critical. A few examples might be mapping, construction, communications, and ownership boundaries and other civil law applications.

Survey Grade Accuracy

The degree of accuracy that would be expected in such projects depends on the final application and intended use of the survey or mapping data. The acceptable could be a foot or more away from its actual surveyed location, and in some projects, the maximum acceptable error is only two to three inches or less. According to the USGS Global Navigation Satellite System Committee it is the surveyor's responsibility to know the accuracy requirements of the survey and match this with the accuracy of his or her receiver in combination with the accuracy of the correction information being received based on correction quality and location. Most survey grade equipment has horizontal and vertical accuracy based on distance. Therefore when roving in RTK mode the vertical accuracy of the surveyed points in relation to the base station 8 km away is 2 cm + 1.6 cm or 3.6 cm. The further a survey is from the correction information, the less accurate the survey. 

Traditionally, a professional land surveyor must be both accurate and precise, and as you might expect, reaching survey grade accuracy by manual field-survey measurements can be extremely time consuming -- not to mention, on inaccessible and uneven terrain, dangerous!

At DroneView Technologies, we pride ourselves on refining our aerial mapping data to the point that it meets the standard of American Society of Photogrammetry & Remote Sensing (ASPRS) Positional Ac­curacy Standards for Digital Geospatial Data (2014). With properly placed reference points (another blog to come on this topic later!), we can generate point clouds with a Root Mean Square Error (RMSE) of 3 to 5 cm (xyz) when compared to field surveyed ground control and check points. With drones, we can rival the accuracy of traditional mapping methods while bringing an innovative level of speed and safety to the table.

For more information, contact DroneView Technologies. Aerial Data Acquisition and Processing: Full Service. Trusted Solutions.


Pit & Quarry Interview: Considerations to Make When Evaluating Drones

Pit & Quarry Magazine writer Kevin Yanik's interview with DroneView Technologies CEO Michael Singer:  "Considerations to Make When Evaluating Drones" - June, 2016

Drones continue to captivate aggregate producers, many of whom are currently exploring how to incorporate the technology to better ascertain volumes and model topographies.

Michael Singer, co-founder of Drone View Technologies, estimates that between 3 and 5 percent of producers have adopted drones to date. But he expects the industry’s market adoption rate to span between 60 and 70 percent within three years.

“Everybody is evaluating,” Singer says.

Specifically, producers are evaluating four factors related to drones, he says: the accuracy of the data drones provide; the timeliness of that data; whether or not the technology is safe; and, of course, the cost.

“From those factors [producers] then ask what does it all mean from an operating perspective,” Singer says. “Can this data make us more efficient?”

A number of producers are accustomed to gathering inventory data on an annual or semiannual basis, he adds, going about the process with an ad hoc accounting approach. But some producers who’ve adopted drone technology are experiencing benefits they otherwise didn’t expect to gain.

“They’re seeing the benefit of being more timely in their assessments,” Singer says. “Change with any big company doesn’t happen overnight. I think many spent last year – and some continue into this year – learning about the technologies and capabilities. They’re trying to figure out if this is a core competency and if they want to rely on a third party.”

According to Singer, some aggregate producers have developed the idea that they can purchase a drone on Amazon and get a little training from an expert before they can manage a drone on their own. The process isn’t that simple, though.

“The reality is that the nuances of doing it accurately, consistently, at scale and safely are more challenging than many realize,” Singer says. “[The technology] works the vast majority of the time as intended, and sometimes it doesn’t.”

Singer cites a fallen drone as an example of something that can go wrong.

“We had equipment fall out of sky from about 200 ft. [one] week,” he says. “Fortunately, nobody was hurt. The equipment was damaged beyond repair. It was a motor failure, and that happens. People need to realize that while the technology is cool, safety is a real issue and we’re mindful of it.

“We try to be as least destructive to the operation as possible and stay away from as many people as possible,” Singer adds. “That means staying 500 ft. or more away from people. We keep our operations to FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) standards and code.”

These are all considerations aggregate producers must make, as well.

“Many large companies also have their own engineering and surveying and GIS (geographic information system) capability,” Singer says. “They start off thinking maybe they need to buy their own drones and be their own resource. Many have done that, but many have also crashed the drones they’ve acquired. And, for a plethora of reasons, they’ve concluded maybe that’s not their core competency.”

Insurance is another consideration aggregate producers must make.

“Regulations are something to be mindful of, as is an additional insurance consideration related to aviation,” Singer says.

However aggregate producers decide to go about drone management, Singer is convinced more producers will soon be managing drones.

“[Drones] are going to be transformative to the mapping and survey world,” he says.