Collecting data from drones is one thing – you also need to make sense of it.
Drones are the future of data collection in a wide range of industries. They can go places that are either inaccessible or dangerous for humans and offer perspectives once never even dreamed of, delivering powerful insights to operations.
However, none of that collected data is any good without the means to parse, analyze and leverage it in powering operations forward.
On this episode of Propelling from Microdrones, host Daniel Litwin talks with Microdrones Southeast Region Sales Manager Chuck Snow, who has an extensive background in surveying, mapping and industrial and construction measurement instruments, making him the ideal person to discuss the importance of data acquisition and management in the UAV industry – and how Microdrones integrated systems ensure customers avoid the pitfalls of this expanding technology and capture the benefits of what can be an immensely powerful tool.
To learn more, watch the full episode in the video player below or read the summary provided.
Experienced Trainers Mean Usable Data
Chuck Snow has owned his own aerial mapping business supporting timber and utility companies, has worked to bring the first digital mapping system to the state of Alabama, and has worked with Earl Dudley Inc. in the Southeast mapping sector before joining Microdrones. So, if he was to identify the biggest challenge his customers have had through the years, it would be easy: waiting on data.
“They could wait from a week to a month or 90 days to get results back. And that is not timely enough,” Chuck says. “A lot of times to fix the problem or address the problems, particularly in the timber industry, where insects might've been in the trees, they need to get those trees on the ground and get them out of there. So, I looked for a faster solution and that's when digital was first coming on around the country.”
Prior to his time at Microdrones, Chuck addressed this need by developing his own systems of data management and by working with multiple vendors in the space to provide custom solutions.
“I rarely went past two weeks, delivering data,” he says. “Most of the time, it was in five to seven days, and that really helped them. It was a giant boon to all my customers, to be able to get this where it was timely and useful.”
He also learned through those efforts that providing the proper training to customers was an essential element of the data management and output system. The concept was put to the ultimate test when Hurricane Matthew was predicated to make landfall on the North and South Carolina coasts, and Chuck was contracted by a utility company to train 20 people to survey downed lines in the region.
“The utility company wanted to know how many lines were down. We can't just do that with any technology. You can't see those small lines with manned aircraft because the data lacked the quality,” Chuck says. “But with drones you can do that.”
The 20 employees divided into 10 separate crews and were able, with the proper training from Chuck, to map 149 square miles around Charleston, South Carolina, and deliver data in 21 days. Chuck says that “blew him away.” The timeliness of the data was essential for identifying immediate repair and infrastructure needs, and it was made possible by the combination of the UAV technology and proper training/data delivery. It was end-to-end, even if that solution was, at the time, essentially crafted by Chuck himself.
“Through that, what I have discovered is it's really important to have an end-to-end solution,” Chuck says. “Before I came to Microdrones, I would have to go to see this person or this person just to try to get them up and working or get actionable data. I think it's really key to have one company that you work with to do everything. Because if you have a problem, especially if you're in a critical timeframe, you know exactly who to call for support.”
Chuck Snow, Southeastern Sales Representative, Microdrones
What I have discovered is it's really important to have an end-to-end solution. I think it's really key to have one company that you work with to do everything. Because if you have a problem, especially if you're in a critical timeframe, you know exactly who to call for support.
Getting Ahead of the Pressure to Get Ahead
One of the drawbacks of an industry growing as rapidly as the UAV field is the inconsistency of service and the lack of maturity of development of many of the systems companies buy into. That experience and robust suite of applications sets Microdrones apart from the field, Chuck says.
“People who are adopting UAVs, getting really high-quality systems and being trained to use the systems and the sensors properly are having tremendous success,” Chuck says.
On the other hand, he sees a lot of employees who are directed to get into the field because their supervisor says, “everybody’s in it but us.” Without the proper investment in training and data management, a lot of good money is thrown at inadequate solutions.
“I found through calling a hundred engineering firms last summer that people are very disenchanted with UAV technology because they got it, and they didn't know how to use it,” Chuck says. “They tried to make it work, and then it wouldn't work for them because they didn't know how or didn’t know the sensors weren't the right ones for them.”
That’s where Microdrones is stepping in to provide, first, direction on the choice of equipment – the correct sensors are essential for varied field applications – and secondly on the training needed to use the equipment and interpret data.
“If you have a company that's providing all the hardware, all the sensor integration, all the processing software, if there's any kind of issue, it's all one company. So, you get a quick solution that way,” Chuck says. “That way you don't have to worry about somebody saying, ‘Hey, it's the drone’s problem.’ No, it's the sensor problem. Or it's the processing software problem. If you have one company, then they look at the problem. They have telemetry information on that. They can look and say, this is exactly what it is. We get you up and running. That's been a giant thing since I've been here at Microdrones.”
The Next Iteration of the Microdrones System: GE Integration
A new Microdrones partnership with GE recently led to the development of a new GE industrial drone line based on the existing Microdrones md4-1000 series but featuring numerous improvements to efficiency and safety, something Chuck sees as a natural extension of the Microdrones platform.
“The new line is the version that has a few other things that the current version doesn't have. It's not like it's a brand new line – just for GE,” Chuck says. “Their name will be on it but it's the same drone we were selling with some upgrades: remote ID, lights are on it, longer flight time. We also have a new system named the mdLiDAR1000LR. It's got a longer range, which will be good. I think what GE really brings us is that they’ve been around for over a hundred years. It’s a gigantic company, and they've been in aviation forever. We'll be able to produce some really great products because of their expertise in so many areas around the world.”
As for what’s next in the rapidly expanding field? Chuck says there is a real demand for longer flight time. That could be addressed either with more advanced batteries or possibly even solar power. He also anticipates better sensors and, of course, even quicker turnaround of the copious amounts of data captured by modern UAVs.
“I think we'll be able to capture more data quickly. Processing has gotten faster, which is amazing. I mean, a lot of our processing back in my mapping days, I had to have two guys to do it,” he says. “Now you can click seven or eight times and in 15 or 20 minutes you've got 50 acres processed and down to survey. That used to be days and weeks.”
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