The plug and play nature of drones has reduced the barrier to entry so much so that essentially anyone can fly a drone. From a child test flying their present on the morning of the 25th to an experienced professional surveying a quarry for volume calculations. From afar it can look like they are doing more or less the same thing but that, of course, is far from the truth!
It’s all too often that people get excited about the potential for drones in their industry and begin to get tempted by the buzz. Many begin to run before they can walk by taking the leap into drone surveying without enough due diligence.
When it comes to drone surveying many pitfalls exist from flight planning to final processing. It is very important to know what you are getting into before deciding to survey with your drone.
Surveying is not about getting the most aesthetically pleasing images and video or being able to fly the perfect shot. Surveying is about delivering a quality and accuracy assured product to the client, from orthophotos to point clouds and 3D models.
You would be forgiven for thinking that carrying out a survey with a drone is a simple extension of the drones capability as, in some sense, it is. However, it’s all too easy to overlook the expertise and understanding of surveying that is required to provide repeatable and reliable deliverables.
In surveying, there are few things worse than delivering a substandard product in which accuracy cannot be guaranteed. Any surveyor who cares about their job will avoid this like the plague, it’s what you get paid for!
In some cases such as inspection surveys, accuracy is not necessarily a concern however, both safety when flying close to structures and ensuring details can be made out on the images are both essential. Close quarter flying and understanding optimal camera settings comes with experience and operation specific training both of which should not be overlooked. In such a case, both the drone’s capability and the pilot’s capability must be assessed in an honest and accurate manner.
Asking someone in the know or better yet getting trained professionally are not exactly recommendations, they are essentials. To not do so would very likely line you up for a steep learning curve and one that you pay for with plenty of time and plenty of money!
Flight Preparation & Flight
Carrying out a drone survey in a safe, legal and efficient manner is a direct result of good preparation. Airspace, weather, take-off & landing locations, potential obstructions and so on must all be considered during preparation. However, not only regulatory and flight specific concerns are at play. There is also the reason you are on site in the first place, to survey!
What survey methodology is best for your particular application? Is the drone up to the task? How will my flight plan and ground control affect the processing back in the office?
To answer these questions and many similar with confidence, professional training and experience are essential.
Photogrammetry, LIDAR, ground control, Real-Time Kinematic (RTK), Post Processing Kinematic (PPK), point clouds, orthophotos, textures, image overlap, shutter speed. If these terms seem like a foreign language to you, get trained!
Such terms are common lingo within the drone surveying industry as they regularly come up and are often discussed when deciding the best solution for any given client. The right combination of such elements can drastically improve efficiency in the field and office, the bottom line of which is to save you time and money.
To not understand these terms is like a mechanic not knowing what’s in his toolbox. A good understanding can be acquired through training and practical work some of which will naturally be trial and error. Once understood and with your knowledge up to date with the ever changing nature of the industry, you know exactly what’s in the toolbox without having a peek.
This understanding has a knock on effect that is not exclusive to simply delivering a good product, it gives you a great sense of confidence that you are actually taking the right steps for any given job.
Processing Drone Data
Just the same as flying a drone, the barrier to entry in terms of complexity involved with processing drone data has reduced significantly. Spoilt for choice, many software packages can achieve decent results with minimal input from the user.
That being said, once again, its apparent simplicity masks its true necessity for expertise and experience. If you like, it can be said that a surveyor earns their money through ‘selling confidence’. Selling a product that the client can be confident is accurate and as described. Once you open any drone processing software, which geoid do you pick? Which coordinate system does the client require? What processing methodology will provide the best results in the least amount of time?
An airline pilot doesn’t do much once at cruising altitude. That is until something goes wrong with the aircraft and then it’s all action. Ready to pull from years of training, expertise and experience, a solution can be found and the problem can be fixed.
If the data is incorrect, misaligned and inaccurate after processing can you find a solution? The last thing anyone wants is to resurvey the site, especially if special permission (Garda / Military) was required or the site is a long trip from the office.
The Bottom Line is Risk
When deciding to survey with your drone, the risk increases considerably. Risk is often associated with the physical act of flying simply put, how likely you are to hit an obstacle and crash. However, once you take on a survey job where a standard of quality and accuracy must be achieved, the risk undoubtedly increases. You now must be able to stand over the data as a survey professional who can guarantee that what has been delivered is up to specification.
Training and experience are critical in mitigating risk involved with every part of drone surveying. Not only this however, it allows the flight plan, flight and processing to be carried out with confidence and delivered to the expected standard and in a timely manner.
Survey Drones Ireland is the only registered training facility in Ireland with a specialist background in surveying and photogrammetry. We are also the only official reseller with certified trainers for Pix4D.