POB Guest Column: To Succeed With Drones, Keep it Simple

If we seem to be repeating ourselves, it's because this is one of the most important things we have learned: the companies that succeed with drone surveying are the ones that start simply. In our February 2017 guest column in Point of Beginning Magazine, we detail what this approach involves and the benefits it offers.

Read an excerpt from the article below, or the full article on the POB website. To learn more about our approach to drone mapping, visit the Aerotas Mapping System page or email us at info@aerotas.com

To Succeed With Drones, Keep it Simple

A Minimum Viable Drone Program

Taking a “minimum viable” approach to incorporating new technology like UAVs ensures that a company can learn and benefit while minimizing risk and cost. A minimum viable UAV program optimizes for four variables:

1. Low cost
2. Minimal learning curve
3. High-value deliverables
4. Scalable to more units or advanced capabilities

Minimizing cost and learning curve mitigates the risk and investment of money and time. In order to assess the value of a new technology, however, the company also needs to be able to assess the value of the deliverable it creates to determine ROI. Finally, the benefit is maximized if the program sets the foundation so that it can be scaled up once ROI has been proven and staff have gained basic proficiency.

Creating The Simplest Deliverables

The staggering variety of UAV technology is capable of producing a broad variety of deliverables. The best way for surveyors to start is a step above the consumer level with a “pro-sumer” grade UAV controlled by autopilot software, and to produce 3D surface models and 2D orthophotos. The autopilot software controls the UAV as it flies in a lawn-mower pattern over a site, taking photos with high overlap. Processing software then stitches these photos together into a single orthorectified 2D photograph and a 3D model of the site. This processing software is technical enough that we recommend outsourcing it while staff is learning the UAV workflow.

Once the 3D model is produced, simple and inexpensive software enables surveyors to create a CAD or ESRI-compatible survey-grade deliverable incredibly efficiently — our clients report 60 percent time savings on most jobs. A surveyor needs to simply click to create points and draw break lines directly on the 3D model. This process produces a surface, replacing the time-intensive work of walking a grid and occupying points with GPS. In addition to saving time, this process enables surveyors to complete aerial mapping jobs themselves, saving the money that would go to outsourced aerial contractors. Using the UAV also means that surveyors collect a verifiable record of every site, minimizing the risk of missing shots in the field.