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Microdrones and ESRI creating UAV and GIS synergy

Business Geomatics recently published an article that explores how Microdrones and global GIS vendor Esri demonstrate the synergies that are to be found in the close integration of GIS and UAV. Click here to view the German article online.  For English speakers, please see the translation below

Cooperation between Esri and Microdrones

As seen in Business Geomatics June 3, 2019

Both companies see great potential in data workflows. Advanced methods of artificial intelligence are now beginning to establish themselves between data collection and use.

Data collection by drone: The high quality of the data will then be used, among other things, for the GIS analysis.

The theory is as old as the GIS itself: The ability to use high-quality, up-to-date aerial photos is always the solution end-users have been looking for. However, up until a few years ago, this was difficult to achieve. Aerial imagery flyover surveys with aircraft were done only at intervals of every few years, and it was rare to develop the resolution below 10 centimeters. In the past 10 years, the use of drones offered a new technology that began to fill that gap. Now it was possible to create current orthophotos of smaller areas and photogrammetrically generated 3D images of infrastructure facilities. The new source of survey data quickly provided ample raw data, with a corresponding challenge to came up with a plan for using the collected data as productively as possible in the GIS.

Now, two technology leaders in this field have announced a collaboration. Surveying drone manufacturer Microdrones and global GIS vendor Esri are hosting joint webinars for the first time. In this collaboration, both companies want to demonstrate the synergies that are to be found in the close integration of GIS and UAV.

Above all, the collaboration involves production workflows from data acquisition to end use. Further cooperation in software development or sales is not currently part of the plan, nor is cooperation based on exclusivity. The appeal comes from the two companies working together on content in an area where there is still pioneering work to be done. "We are thrilled with the power of Microdrones solutions and know how much our customers appreciate and demand high-precision data," says Christoph Kany, Account Manager at Esri Germany. After their first webinars are complete, additional joint projects will be developed. "This is how we address all possible GIS target groups. At present, interest in forestry, agriculture, environment, internal security, insurance and construction is particularly high,” says Kany. Today, drones are already an elementary component of asset management for many customers, and their importance will continue to rise sharply, says the degreed geographer. From Microdrones’ point of view, this is all about optimizing the data processing of their surveying solutions for an orientation towards the end user.

Productive Interface

A few years ago, Microdrones strategically positioned itself to develop drone-based surveying applications and become a pure solution provider. The company focuses on GIS markets worldwide. By working with Esri, Microdrones now wants to bring GIS user groups closer to the advantages that lie in the close coupling of UAV solutions and the GIS.

Conversely, Esri, as a GIS provider, has long been focusing on developments in UAVs as an important data supplier. With Drone2Map, in 2016, the company launched a product specifically aimed at processing drone data. The application is part of the Esri Geospatial Cloud (see article on page 10) and has the task of integrating the data in various applications, apps and portals in the context of semi-automated workflows. Drone2Map includes the Image Processing Engine of Pix4D, which allows you to analyze images from drones and convert 2D and 3D maps. The special approach of the Esri platform is that data workflows are conceived multi-dimensionally. In concrete terms, the collected primary data, which - in the case of drones - are usually images or laser scanning data, undergo customized preparation for as many final applications as possible.

Special Tool

Drone2Map, as an expert tool, offers a variety of tools for editing. This starts with rapid analysis for pre-screening of the drone data and goes beyond special mapping applications for 2D data, to the creation of 3D products and specialized inspection tools by which recorded objects can be visualized from various perspectives. There are templates in Drone2Map for all four sections. It also supports the definition of Ground Control Points (gcps), which allow users to influence the accuracy of point clouds.

For specific analysis, the data is passed on to ArcGIS Pro, Esri's expert GIS tool. As an example of the extended analysis functions, Christoph Kany mentions the construction of a road bridge. The customer can easily determine, for example, whether this also affects surrounding public bicycling paths. “To do this and thus answer his spatial questions, the user loads the relevant data into his map from the comprehensive services and data offered by ArcGIS Online,” says Kany. He is able to easily choose how the bike paths should be visualized and then immediately determines whether this intersects with the bridge construction.

Another analysis option is calculation of the excavation, which is determined from the analysis of the 3D point clouds. The GIS planner can pass this on to the appropriate cost centers or to the contractor. The more accurate the collected data, the more reliable the results and the more efficient the work processes. "For us as a solution provider, it is also impressive to see how many GIS applications have concrete benefits for the entire organization," says Mirjam Bäumer, Marketing Manager Europe at Microdrones.

Outlook for AI

One of Esri’s current areas of focus in the development of GIS technology is the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning. There are also numerous use cases for drone-based data. GeoAI has already become a buzzword, under which Esri has for quite some time subsumed users and numerous associated developments. Among other things, the company is interested in using Al systems for GIS analyses and integrating the results into the workflows. For example, this method is used, in updating 3D city models, in which the drone data is analyzed with Al and changes in the situation on the ground are identified. In addition, Al should support and enable greater automation in the assignment of individual measuring points to objects or buildings. Al is particularly effective at pattern recognition. “So, for example by using the drone data, the number of people present at large events can be estimated automatically, cracks in the surface of a runway can be detected, or individual trees in the canopy can be identified,” Kany explains.

If you would like to learn more about combining Microdrones integrated solutions into your workflow, click here to make an appointment today.