In the August issue of Point of Beginning magazine, we address one of the most challenging misconceptions among surveyors starting drone programs: the belief that the drone is the most important part.
Because of this belief, these surveyors start by deciding which drone to buy, and only then start the process of figuring out how they will actually use it. Instead, the most successful companies take the exact opposite approach: counter-intuitive though it may be, the drone is in fact the least important part of a drone program.
Savvy drone surveyors build their drone program from the end of the process: they start by identifying exactly what they need the drone program to ultimately get them (usually a final topographic and line-work map), then they determine how they will go about producing that final deliverable, and only then consider which drone is best for getting there. The surveyors who start with the drone often get bogged down in irrelevant tech spec deliberations and usually wind up purchasing a drone that is unnecessarily expensive and complex. Instead, we took this start-at-the-end approach to designing our Aerotas Mapping System, and as a result our clients are producing high-accuracy 3D final topographic mapping deliverables efficiently and inexpensively.
The much more efficient deliverable-production workflow involves software specifically designed for extracting spot elevations and features directly from a 3D model, such as the software we include in our Aerotas Mapping System. This software intakes the 3D model that is produced by stitching together the photos from the drone, meaning that the image stitching process needs to be optimized for use in that software. Getting high-quality results from the image-stitching process requires experience, particularly in quality assurance and control procedures.
Once a surveyor has scoped out the deliverable production workflow, the next step is to define the field operating procedures. Well-defined field procedures are critical for ensuring that the right data is collected, and for making sure that the full operation is as safe, efficient, and profitable as possible – as we explored in depth in a previous article. The best operating procedures are easy to train staff on and easy to follow, while covering every important element of safety, legality, and quality assurance. A great deal of research, development, and testing is required for creating a set of procedures that meet these requirements.
Finally, the last step in the process of developing a drone mapping program is to choose a drone. At this point, this should be a straightforward process of identifying the most inexpensive and easy-to-operate drone that matches the field operation and deliverable production needs that have been defined. Complement this with a regulatory compliance strategy, good insurance, and a staff-training plan based on the defined workflow, and a successful drone mapping program is born.