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Five Drone Surveying Case Studies

Last updated on

November 18, 2019


    Drones are revolutionising the way in which surveyors gather data, making day-to-day operations faster, safer and more cost-effective when compared to traditional surveying methods.

    When it comes to aerial surveying and inspections, there’s never been a better or easier time to get yourself Drones. Drones are revolutionising the way in which surveyors gather data.  They make day-to-day operations faster, safer, and more cost-effective. In fact, we’re seeing more and more case studies showcasing vastly increased efficiency from using a drone solution over traditional methods.

    In this blog post, we’ve selected 5 examples to help showcase just how an aerial surveying solution can help to transform surveying.


    1) Stock Volumetrics in Idaho Forest 


    The Idaho Forest Group owns six huge lumber yards that process 2.5 million cubic metres of quality wood every year. In order to get the most accurate measurements of its stockpiles of logs, the company wanted an efficient method. On traditional on-foot methods, it would take around 7 hours to complete the measuring.



    The initial drone of choice was a DJI Phantom 4, which brought the time down to 2 hours. It could also deliver 100-200 quality images with each flight. However, such was the scale of these sites that a single flight wasn’t enough and so a battery change was required ahead of a second flight. In order to find an even more efficient solution, the company turned to the WingtraOne with a Sony QX1 payload.

    WingtraOne’s vertical take-off and landing capability made it ideal for the forested regions. Furthermore, the extended flight times of WingtraOne and its ability to cover more ground in less time meant that the whole survey could be completed in a single 35-minute flight. Using the WingtraOne, the team has the capability of covering up to 1,000 acres in a single day and capturing 2000-3000 hi-res images. Using Pix4D the company is also able to turn those images into detailed maps and 3D models.



    While the drone usage reduces 80% of measurement times, WingtraOne also delivers far more accurate results. Whereas on-foot surveyors would be given a 10% leeway to allow for inaccuracies due to spaces and bark, the WingtraOne can deliver centimetre-accurate data. A few inches can relate to more than 1 million board feet, that in turn can equate to thousands of dollars in miscalculated potential profit. In total, the company estimates it is saving more than 50 man-hours a week and over $50,000 per year.


    “We got the best of both worlds when we purchased the WingtraOne—fixed-wing performance plus rotary landing capabilities.”
    Aaron Fisher, Technology and Project Manager, Idaho Forest Group


    2) Safe Surveying in the Mountains


    Swiss engineering firm IMPULS AG was tasked with monitoring erosion and the risk of rockfalls along the Gotthard Pass roadway that connects northern and southern Switzerland through the Alps. With high and dramatically changing elevations, traditional surveying methods would be impossible in some places and very dangerous in others. On the other side, placing things like ground control points (GCPs) would be equally difficult.



    The company called in surveying specialist Pixmap which uses a WingtraOne fixed-wing drone. Within one day, the team was able to cover 48 hectares along the Gotthard Strasse mountain road pass. In the process, they captured 460 images that enabled the company to create a 3D model accurate to 6cm.

    One of the key benefits of the WingtraOne in this instance was its terrain-following feature. It enables the craft to adjust its height so that it remains at a constant altitude above ground level and helps to provide greater accuracy. WingtraOne was also flying at a fixed horizontal distance from the side of the mountain to further reduce the risk of crashing. Plus, Switzerland has a law that prohibits drone flights above 150m (492ft) in controlled airspace, so it also helped to prevent any accidentally illegal operations!



    Although the intention was not to deliver absolute accuracy of the locations within the survey area, the team managed to deliver a high-quality 3D model. The model allowed engineers to zoom in on to inspect the rocks and identify areas that might warrant an on-site inspection.

    To do the initial survey on foot would be highly dangerous and take many man-hours to cover the large and inhospitable terrain. But, with the system in place and using fixed features such as powerlines as exact points of reference, the team can repeat the survey each year to compare the latest findings.  They can identify any changes that would indicate a rockfall and take the necessary steps to prevent any further dangers.


    “The combination of Wingtra’s vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) and its terrain-following feature made this mission possible.”

    Reto Weiss, CEO, Pixmap



    3) Surveying mines with the WingtraOne VTOL


    Mine surveyingNeed

    RTB is a Serbian mining company that owns one of the largest copper mining and smelting complexes in Europe. Consisting of four mine pits that cover 5.8 square miles and reach depths of more than 600ft, it is a valuable source of copper, gold and silver. But, with steep and dangerous terrain, plus high winds, it has proven very difficult to map in a cost-effective manner.



    Some aerial solutions had been considered, but the multirotor craft was dismissed because of the scale of operations. Using a conventional fixed-wing model were also discounted because the rough terrain meant that ‘belly landings’ could cause extreme damaged to the craft. The solution for the surveying was the VTOL WingtraOne, supplied by fellow Serbian specialist Vekom Geo.

    Flying at one site per day, each pit was covered in between 30 and 45 minutes on a single flight, with four flights needed to gather all the data for the largest pit (2.3 square miles) and nine flights in total. WingtraOne was able to take 5,500 photos at an average resolution of 4cm/px, with the Vekom Geo team spending a further six days processing the images and delivering the whole data package within 10 days.



    With the data and orthophotos supplied (and using repeat surveys), RTB was able to create digital terrain models, analyse monthly ore and waste volumes, track progress across the sites, and plan future operations. Compared with traditional methods, Vekom Geo estimates its aerial surveys are 30 times faster when it comes to collecting the data and 5 times faster in processing it.


    “In comparison to classical methods, GPS and total stations, we were probably 30 times faster in terms of capturing RAW data and fieldwork and approximately 5 times faster in delivering the final product.”

    Nemanja Mišević, Technical Associate, Vekom Geo



    Case Study 4: Strabag Road Surveying with Phantom 4 RTK



    The German Federal Ministry of Transport has recommended spending €270 million by 2030 in its Federal Transport Plan. Around 75% of it being targeted at renewing and expanding its road network to accommodate the expected rise in passenger and commercial use. This has opened up numerous opportunities for surveyors and construction crews, with Austrian company STRABAG SE (and primarily its German wing, STRABAG AG) working on thousands of projects covering hundreds of kilometres of highway.



    One such project is the A3 highway near Würzburg, which is seeing several improvements as part of a 7-year rebuild. Using a dedicated UAV team, STRABAG has employed a DJI Phantom 4 RTK to get a birds-eye view of its operations. Avoiding the need to spend hours placing GCPs (which would otherwise require up to 40 per kilometre), Phantom 4 RTK is able to deliver up to 3cm accurate results, with the drone’s TimeSync feature adding precise positioning and other data to every photo taken.

    The 30-minute flight times are impressive for a multirotor model. Meanwhile, the Operator Resumption function means that the craft can pick up wherever it left off during a pre-planned mission. It can also maintain a fixed altitude to ensure consistently accurate results.



    Using photogrammetry software, the team is able to deliver industry-standard point clouds and 3D models that can be shared with on-site engineers quickly and efficiently. That data can then be filtered according to the individual needs, such as to analyse vegetation, vehicles or volumetrics of on-site resources, with quick comparisons available from one survey to the next as the project continues. By using the Phantom 4 RTK, the team is able to expand its surveying operations and make its workflow faster and much more efficient.


    “The DJI Phantom 4 RTK is an essential addition to the toolbox of the surveyor and will take a major role in the process of digitising the construction industry.”
    Thomas Gröninger, Head of Digital Object Survey and UAV Business Unit, STRABAG

    5) Forest Conservation in Scotland



    Working in partnership with Scotland’s Forest Commission, Scottish Orienteering, the Woodland Trust and Edinburgh University, Edinburgh-based Ecometrica wanted to establish an aerial LIDAR system. They needed it to ‘see’ through the tree cover and monitor the vegetation and terrain across the forests in the west of the country.



    Working with Dublin-based GeoAerospace and using a DJI Wind 4 bought from Coptrz by Maynooth University, the team used a bespoke system carrying a near 10kg LIDAR-equipped payload. With each partner looking to focus on different aspects at different times, having a drone that could capture data with centimetre accuracy was crucial. To create high-quality 2D and 3D maps filtered to suit each need, they needed accurate data.



    With the capacity to cover up to 1000 hectares per hour, the team abled to create large and richly detailed maps that would take days on foot. By repeating the surveys, they’re able to compare data to track changes such as soil erosion, deforestation, the effects of forest fires and signs of drought.

    One such example sees them tracking the spread of rhododendron bushes which have been running wild and spreading fungal disease. By monitoring their growth, the team is able to eradicate the threat and keep woodlands thriving for years to come.


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