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Reliable, Precise Aerial Surveys

{{image2-a:r-w:300}}There are even options for what the technology is called! Commonly referred to “drones”, “Unmanned Aerial Systems” or “Unmanned Aerial Vehicles” are increasingly being phased out in favour of RPAS.

Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority and the International Civil Aviation Organisation have both adopted the term “RPAS” to reinforce that these aircraft have a human element, ie a certified pilot who is in control of the plane.

So how does a geospatial professional sort through the options?

The first, most important aspect is to think of the output needed. If you are expecting survey grade data with accurate measurements, a backyard shed build with a GoPro camera will not cut it. You need a tried and tested, industry version. Hobbyist drones can take a few good aerial photos, but for accurate measurements you need to invest in a solution that offers in-flight stability, redundancy and safety.

You also need to think of the type of terrain you will need to cover and the scale of your projects. To reach inaccessible or hazardous areas that are not suitable to survey on-foot, consider a solution that doesn’t require setting out ground control points such as the Sirius Pro by MAVinci. This fixed-wing real time kinematic (RTK) aircraft uses an on-board and ground-based global navigation satellite system (GNSS) to effectively place ground control in the air, removing the need to physically set them out on the ground.

For flexible camera or payload options and the ability to use the RPAS for monitoring or inspections, a multi-rotor Falcon 8 by Ascending Technologies might be a better fit. The Falcon 8 can be fitted with a wide range of cameras, is extremely portable and easy to operate and comes with exceptional in-flight stability, which means it can still deliver accurate data in a wide range of conditions.

In addition to in-flight stability, safety and precision mapping, manufacturers such as MAVinci are releasing industry-specific software for different applications.

A recent example is the newly launched corridor mapping feature for the Sirius which automatically adjusts elevation along flight lines to ensure consistent Ground Sampling Distance (GSD) throughout the terrain. During the flight, the Sirius will automatically ascend or descend to adapt its flight to the 3D model.

Innovations such as new AeroPoint ground control points by Propeller Aero offer a more precise way to process RPAS data. These devices are solar-powered GNSS tools that create RTK accuracy of a given point, directly uploaded into the post-processing software.

Safety is paramount for all geospatial professionals that invest in RPAS technology. Propellers that won’t take a finger if you get too close, automatic take-off and landing capabilities, collision avoidance and the ability to utilise a safe holding zone midway through a flight and avoid aborting it altogether are all must-haves in an RPAS system for aerial surveying and mapping applications.

MAVinci recently released an automatic spot landing feature, which enables the RPAS to land automatically within a five-metre radius of an allocated location, provided the aircraft is landing on flat terrain and with low wind conditions. If landing in less favourable conditions, the radius is 20m.

As with all surveying methods, the data capturing technique is only half of the story. The accuracy of the data extracted is what really counts. Data processing, analysing and sharing is arguably the final frontier before this new technology can truly break through as a mainstream surveying tool.

Unlike traditional survey methods such as optical instruments and GNSS, RPAS technology captures everything. And if you’re working on a big project, that’s a lot of data.

As with all things computing, the ability to store and handle increasing data is expanding rapidly with more powerful processors and faster internet speeds. Yet software downloads and local storage of data continues to be a pain point for many geospatial professionals.

New innovations such as web-based data processing, viewing and sharing portals negate the need to download software and enable users to share data with clients or colleagues easily and efficiently.

Scott Rogers from NSW-based Coastwide Civil shares his aerial survey data with client Hanson for the Bass Point Quarry at Shellharbour, south of Wollongong, using Propeller software. “Each month I provide an updated data set and they can analyse the data internally without any further input from my team,” Rogers said.

In the rapidly changing world of RPAS technology solutions, it is a challenge for geospatial professionals to sort through the plethora of options available. However compelling some of the off the shelf, low costs solutions may be, it is the data that is needed at the end of a flight that should drive the choice of solution.

There are unique and tailored features that are specifically suited to, and tested in, real world industry environments. As with all cutting edge technology, the system also needs to be supported by a supplier with the right level of expertise that can assist with training and technical support.

Source: Position Partners

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