3 reasons surveyors should add fixed-wing drones to their toolbox


Share | 11/04/2020

As a professional surveyor, the equipment you take to the field is just as important as the data you bring back to the office. But how you collect can also make a huge difference in efficiency and data quality.

That’s why thousands of surveyors have turned to fixed-wing drones to help supplement ground-based surveying equipment, such as total stations, GNSS rovers and laser scanners.

Fixed-wing drones have made it safer, faster and less expensive to collect geospatial data. They’ve also made it easier for surveyors to take on more complex jobs and map larger sites, all while maintaining a consistent quality of data captured.

Ideal for large mining operations, proven platforms such as the eBee X complement traditional survey instruments while offering a safe and efficient way to routinely measure stockpile volumes, conduct slope calculations for haulage ways and develop accurate estimates.

Not only do fixed-wings help you take on more complex projects with fewer resources, but they ultimately increase your firm’s project capabilities in ways that are impractical with ground-based equipment alone.

Because of these advantages, fixed-wings drones make an excellent complement to your existing terrestrial survey equipment, while also allowing you to expand your capabilities in the field and grow your business.

If you’ve ever wanted to expand your surveying capabilities, scale your business or simply complete projects more efficiently, fixed-wing drones can make it happen.

Let’s take a closer look at the three reasons you should add a fixed-wing drone to your toolbox.

#1 – Time savings

Using traditional terrestrial survey methods takes time. From the setup and positioning to the use of multiple stations, much of your time in the field is spent moving between various station points, which can open more opportunities for accumulated error and time lost to rework.

In addition, it’s all too typical that the more area you need to survey, the less data is usually captured due to available resources.

Fixed-wing drones are estimated to be 80% quicker than traditional terrestrial methods—saving you time by collecting the data you need quickly and efficiently from a single point.

For example, the eBee X combined with the eBee series Aeria X sensor can cover 500 acres within 3 hours on site, while achieving an absolute accuracy result of within 2 cm.

This boost in efficiency means that you can capture more data with significantly less manpower and resources. While this may not be the case for every situation, it allows surveying teams, from the office to the field, the flexibility to coordinate wisely and cover more ground.

This vector and raster data produced by the eBee X data is an accurate, helpful tool for construction and facilities planning.
The eBee X combined with the Aeria X sensor can cover 500 acres within 3 hours on site, while achieving an absolute accuracy result of within 2 cm.

Fixed-wing drones also help you survey and map sites from farther away while avoiding costly disruptions to job site operations and productivity. And due to the more efficient aerodynamics of a fixed-wing design, you’re able to quickly map up to 10 times more ground per flight than multirotor drones.

Missed data coverage is less likely to happen while using a drone. In contrast to multi-rotors, fixed-wings have the unique advantage of covering more area than is required due to the flight path, which allows you to capture more data while at the same time ensuring you don’t miss anything. In short, you don’t need to go back to the field for extra data.

Not only does this help save time, but it also makes surveying and mapping safer. This is especially true for hard-to-reach and even potentially dangerous sites, such as mines, construction zones, landfills, forests and mountainous terrain. Here, advanced flight automation helps you to easily collect datapoints across challenging terrain while maximizing flight paths and data accuracy.

The remote-mapping capabilities of drones like the eBee X mean you don’t have to step foot on-site to map it. And while weather conditions sometimes get in the way, fixed-wing drones map large areas so quickly that weather issues can mostly be avoided with proper planning.

There are only so many hours in the day. Improvements in your ability to easily capture detailed information, track site progress or material inventories will help you work smarter with greater productivity and efficiency.

Drone surveying technology easily pays for itself when considering the amount of rework avoided and conflicts resolved through visual proof—all documented in real-time.

#2 – Data accuracy and quality

Accuracy is your livelihood. Fixed-wing drones can help you gather data with ease while helping you maintain precision across each step of your workflow from the capture and processing to vectorization, quality control and delivery. For example, the eBee X collects and produces data down to 3 cm, (1.2 in) of absolute accuracy (2-3 cm horizontal and 3-5 cm vertical), without the need for ground control points (GCPs) using its high-precision, on-demand RTK/PPK capabilities. The eBee X is also compatible with the industry’s leading base stations.And before you even set foot on the job site, early preparation will help set you up for success. eBee X’s eMotion flight planning software anticipates this step, making pre-site planning easy while ensuring you’ve selected the flight parameters to maximize data quality.

When airborne, the eBee X captures the GNSS position of each image taken and the exact orientation of the images from its Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU). Thanks to the high-precision IMU in the S.O.D.A. 3D and Aeria X cameras, image captures have angular accuracies below two degrees in pitch/roll and four degrees in yaw.

Following each flight, image geotags can be corrected to absolute accuracy using the RTK/PPK workflow as a method of referencing the images eMotion’s Flight Data Manager. These advancements in correction methods enhance GNSS precision and eliminate the need for multiple stations on the ground—reducing the opportunity for human error which can also lead to project creep in delays and additional costs.

From there, the data can be turned into a variety of deliverables, including high-density point clouds (millions of points per flight), 3D meshes and georeferenced orthomosaics. And with photogrammetry processing software like PIX4Dmapper, creating survey-grade 2D and 3D maps with the data collected from the drone is simple and efficient while bringing additional value beyond common vectors. The data for a site can then be extracted, finished and quality checked before delivery.

Aerial data needs to be accurate, as we’ve covered earlier, but also easy to integrate into your current workflow for data management, visualization, analysis and distribution to appropriate teams. With PIX4Dsurvey, you can easily extract relevant information from photogrammetry to develop models and engineering-ready CAD files. Data outputs are compatible with popular survey software such as AutoCAD, ArcGIS, Bentley and others for sharing with project stakeholders.

Terrestrial equipment, while extremely precise, has limitations in certain situations where a drone can supplement efforts with greater efficiency. For example, road construction projects can combine total station data to precisely capture the center of the road, while a drone captures the cut and fill quantities extremely fast for accurate and efficient management of earthworks.

Whatever obstacle the site throws your way, it’s easier to overcome when you have a capable drone that can rise to the challenge and deliver accurate data.

In topographic surveys, this digital surface model of a quarry helps monitor stockpile sizes, volumetrics and nearby environmental resources.

#3 – New opportunity

Increased accuracy, speed and efficiency is an empowering combination leading to more opportunities for surveyors.

Traditional survey methods take much longer to complete for large projects. By adding fixed-wing drones to your toolkit, you will maximize your data collection and spend less time in the field—freeing you up to take on more projects and knowing you’ll complete them quickly and more cost-effectively than ever before. You’ll also have the added flexibility to service multiple types of projects through the use of additional camera options and data outputs.

Whether you’re working with point-to-point data sets or deep in the detailed layers of environmental information, success is still defined by your ability to deliver results within expected accuracy and deliver on time.

When you add a fixed-wing drone to your surveying toolbox, you’re not just capturing data with another tool. You’ve expanded your field capabilities to take on more complex jobs and grow your business.

Newsletter sign up

Sign up to receive updates directly to your inbox.