Taking off with drone photogrammetry
As seen in the March 2021 Issue of xyHt magazine. Read the full article below:
Drone technology is changing the landscape for surveying.
Topographic mapping, progress tracking and pre-construction surveying are just a few of the tasks in which drone photogrammetry can provide results in a timely, efficient manner. More companies in the surveying, construction and engineering industries are turning to drones as safe, accurate and powerful tools to use in the field.
Microdrones, one of the leading manufacturers of commercial drone surveying equipment, has the knowledge and experience to assist customers with surveying and mapping needs regardless of whether they are jumping into drone technology for the first time or looking for top-of-the-line upgrades. Serving customers since the early 2000s, Microdrones provides fully integrated UAV solutions for the surveying and mapping industry and focus on making precise mapping systems.
Additionally, the launch of the new Microdrones as a Service also allows its survey equipment and solutions to be accessible to a broader market at an affordable rate. It’s in line with the comprehensive, customer-focused approach Microdrones is known for.
“What really sets Microdrones apart are the range of solutions that we offer,” said Matt Rosenbalm, Southern U.S. Sales Manager for Microdrones. “We don't just make a drone or just make a payload, or just do the post processing software. We control our entire workflow.”
“That's really powerful. We’re able to assist and train and help you on all facets of the workflow,” Rosenbalm added, “and everything in between.”
Much of the focus in surveying and mapping world shifted in the last year to LiDAR, which stands for Light Detection and Ranging. It’s a method of remote sensing that uses light in laser form to measure distances to the earth. Microdrones is widely recognized for their state-of-the-art products in this area with its mdLiDAR line.
But drone photogrammetry offers its own advantages.
“LiDAR's a fantastic tool and there's so many uses for it, but with photogrammetry it's still a very viable tool, especially if you're looking to just break into the drone world and add something to your workflow that can bring different products to your clients,” Rosenbalm said.
These include products and services like orthomosaics, point clouds, volumetrics and stereoscopic and 3D modeling.
Th mdMapper line from Microdrones starts with the mdMapper1000DG, which Rosenbalm describes as a “jack-of-all-trades.” The mdMapper1000DG can help get topographic surveys done, completing a task that might take days to complete with a two- or three-person crew in as little as 10 to 15 minutes. Add in two or three hours of processing the data and a product can be completed by the end of the day.
The mdMapper1000DG 3D and mdMapper3000DuoG 3D offer the ability to recreate realistic details. The latter model is the latest product from Microdrones, carrying five cameras in one. “If you're looking to map cities or structures, this will do five times the pictures in one trigger event, allowing for immaculate 3D models,” Rosenbalm said.
The mdMapper3000DuoG VHR is the top-of-the-line model designed for mapping professionals. This premium product combines the lifting power, resilience and efficiency of the Microdrones md4-3000 aircraft platform with a perfectly integrated Phase One camera and the power of direct georeferencing.
In fact, all of the mdMapper products now come with direct georeferencing, through Microdrones as a Service. Depending on the purpose of the mission, an operator can fly using either direct georeferencing or just PPK.
A simple workflow
Microdrones simplifies the start-to-finish process for the customer with their workflow of Plan, Fly, Process and Visualize. Planning starts in the mdCockpit software mission planning hub, allowing users to formulate the mission in the office, field or anywhere in between. “Simply use your finger to draw the flight area on the screen and select the product you're using,” Rosenbalm said. “mdCockpit makes is very easy to plan missions and upload them to the mdMapper1000.”
Planning also takes into consideration the flight time, battery life and number of flights needed to cover the area. Once calculated the next step is flying the mission with the mdMapper1000 to collect the raw data and imagery.
After safely piloting and landing the drone, data can be processed using the mdInfinity software to produce the exterior orientation file (EO), which is then visualized through photogrammetry software to build the orthomosaic, point cloud or other deliverable.
Within the mdInfinity software suite, Microdrones also offers an efficient option with its FORMap product, which is geared toward quickly generating an orthophoto and dense point cloud from photogrammetric survey data, eliminating the need for lengthy processing times.
Sold on the mdMapper
Saving time is exactly the reason why Messenger & Associates turned to the mdMapper1000DG after testing other products.
“With other drone systems, the usability wasn't as easy and we didn’t get a lot of support,” said Cade Spikes, UAV pilot for the family-owned surveying firm based in northeast Louisiana.
Messenger turned to Navigation Electronics Inc., (NEI), a full-service solution provider that distributes Microdrones products in the Southeast. Ross Kenney, UAS Sales and Support Lead for NEI, recalled how Messenger sought the ability to update their surveys with high-resolution aerial images as a way to market their investment into technology.
They were sold on the mdMapper1000DG, with the direct georeferencing camera allowing Messenger to finish jobs quicker than with a traditional quadcopter. This saved time on-site and improved workflow for a firm with many large, commercial companies in the South as clients.
“After seeing the results that we can get from the drone, we've picked up continuous jobs,” Spikes said.
Compared to a traditional survey technique, using the mdMapper1000DG allows Messenger to fly over the site to help prepare for a job before sending a survey crew. Other times, an ortho photo may find something that a survey crew may not have been able to locate.
Another benefit is having the ability to merge conventional and drone survey techniques, which Spikes said helps when measuring and comparing elevations. “It's unlocking a whole different level that we haven't had before,” he said.
These robust tools are made more appealing by the ease of use of a fully integrated turnkey solution from Microdrones, Kenney said.
“This is the next evolution of the surveying and mapping industry,” Kenney said. “We’re seeing more customers starting to adopt this technology, but in the next five to seven years I would envision 50%, maybe even closer to 70% of our customers will be using drones.”
It’s easy to get started
Spikes said that businesses thinking about getting started with drone photogrammetry need to give it a try to understand its full capabilities.
“You'll have more companies reach out as soon as they see these new deliverables,” Spikes said. “It's going to open up a lot of different channels of a lot of new business in the future.”
Getting started can be easy and affordable with Microdrones as a Service, which at its core gives the customer more choices over how to acquire and configure both the hardware and software. Here are the basics:
- Choose the integrated system for your mapping and drone projects.
- Select how you prefer to pay for that surveying equipment. There are two options:
- Buy it. You are responsible for maintenance and any upgrades.
- Rent it through a hardware as a service agreement. Microdrones handles all the maintenance and upgrades.
- Pick your data processing plan. You may want to pay per project or go with an unlimited option if you’re a heavy user.
“With Microdrones as a Service you can actually start using drone surveying equipment at a much more affordable rate, either through renting or purchasing the hardware and paying for the software as you go,” Rosenbalm said.
The purchasing option comes with a one-year warranty and maintenance for a year for the hardware. It also comes with mdCockpit, the mission planning software, along with safety updates and bug fixes for three years. The mdMapper1000DG, for example, can cost as little as $25,000 with the buy option to get started.
“Now, one of the more exciting options that we're getting a lot of feedback and response to, is the rent-it plan,” said Bret Burghdurf, director of marketing at Microdrones.
Under this option, the customer rents the drone and payload system for two years with monthly payments. Training, shipping, and batteries are sold separately, though all maintenance and updates are managed by Microdrones and included in the rental price. Rental plans start at just more than $1,000 per month, with the option to pay for processing per project or to build in price of unlimited processing into the monthly rental agreement.
Rosenbalm compared this process to leasing a car, but with the ability to upgrade and add new bells and whistles via different payloads as needed. As companies grow and expand, Microdrones can help them succeed.
“With Microdrones as a Service, you can make that a much smaller investment and still have the ability to easily expand because all of our platforms are integrated,” Rosenbalm said. “We've been around a long time and we're going to make a product that can grow with you.”
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