Drones for Engineering

Using Drone LiDAR to Survey Marsh Restoration

Drone LiDAR helps analyize marsh restoration

xyHt recently featured an article showcasing the work from Morris P. Hebert Inc. for a marsh restoration project in Louisianna.  MPH used the mdLiDAR3000DL, from Microdrones, to safely capture the data needed to quantify fill levels. CLICK HERE to read the article on xyHt or read the full story below.

Dakota Dagonhardt, drone pilot and environmental regulatory specialist, pilots the mdLiDAR3000DL

The “Heel of the Boot” of Louisiana is home to some of the most vibrant and endangered landscapes in the United States. Every year, the ocean claims more of the wetlands; this area of Louisiana has the distinction of being one of the fastest disappearing landscapes on Earth. According to Southeastern University, “While Louisiana has 40% of the country’s wetlands, over 90% of the total coastal marsh loss in the continental U.S. occurs in the state. It is estimated that between 25-35 square miles of wetlands are lost each year, and more than 1,000,000 acres have been lost since the turn of the century.”

Restoration of the marshes is underway, and Morris P. Hebert, Inc. (MPH) was tasked with surveying one of these projects. MPH is a leader in surveying, engineering, environmental services, GIS, and remote sensing services.

Marsh creation includes using sediment from nearby water bottoms to quickly restore marsh, expand habitats, and prevent further land loss. Their client began restoration in 240 acres and wanted to assess their restoration and fill levels. The area was impacted by Hurricane Laura in August 2020, making an already challenging survey job even worse.

The tricky terrain and unique job scope made traditional surveying methods inadequate.

“Our client contacted us specifically because they knew we were capable of providing UAS lateral services,” said Jonathan Morris, VP of remote sensing for MPH. “When you’re surveying these marsh creation areas, you don’t want too many people on the ground walking on it and disturbing what’s been built. The best approach is usually to minimize your impact, and with UAS lateral services, we’re able to do that.”

When you’re surveying these marsh creation areas, you don’t want too many people on the ground walking on it and disturbing what’s been built. The best approach is usually to minimize your impact, and with UAS lateral services, we’re able to do that.

Jonathan Morris, VP of remote sensing for MPH

Preparing the Mission

Even with the mdLiDAR3000DL, getting into the optimal position can be difficult. The team relies on a van as well as airboats to reach some of the most remote locations. They encountered locked gates, cattle guards, and deteriorated roads before finding the perfect spot to set up for the drone launch.

Using existing data from the client before the fill project began, drone pilot and environmental regulatory specialist Dakota Dagenhardt plans the mission that will be used to determine how much fill has been added to the area. The survey will use data from seven flights — four flights the first day and three flights the following day.

The mdLiDAR3000DL allows MPH to enable their missions so when they return in the morning, the system will recall where they left off, and they can start again quickly. These innovations help MPH reach new clients and provide more accurate results in areas that are difficult or impossible to reach using traditional surveying methods.

“You can get a lot more data more efficiently than you can with traditional survey methods,” Morris said.

Once a centralized location to launch the drone has been established, the entire team can stay in one place during the whole survey. The Microdrones application takes care of a lot of prep work that used to happen manually. Using existing client datasets, the flight team and the team back in the office can communicate and plan out a project quickly to minimize the time at the job site and the drone’s time in the air.

Once the drone gets to its first waypoint, the operation is virtually autonomous.

“It’s suited for this type of job because you get the camera and the LiDAR payload at the same time,” Morris said. It’s not only useful because of its efficiency, but also because capturing both sets of data in one flight minimizes the risk to the team on the ground.


The mdLiDAR3000DL

Operating Drone LiDAR Safely

Creating a safe environment for the crew is MPH’s top priority. Field activities for surveyors mean safety first and MPH has developed safety protocols to protect their field teams. They created an in-house UAS manual, flight risk assessment forms, and a checklist for pilots to complete before and after each flight.

“Here at MPH, safety is our main concern with any kind of field activity or any project we work on,” Morris said.

Once they reach the job site, the crew ensures the launch and landing area will work for the project. They survey the area to make sure the area is clear of obstructions. Then, they complete the pre-flight checklist, including inspecting the equipment, checking the battery life, and checking the weather using an app and a weather station. Every step they complete along the way is recorded for future reference.

Professional drone operations require an extra level of attention to detail, which is where MPH excels. The mdLiDAR3000DL aaS drone is, at its core, a professional tool that allows surveying operations to do their jobs more efficiently and safely.

Ross Kenney, UAS Sales and Support Lead for NEI, said, “The thing I’ve always been impressed with MPH is the attention to detail is so strong. That begins with their safety assessment on site.”

From the time they begin a project in the office until they leave the job site, every team member is synced up. Before, during, and after each flight, the pilot and visual observer follow their checklists and procedures. This attention to detail and professionalism, along with the Microdrones platform capabilities, allows them to deliver a consistently superior product.

Kiley Cressionie, Dakota Dagenhardt and Ross Kenney prepare for the mission.

How Drone LiDAR Assists in Other Projects

Marsh restoration isn’t the only project in MPH’s portfolio. They’ve been in business for over 40 years and bring a wealth of knowledge to every project and job site. Both Dakota and Kylie fly many missions using the mdLiDAR3000DL. Kylie brings years of experience and already had a part 107 license before joining the MPH team. Dakota began as an environmental technician but quickly expressed interest in joining the flight team and brings his meticulous skillset to the table.

MPH uses Microdrones technology to complete corridor mapping for utilities and inspection work for pipeline right of ways. Completing surveys for pipeline projects allows extraction companies to demonstrate in pre- and post-construction data that they didn’t destroy marshland or other wildland areas while completing their construction.

Landfills, construction sites, earthwork projects, and anything involving volume calculation is an ideal use case for the mdLiDAR3000DL. Lee Drennon, Research & Development & Training Coordinator for MPH said, “Not only can we do a project faster and more efficiently, but we can provide a better product.”

For example, a common job for MPH is surveying levees for storage containers. Using conventional survey methods, a surveyor must take cross-sections of the levee every 10, 15, and 20 feet. In contrast, a payload from the drone gives 2 million LiDAR points. MPH then uses that data to find grade breaks and other precise calculations that wouldn’t be possible without the perspective the drone technology provides.

Lee Drennon creates the point cloud from the marsh restoration project

High Speed Rendering at the Office

Once the field work is done, the next step happens in the office. All of the data collected in the field is downloaded into a predetermined folder structure for the project. The data is on a USB portable hard drive and then uploaded to their servers.

The data processor looks at the data to ensure that it’s where it needs to be and has all the required components. Then, depending on the project, the team processes the control and trajectory files, the LiDAR point cloud, and an orthomosaic from the aerial imagery.

To get from the data sets provided by the field team into a visualization for the client takes much less time than it used to, said Drennon. The photogrammetry software develops after the first part of the processing. The initial processing generates a preview of what the photo looks like to make sure the rest of the flights and data will come out well. From field to finish, the project deliverables — a point-cloud dataset and a photo of the project area — takes Drennon and the team a matter of days instead of weeks.

Using Drone Technology to Succeed

In a rapidly changing technology environment, Microdrones’ customers care about consistency, flexibility, and scalability. That’s why they partner with distributors and users to better understand field conditions and the demands back at the office. They offer fully integrated solutions to customers: the drone, sensors, software, workflow, training, and ongoing support.

NEI’s involvement in the Marsh mission helped them learn more about their customers and gather strategies they can use in their workflows. This collaboration between the vendor, distributor, and client allows for constant communication and feedback about the platform and how it’s working on the ground.

“It’s great to be in alignment with Microdrones and MPH from a geospatial perspective,” said William Poche, Owner and VP of Sales for NEI. “It’s been great to be a part of their vision for unmanned aircraft. At the end of the day, the payoff is a successful mission, a successful client, and great deliverables. That’s how we make it work. Everything working together with one common goal in mind,”

Poche continues, “If I asked five of my clients, ‘What’s the most important thing in your job?’ It’s repeatability. The Microdrones system is the best platform that can withstand the biggest punch and provides the absolute best data you’re looking for in the geospatial industry.”

Microdrones and NEI together seek to provide the adaptability and cutting-edge technology that their clients need to bid on and win jobs. They work together to provide the support and opportunities their clients are looking for.

Kenney said, “What makes the relationship between NEI and Microdrones so unique is that it’s few and far between to have a relationship with a vendor that’s willing to come out and showcase what’s involved in a project from start to finish.”

In the case of the Marsh project, MPH’s extensive experience and knowledge about drone flying and excellent preparation made for the perfect case study to understand what the mdLiDAR3000DL drone can do. 

And, as Kenney puts it, “At the end of the day, you get to experience Southwest Louisiana weather, a sportsman’s paradise. Who wouldn’t want to be working in an environment like this?”

Aerial surveying is not just about the aircraft. It’s about total solutions, complete with all the tools geospatial pros need to perform jobs accurately, efficiently, and safely. The Microdrones integrated systems are designed for quick learning and easy use so that you can get your UAV services off the ground quickly.

Poche said, “I’m always looking for opportunities for our clients. Part of my vision for this company is to provide the best equipment and the best deliverables to our company,” NEI understands that their clients and their clients’ clients’ needs have changed. They needed and wanted to adapt to bring new technology and opportunities to their clients. Using the Microdrones platform has given them the ability to bring that to their customers.

If you’d like to know more about how to put the mdLiDAR3000DL to work on your next job site, CLICK HERE to contact a representative from Microdrones.