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Aerial surveying: taking a bird?s eye view

Surveying has come through a revolution recently in the way data is collected, stored, retrieved and shared.

Even the way we view our data has changed significantly over the past decade, with advances in technology and access to online data through programs such as Google Earth.

While aerial surveying is not new to quarries, it is the development of remotely piloted aircraft system (RPAS) technology, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), that is delivering real benefits to the quarrying industry by enhancing the speed with which surveys can be carried out and improving the accuracy of the data collected. {{image2-A:R-w:200}}

The shift to RPAS represents one of the most significant advancements in surveying technology over the past century.

The reason for this is one of access. Suddenly there is greater access to technology at a greatly reduced cost. If you couple the speed with which surveys can be carried out and the fact data can be shared via cloud technology, suddenly you are talking about a process that takes days as opposed to weeks or even months.

Many operators in the quarry industry are seeing the benefits in moving to RPAS for aerial surveying instead of manned aircraft, predominantly because of the reduced turnaround times, reduced cost, flexibility of scheduling and, in many applications, comparable quality and accuracy to manned aircraft surveys.

A manual ground survey for applications such as stock survey and reconciliations is also limited to the time available to the surveyor and the number of points he/she can get down over the subject area or stockpile.

French photographer and balloonist Gaspard-Félix Tournachon, known as “Nadar”, took the first known aerial photograph in 1858. In 1855, he had patented the idea of using aerial photographs in mapmaking and surveying, but it took him three years of experimenting before he successfully produced the first aerial photograph.

During the First World War, aerial reconnaissance developed from an almost zero baseline to a vast, complex science.

The equipment, tactics, procedures and terminology that are used, with modifications, to this day had their origins in this period.

While most combatant countries possessed a few military aircraft, these were generally reserved for reconnaissance and artillery spotting.

Tethered balloons and kites with cameras attached were used but were found to be easily shot down, so more popular dirigibles and large German-style zeppelins were commonly used to take aerial photographs, particularly for maritime patrols.

PROS AND CONS {{image3-A:L-w:200}}Today, while the technology has improved from its humble beginnings, the principle that applied to the earliest aerial surveys remains. 

So is aerial surveying really the best approach for the quarrying industry? Many argue that when used in conjunction with ground surveys, aerial surveys can deliver greater accuracy; others believe they are more cost-effective and more time-efficient. Reduced turnaround times can certainly be seen as an advantage of RPAS.

Another advantage is that because they fly at a lower altitude, they are able to survey when there is cloud cover that may prevent or impede the capture of an image or data through the traditional manned aircraft methods.

High winds, however, pose a problem for RPAS, and this is a consideration in wind-prone regions such as Far North

RPAS is also at a disadvantage to manned aircraft on very large sites because the aircraft are required to land every 30 to 45 minutes to have their batteries replaced, so a survey will take longer to complete than it would by manned aircraft.

RPAS is also less suited to obtaining contour and elevation data relating to greenfield sites where there is extensive vegetation that can reduce accuracy. Manned aircraft and light detection and ranging can be a better choice in these applications.

The future of aerial surveying, based on recent technological advances, promises to be exciting.

Mapping in particular has moved to many “real time” applications, with the smartphone providing a powerful platform for the user to both receive and send data that can be used in many daily situations, such as working out how to avoid congestion on the commute to work.

Aerial surveying looks like moving in a similar direction. Could we one day simply use an app on our smartphone or tablet to get a real time and accurate satellite image and survey information for our quarry for immediate use? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what the future brings!

Whatever choice you make as a quarry manager in regards to aerial surveying, make sure you speak to a specialist in the industry who has experience and the capability to offer the best application to suit the needs of you and your site. 


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