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Topographic surveys with drones

03/03/2020

Studio Victoria

4 minutes

When we attend business networking events, many people ask us how can drones be useful for topographic surveys? We are going to look at the ways drones are enhancing the topographic survey, how can they integrate with your current procedures and help you to #ONEUPYOURBUSINESS.

REDUCE RISKS AND INCREASE EFFICIENCY BY USING DRONES

Drones can your business become more efficient and safer by significantly cutting down the time and risks associated with traditional surveying methods, since we send the drone to do all the work while we are safely on the ground, without having to work at height or walk all over the site, which could have uneven and rough terrain.

Traditional surveying tools require constant repositioning, which is tedious, repetitive and time consuming. With our drones equipped with Real-Time Kinematic technology we can cover more ground much faster and efficiently.

With a single flight, we will be able to deliver the topographic survey with elevation profiles, orthomosaic, 3D map, digital bare terrain model and digital surface model.

REAL-TIME KINEMATIC, POST-PROCESSED KINEMATIC TECHNOLOGY AND GROUND CONTROL POINTS

In order to triangulate their positions, drones use Global Positioning System, which produces accurate results, but when absolute precision is critical our survey-specific drones improve GPS by using one or both of the following correction technologies:

  • Real-Time Kinematic: as its name suggests the positioning of the drone is corrected in real-time during the flight. Usually we will have a ground station. Our multi-rotor drones have a proprietary ground station, but some of our fixed-wing drones will integrate with your current Trimble ground station. Both the drone and the ground station are in permanent communication with a data-link
  • Post-Processed Kinematic: in this case the positioning correction is applied after the flight by downloading it from the ground station and while we are processing the results with our photogrammetry software. The main advantage of PPK is that it doesn’t need a constant data-link with the drone and it’s much more consistent when conditions are not ideal

Both technologies are equally as good as we used them alternatively, depending on the requirements and conditions of the site. By using PPK or RTK the position accuracy goes from several meters down to just 1 centimetre.

Drones can also fully integrate with your Ground Control Points and their coordinates, although their precision is going to greatly depend on your handheld GPS receiver, hence why we would recommend using either PPK or RTK.

UNRIVALLED ACCURACY DOWN TO 1 MILLIMETRE PER PIXEL

Most surveyors are used to an accuracy of 1.5 centimetres per pixel, although we have seen reports of 3 centimetres per pixel. Most drone operators will be able to offer you the industry-standard resolution of 1 centimetre per pixel, which is good, but at Studio Victoria we are proud to say that we can deliver unrivalled resolutions of 0.6 centimetre per pixel with multi-rotor drones and 0.7 centimetre per pixel with our fleet of fixed-wing drones. For the most critical of surveys, we can offer the absolute best resolution in the market: 1 millimetre per pixel; this is simply unheard of and have done a lot of research and development to be able to produce this mind-blowing resolution. To give you a frame of reference of how ground-breaking these resolutions are, Google Earth has a resolution that varies from 15 centimetres per pixel to 15 metres per pixel.

FIXED-WING DRONES COVER UP TO 400 HECTARES PER HOUR

The main downside of traditional topographic surveys is that you need to spend weeks or even months at the same site repositioning your total station, taking measurements, walking all over while carrying heavy equipment… It is hard work. However, drones, and more specifically fixed-wing drones — yes, the ones that look like planes — drastically speed up the process by covering up to 400 hectares per hour with a single battery charge and producing results with a resolution of 0.7 centimetres per pixel. A survey that would take 8 weeks if done by using total stations would only require around 3-5 days with a drone, depending on weather and site conditions.

FULL INTEGRATION WITH BIM

Our software will output orthomosaics, digital terrain models, digital surface models, elevation maps, plant health reports when using the multispectral sensor, thermal reports (if we use a thermal camera), 3D mesh models and point clouds, all of them in a variety of formats and standards, like GeoTIFF, shapefiles, GeoJSON annotations, .obj, .las, WGS84, etc., allowing you to improve the efficiency your current workflow by importing them to your BIM application of choice (Autodesk Revit, for example).

MACHINE LEARNING FROM THE BEGINNING TO TRACK PROGRESS

With regular inspections, we can help you have constantly updated maps, models and projects and with our implementation of Machine Learning, you can spot and identify plant species, types of different objects and spot variations over time easily and quickly to detect problems like erosion, stockpile volume differentials, etc.

PRECISE 3D MODELS IN MESH AND POINT CLOUDS

For sites with existing buildings and structures we can produce precise 3D models in both MESH and Point Cloud. MESH is used mainly for visualisation; Point Cloud is favoured for data analysis with BIM applications and Machine Learning.

If you are dealing with listed and historic buildings, drones can produce precise 3D models of the building’s appearance at that exact point in time, aiding with the preservation and restoration efforts. These results can be modelled and prepared for 3D printing.

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