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Five top tips for drone surveys

Inspired Flight IF1000 Hexacopter takes flight

Drones have quickly become essential tools of the GIS professional’s trade. The ability to perform a range of tasks such as land surveying, photogrammetry, 3D mapping and topographic surveying has made UAVs all but ubiquitous in a variety of sectors, from agriculture and archaeology to mining and construction.

With this burgeoning market of drone technology in surveying and mapping applications, Level Five Supplies has put together a list of five top tips to ensure that you experience a smooth take-off into the world of drone surveying.

1. Choose the right tools, and drone!

Before any rotors spin in anger, it’s essential to understand what the desired outcome of the operation is, whether it’s for yourself or on behalf of a customer. Your choice of equipment should, therefore, be informed by the deliverables and output of those products and how they best fit the requirements of the project.

Even before any rotors begin to spin it’s necessary to ensure that you have the appropriate aircraft, in terms of the demands of the project and also one that the pilot can fly with confidence. Level Five currently offer a variety of commercial drones from Inspired Flight and Digital Eagle so you are sure to find a platform fit for your application.

It’s likely that your customer will not be familiar with sensor technologies so a thorough appreciation of their needs will allow you to determine which sensors to opt for, whether multispectral, LiDAR or photogrammetric. These conversations should also make clear cosniderations such as the desired accuracy, which all feed into your choice of equipment.

It’s also necessary to consider which methodology would be most appropriate to implement, again depending on the task in question. Ground Control Points, PPK, RTK and Direct Georeferencing are all potential techniques for drones in surveying.

UAV equipped with RN50
NextCore RN50 Drone LiDAR Unit, designed by Airsight. A user-friendly system accurate to 50mm boasting lightning-fast, cloud-based processing

2. Opt for the right software

Surveying operations can doubtlessly be made swifter and more efficient by the use of drone hardware but the software used to process and analyse the collected data is also a key consideration. Artificial intelligence automates the analysis of these large data sets, removing humans from the equation and increasing efficiency.

Increased automation within the workflow – such as the automatic marking of ground control points – makes things easier for the surveyor in the field and consequently a better experience for the end client. This experience can also be improved by things such as cleaner point clouds, which will aid the client’s understanding of the data.

3. Quality and quantity of data

There are several elements to consider to ensure that data collection and processing is efficient and that the integrity of the collected data is sufficiently high. These considerations include; understanding customer requirements, actively verifying and validating data, and choosing between PPK (post-processing kinematic) and RTK (real-time kinematic).

The most important factor is undoubtedly understanding customer needs – for example when it comes to the level of accuracy required if your data has 10cm of noise but the customer expects 5cm then expectations will not be met.

Something that often trips people up is a concern about batteries. The trick is not to focus on flying time as the objective is to maximise the quality of data, so don’t worry about the number of flights but rather the amount of data collected – the data can be thinned out but cannot be made thicker.

An example of point cloud processing using Cloud Compare

4. Visualising and understanding data

To enable your clients to visualise and understand the data it’s good practice to show them different examples of the same data set, whether it’s LiDAR point cloud, RTK/PPK, elevation reports, photogrammetry or any other deliverable. If the client then has an understanding of the differences between these deliverables they will be better placed to effectively express their requirements to you.

5. Scaling up

Offering a successful service while also scaling up operations can be a real challenge in drone surveying – if you’re constantly engaged in client’s jobs how are you supposed to grow? This is where considerations such as forced and planned scaling, staffing, client base, and sales and marketing come to the fore. All of these things need careful thought if you want to grow while providing a quality service.

Other factors can also have a positive impact on business growth; reducing data overlap, not using ground control points, improving processing time and implementing augmentation systems are all efficiencies that will contribute to your scaling efforts.

Browse our full range of commercial UAVs and accessories.

See our menu of LiDAR, radar and ultrasonic products to find the best sensor for your surveying tasks.