Surveying has been an essential operation in innumerable industries for virtually as long as those industries have existed. For almost as long, surveying has been plagued by an enduring set of issues: how much it costs, how long it takes, the risks it presents to surveyors, and imprecision in geospatial information.
At long last, however, a solution to all of these problems has arrived. A cutting edge unmanned aerial vehicle has combined with industry leading surveying technology to create a cost-efficient, time-effective, safe and incomparably accurate surveying solution that’s built for even the most remote and hazardous locations. For industries like energy and mining, there can’t possibly be too many the-sky-is-the-limit puns when it comes to what automated drones equipped with LIDAR sensors can do to improve surveying operations.
The First Piece of the Puzzle
Automated industrial drones are drones built to withstand the harsh and rugged environments of a wide range of industrial sites while operating with either no human intervention at all, or a bare minimum. For leading automated drones this means everything from changing its own sensors in order to perform a variety of tasks and changing its own batteries to the entire flying and data capture process, including launching, landing and data processing.
For UAV mapping and surveying purposes, this means an automated drone is capable of flying either scheduled or on-demand surveying missions without requiring a pilot, therefore doing away with both the considerable expense of drone pilots as well as the delays or scheduling difficulties associated with them. Also eliminated is the potential for operator error in either flight or data capture.
Automated UAVs can take the place of both ground-based surveyors and manned aerial vehicles. This means no more multi-day surveying missions undertaken by surveyors working with just hundreds of points on the ground. What ground-based surveyors take days to accomplish can be accomplished by automated drones in just hours using millions of points for a major increase in accuracy. This also means no more hugely expensive helicopter or plane surveying missions. Most importantly, automated UAV surveying and mapping means no more putting human lives at risk, either on the ground in remote unforgiving environments, or in the air in those same risky conditions.
The LIDAR Advantage
With advancements in drone technology have come advancements in drone payload technology. In 2019 we’re finally at the point where LIDAR payloads are becoming small and light enough as well as affordable enough to make them a viable option for many organizations. This is welcome news for organizations that have struggled with the limitations of photogrammetry, resulting in forced ground-based surveying missions in certain areas.
Where photogrammetry relies on high-resolution two-dimensional imaging to determine measurements, LIDAR uses pulsed laser light to illuminate target points, measuring how long it takes for the light to bounce back from each point and using those differences in return time to create three-dimensional models. It’s a technology that penetrates vegetation and tree canopy to measure all the way to the ground, works in low light, and can easily identify narrow objects like power lines – all conditions in which photogrammetry is not effective.
LIDAR is widely considered the most accurate surveying technology currently available. The cost of the technology has held it back from becoming industry standard, but with leading automated drone companies working to release light and affordable LIDAR payloads, this technology is set to go mainstream. As is the fastest, most cost-efficient and most accurate surveying possible.
Surveying streamlined Surveying dates all the way back to ancient times. It’s taken a while, but as a species, we may have finally found the optimal surveying process. All it took was an unmanned aerial vehicle that can handle virtually every aspect of its operations automatically, and a technology that can see all the way through even the thickest treetops and vegetation for exacting measurements using lasers and millions of points. Put in those terms, it’s possible we should cut ourselves some slack for taking until the year 2019 to get surveying right.