eBee X Series Drones are World First to Receive EASA’s C2 Certificate

senseFly, an AgEagle company announces that eBee XeBee Geo and eBee Ag are the first commercial drones to be designated with the C2 class identification label in accordance with the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) regulations. As of August 22, 2022, drone operators flying C2 labeled eBees will be able to conduct missions in the “Open Category”, with all the advantages that this entails.  

The C2 certification allows the eBee X series, with correct labelling, to fly at a horizontal distance of 30 meters from uninvolved people. By contrast, heavy drones like VTOLs or quadcopters must maintain a distance of 150 meters from people and any residential, commercial, industrial and recreational areas, limiting their operational capabilities to remote zones.  

According to Barrett Mooney, Chairman and CEO of AgEagle, “When compared to the weight and safety profiles of other competitive commercial drones, only the eBee are cleared to fly commercial operations near people with the C2 class identification label. This represents a huge market differential for our customers in Europe, that will be able to operate around populated areas without any formal permission or regulatory waiver”. 

In addition, the eBee X series are also the industry’s first drones (June 2022) to receive a Design Verification Report (DVR) from EASA on M2 Ground Risk Mitigation for the European “Specific Category” to conduct BVLOS and Operations Over People (OOP). The DVR paves the way for European drone operators to seek approvals from their applicable National Aviation Authorities. 

To be designated as a C2 aircraft, eBees underwent rigorous testing and evaluation by the accredited laboratory NavCert GmbH to confirm that they meet specific EASA criteria. C2 class aircraft must weigh less than 4 kg / 8.8 lbs maximum takeoff weight (MTOM), have remote ID and geo-awareness, and be compliant with the safety and manufacturing standards of the European Union. 

Marcel Visser, Managing Director of NavCert GmbH, stated, “We congratulate senseFly on this important achievement, and we wish them a high market share for the eBee X series drones. We are grateful that NavCert has been selected as the Notified Body (NB 2603) to assess the eBee X series fixed-wing drones for the CE mark. Our background in the aviation industry and the development of the EN 4709 standard has been essential to performing the technical assessments required in the Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) 2019/945 on unmanned aircraft systems. We will continue to ensure the required level of quality and safety for drone operations in the European Union”.  

All eBee X, eBee Ag and eBee Geo drones shipped by senseFly, an AgEagle company, in September 2022, will include the C2 label at no extra cost.  

If your business operations require flying BVLOS, OOP, or near residential, commercial, industrial, or recreational areas – not accessible to heavy VTOLs and quadcopters – you can now benefit from the regulatory advantages of C2 lightweight drones by upgrading to an eBee fixed-wing UAS.   

For more information contact us at info@ageagle.com  

About AgEagle Aerial Systems Inc. 

AgEagle (NYSE American: UAVS) and its wholly owned subsidiaries, senseFly, MicaSense and Measure are actively engaged in designing and delivering best-in-class drones, sensors and software that solve important problems for our customers. Founded in 2010, AgEagle was originally formed to pioneer proprietary, professional-grade, fixed winged drones and aerial imagery-based data collection and analytics solutions for the agriculture industry. Today, AgEagle is a leading provider of full stack drone solutions for customers worldwide in the energy, construction, agriculture and government verticals.  

About NavCert GmbH. 

NavCert is the first laboratory ever accredited in Europe in the field of GNSS. The firm provides worldwide technical services, verification, validation, and voluntary certification services in the areas of precise positioning, navigation, velocity and timing. NavCert is accredited as certification body for the assessing of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) by the Deutsche Akkreditierungsstelle (DAkkS) and is a Notified Body (NB 2603) of the German Federal Office of Civil Aeronautics for the EU Type Examination and Certification of fixed-wing, VTOL and multicopter UAS in classes C0 to C6 in the Open Category according to the Delegated Regulation (EU) 2019/945. NavCert chairs the coordination group of notified bodies for UAS. These activities are complemented by GAP analysis of specification and documentation and pre-testing.   

UCSC CIDER Initiative for Drone Education and Research Takes Flight

The UCSC CITRIS Initiative for Drone Education and Research (CIDER) is a new program offered by the University of Santa Cruz. The initiative, which features two eBee X fixed-wing drones among other systems, pairs undergraduate education with drone training to offer students real-world experiences, FAA licensure, and career-enhancing learning opportunities that are shaping the next generation of skilled pilots.

Table of contents

1. Research support, industry impact2. Surveying wildlife destruction with eBee X
3. Real-world ground school4. Drone Camp

What happens when you bring together drone training and innovative research support through a leading university? New career paths and discoveries become viable and bright futures begin to take hold. 

The University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC) is doing just this and in September 2021 launched CITRIS Initiative for Drone Education and Research (CIDER). The first-of-its-kind initiative for California is a multi-campus program that blends not just educational resources, but also research opportunities and real-world experiences which allow students to integrate drone technology such as eBee X across all academic disciplines and many industry sectors.

The result is developing a diverse drone workforce.

“Our ultimate goal is to create a minor in drones that can then articulate with any of the majors from art and anthropology to engineering and many others,” comments Becca Fenwick, Ph.D. and CITRIS Director, UCSC.    

Research support, industry impact

By pairing undergraduate education and drone training, Fenwick says students can support a wide variety of faculty research and potentially external contracts such as flying for California State Parks and other customers.

And that’s only the beginning, drones are ideal for surveying coastal and terrestrial ecosystems, animal populations, remote archaeological sites, and data collection for sociological fieldwork, cinematography, autonomous navigation systems, and many other new technology developments.

In addition to supporting innovative research, the move complements a growing demand for skilled pilots with the global drone market predicted to increase from $26.3 billion in 2021 to $41.3 billion U.S. dollars by 2026 according to a report from DRONEII.

“Introducing lots of students to drones is always a good idea,” says Fenwick. “But we’re also creating the workforce to support research, fly for faculty, collect their data and for external customers, that way students have work experience as drone pilots before they graduate.”

Surveying wildfire destruction with eBee X

One of those experiences came about after the wildfires of 2021. The scale of the event was unprecedented with an estimated 25,000 acres affected and 15,000 acres burned.

Fenwick conducted post-fire surveying for the UC Natural Reserve System (UCNRS), flying drones 1-2 months after the fire and then 6 months after collecting data used to assess environmental recovery.

The university has two eBee X fixed-wing drones in the CIDER program along with a mix of quadcopters, which have logged over 50,000 acres in the last two years, amassing 12 TB of data across various projects.

Burned terrain is extremely rugged and difficult to navigate on foot. Flying drones such as the eBee X over hazardous areas such as ravines, cliffs, dense brush and poison oak allow researchers to safely collect valuable surveys of the fire damage and regrowth.

The RGB digital surface model (left), hill shade elevation (center) and surface elevation model (right) cover a 200-acre section of the Hastings Natural History Reservation and was used by researchers studying both burned and unburned areas. The reserve headquarters, located near the Lower Barn area, did not burn. Photo: Becca Fenwick

Due to climate change, the intensity and frequency of wildfire will continue to escalate. Drone-based assessments are relevant to an increasing number of scientists, parks and land management agencies who study seasonal changes, monitor recovery across different ecosystems and look for solutions.

Learn more about the consequences of fire on California ecosystems: https://youtu.be/gLqilqZlty4

Real-world ground school

As part of the initial launch of CIDER, an extramural Pilot in Training (PIT) mentorship program is being offered by the CIDER Associate Director Dr. Justin Cummings to undergraduate students interested in working with drones. Through it, students will learn how to fly drones, do photogrammetry, use software to create maps, study to earn their FAA part 107 license, and process imagery in GIS, among many other activities.

And thanks to some generous grants, Fenwick has high hopes that the CITRIS program could potentially be opened to the broader community. Recently, the UC Santa Cruz CITRIS Initiative along with several partners was awarded a $1M, 15-month planning grant from the James Irvine Foundation to support regional drone education and workforce development for students in the Salinas and Parajo Valley region of CA.

Drone Camp

This year marked the seventh anniversary of Drone Camp, which is a multi-campus and industry collaborative intensive short course that provides comprehensive training on the use of drones for mapping and data collection.

Hosted by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources IGIS, UCSC CITRIS / CIDER and CSU Monterey Bay, this year’s camp (which took place from June 27 – July 1 at CSU Monterey Bay) was a hybrid event (online and in-person) and built around a wide range of skill levels and interests from beginner to intermediate.

University instructors covered:

UCSC’s CIDER Initiative and opportunities such as Drone Camp foster relationships between student pilots and staff to industry organizations and companies beyond the campus.

What’s exciting is the success of this model can be replicated by other university systems to the benefit of researchers in academia and many industry verticals.

For more information about CIDER go to cider.sites.ucsc.edu or email cider@ucsc.edu.

Explore the CIDER Pilot Training Program: https://news.ucsc.edu/2022/06/cider-student-success.html

Learn more about Drone Camp: https://dronecampca.org/

Be sure to watch our blog for project spotlights from the CIDER initiative coming soon.

 

6 considerations when choosing drone flight planning software

As companies continue to place more emphasis on their drone programs to accomplish a wide range of tasks, there’s an increasing need for a single software platform to centralize all the necessary operations.

With the right flight planning software, companies can eliminate the need for multiple apps and quickly and efficiently manage their multi-drone fleets.

When it comes to choosing the flight software for your drone program, there are six important capabilities to consider. 

1. Drone compatibility
2. Robust software
3. Collaborative environment
4. Cross-device and cross-platform functionality
5. Offline access
6. KML file support

Let’s dive into these features to ensure the program you’ve been looking into is the best fit:

1. Drone compatibility

When looking at the different flight planning software options, the first step to selecting the right software for your needs is to make sure that the software is compatible with the drone you plan on using to complete your missions. If you are choosing flight planning software for a multi-drone fleet, make sure the software will support all your drones if they are different makes or models. This will eliminate the frustration of having different drones running on different platforms and provides the benefit of simplifying your flight planning operations.

2. Robust software

Flight planning software should allow the user to have a centralized platform to complete the required steps of a drone mission without having to jump back and forth between multiple apps. The ideal flight planning software will allow you to create and schedule missions, manage your mission calendar, assign pilots and equipment to missions, send notifications, check airspace and weather conditions as well as create and execute flight plans all in a single platform.

The software should also give the user the ability to fly manual and automated flight plans, including both waypoint and grid flights, and be capable of re-flying specific sections of a grid flight if updated or new data is needed without the user needing to rebuild flight plans or re-fly the entire mission.

By streamlining the entire process, the right flight planning software saves both time and money through increased efficiency and productivity.

3. Collaborative environment

Most drone programs will require input from various team members to schedule, plan, and execute each drone mission. A critical requirement for today’s flight planning software is the ability for different team members to be able to access the flight plans independently without the need to share a log-in or link. The advantage of a collaborative environment is it allows team members who may be working in the same office or as far away as a remote job site to quickly and seamlessly work together on a project, increasing the speed of communication and reducing downtime.

4. Cross-device and cross-platform functionality

With team members working across different devices and different platforms, it’s critical that your flight planning software supports the technical requirements of all users. The right flight planning software should work across both iOS and Android devices as well as both mobile and desktop platforms. The software should also have the ability to sync flight plans seamlessly between devices and platforms, meaning a flight plan can be created and saved on a desktop device and quickly accessed by a mobile team out in the field, increasing efficiencies and eliminating unnecessary delays.

5. Offline access

Team members are often out completing missions in remote areas with limited or no access to wifi or a reliable internet connection. When selecting flight planning software, look for one that allows all flight plans to be downloaded and cached on each device, ensuring that the mission can be completed even when there is no internet available. It should also have the ability to store any data collected from completed missions in the flight app until an internet connection is re-established. This gives your drone pilots the ability to complete missions at any time and in any location without having to worry about maintaining a signal.

6. KML file support

As land use is constantly changing, being able to access the most up-to-date geographic data is critical. When looking at the different options for flight planning software, having the ability to reference a KML file on both desktop and mobile devices are becoming essential. This benefits drone pilots by giving them the most relevant data to ensure a mission is carried out successfully and without costly errors.

With these capabilities in mind, you can choose the right flight planning software for your organization. If you are interested in learning more about the benefits of using Measure Ground Control as your flight planning software, click here.

Drones as a simple tool? Integrating UAS into advanced operations workflow

It’s no secret that advanced drone operations bring a robust return on investment, but how easy are they to implement into your workflow? We sat down with Michael Blake, AgEagle Product Manager, to discuss if Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) should be considered a simple tool or if in-depth training and education are needed to become a compliant advanced drone operator.

Next level operations

As drones have become more accessible, advanced drone operations are gaining momentum. So, what do we mean by advanced drone operations? Generally, they are operations including flights Beyond the Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS), Operations Over People (OOP), and flying multiple drones as part of a fleet. These operations are very efficient for collecting data, but they come with extra safety and logistical considerations as they are considered more complex.

For instance, you usually need more forward planning and permissions from the relevant authorities to show that your drone can fly safely, in line with local legislation. You also typically need a drone capable of longer flight times. So, the debate on whether drones are a simple tool or require serious piloting skills is more important than ever to ensure safety. 

Airspace and drones: ensuring safety

With more aircraft in the air than ever before, drone pilots need to think outside their operations and be mindful of other air traffic. Knowing how to operate drones is just one aspect of integrating drones into workflows; it is also important to use them safely and responsibly. 

Across the globe, the rules for flying drones vary widely from country to country, often needing different waivers to be completed – to varying levels of training. Drone operators are responsible for learning new skills and understanding the regulatory landscape as legislation evolves.

There are widespread preconceptions in the aviation industry that drones can pose risks to other aircraft in the same airspace. Similarly, without an in-depth understanding, it may appear that no flying skills are needed – since there is not a pilot on board. This makes it more important to break down the barriers to help ensure safety, as well as smooth integration into airspace, allowing drones and other aircraft to comfortably co-exist.

eBee drone training in the field

Choosing drone technology wisely

Operators need to feel comfortable in terms of usage, safety, responsibility, reliability and transportability. Fixed-wing UAVs, like the eBee X, are ideal for BVLOS flights. They’re lightweight and easy to operate, making them safe, with efficient batteries and airframes, which means they can map mid-to large-scale areas with ease. These UAS also have hundreds of thousands of operational flight hours and safety testing, which can help streamline and accelerate BVLOS waiver approvals.

An effective pre-flight, in-flight and post-flight troubleshooting strategy is key to integrating drones into workflows, as well as carrying a high-quality set of spare parts. Not forgetting a consistent level of training to help maintain knowledge and follow any recent updates.

A bright future: overcoming barriers

Drone integration into advanced operations will continue to evolve as regulations change around the world. Currently, limited understanding and commonly held perceptions are barriers for adopting UAVs into workflows. 

With the right system and training, drones are safe, responsible and easy to use, integrating seamlessly into workflows and airspaces with other aircraft well, to provide a range of benefits.

There is still work to be done to increase awareness and improve drone training – both within the industry and wider society. But the positive steps that have been taken in recent years look set to propel fixed-wings into the future for many years to come. 

To continue your training and become an eBee expert with our Certified Operator program, visit: https://www.senseflyacademy.com/

Drones in agriculture: benefits, applications and things to consider

Drones are fast becoming a crucial tool in agriculture, but how do you know if they are the right choice for your business? Olivia Soares de Camargo, Customer Service and Satisfaction Engineer at AgEagle, explores the tangible benefits of drone technology in agriculture -AgTech- and the key considerations before investing.

Table of contents

1. Why drones for agriculture?4. Software and drone camera for farming
2. Main applications for drones in agriculture5. Things to consider before purchasing an ag drone
3. Choosing a drone for agricultural use6. Getting started

Why drones for agriculture?

For farmers and agronomists, estimating annual yield more accurately can help make decisions and manage expectations. Here, drones can offer many benefits, helping to gather more on-demand insights, quickly and efficiently, in a non-destructive way. For example, growers can scout entire fields without ever setting foot in the rows, which helps avoid soil compaction and the spread of pests and diseases while minimizing risks to the worker’s safety.

Return on investment is also crucial. A drone can initially seem like an expensive investment, but it offers many long-term benefits for farmers. Actionable insights gained from drone technology quickly pay for themselves and can be realized in as little as one season.

When taking labor into consideration, if the personnel available is not sufficient to check, or scout the property in question – or if the area is too large to be covered by traditional measures – it may be time to seek alternative methods, such as a drone, that can map up to 500 ha in one single flight.

Plus, when it comes to crops, is productivity below expectations or irregular? Some farmers also decide to switch to agrotechnology with a drone when producing high-value crops, using precision systems, or practicing integrated pest, weed, and disease management (IPM).

Main applications for drones in agriculture

Agriculture expert with eBee X drone
Ag expert, Olivia Soares de Camargo, with an eBee X fixed-wing drone in the field.

Choosing a drone for agricultural use

Not all drones have the same features. Purchasing one for the first time can be a daunting decision: it needs to be easy to operate and provide high-performance and reliable data collection but at an affordable entry point.

Fixed-wing drones like the eBee X are well placed to meet these requirements – particularly in agriculture applications where greater coverage and longer flight times are needed. Although it is variable depending on the needs of the operation, an integrated solution of drone, camera, and software (including flight management and post-processing) is widely favored.

The eBee X technology also offers the option to upgrade to other features for longer flight times and increased accuracy, with options such as Real-Time Kinematic (RTK) and Post-Processed Kinematic (PPK) and endurance extensions for longer flight times.

The right drone camera and software for farming

The choice of drone sensor is key. Multispectral and RGB are the main cameras used for several applications pre, during, and postseason and the insights gained help direct agronomists and crop scouts to the right spot early.

Orthomosaic maps (RGB sensor) are used for planning the planting prioritizing, soil conservation and for water management to avoid erosion/leaching. NDVI maps with vegetation indices generation (multispectral sensor) highlight crop health, development and production, depending on the crop, variety, and stage.

Aerial map with NDVI dataset in Assens
Comparison of satellite map and the RGB and NDVI data collected with the eBee X and Duet M (multispectral and RGB) drone camera.

For example, thanks to the NDVI dataset (right), the farmer can identify various issues in the field.

When it comes to image processing, fixed-wing drones are a great option for reducing human error, while preserving image quality. Users can also carry out the same missions over the same fields on different dates, to compare data, monitor changes and eliminate extra variables.

Choosing RTK/PPK position referencing technology adds an even greater level of accuracy without the need for ground control points.

Once the images are collected, they also need to be processed after the flight, to generate final data outputs – the maps such as orthomosaic, contour line, vegetation index, etc, using specialized software. For this reason, many manufacturers, like AgEagle, generates images in universal formats that are compatible with a range of post-processing software.

Other things to consider when purchasing an ag drone

The right drone needs to be easy to use and simple to integrate with your workflow and other technologies. It must also be robust, and suitable for withstanding harsh agricultural environments. And how easy is the drone to transport? Ideally, your chosen UAS should be lightweight for carrying between fields and for operating within more regulatory frameworks.  

eBee X drone and backpack in a field
The eBee X is easily transported in a backpack, can be deployed in 3 minutes and operated by one person.

We also advise that agriculture professionals check that their drone is compliant with the appropriate local regulations. Drone regulations still vary significantly across the globe, so keeping up to date with the latest regulatory changes is essential.

Depending on the manufacturer’s standard of technical support available, it can be simple to check if the equipment complies with your local regulations. In the US, for example, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires a Part 107 certification to become a licensed drone operator and fly commercially on a farm.

Getting started

Buying a drone can seem like a big decision, but the opportunities they bring are hard to ignore for farmers and agronomists. New uses are being discovered all the time across the farm, and new applications within each crop continue to rise.

The more time you spend using your drone in the field, the more you will understand the significance of the data, and the easier it will be to see trends and make tangible changes in your workflow. Many drone manufacturers offer online training, to help users get the most out of their devices.

It is an exciting time to invest in a drone for agriculture – why don’t you see for yourself?

eBee X saves £20m and 100,000 project hours on Heathrow airport’s third runway project

Heathrow Airport is Europe’s busiest airport, and plans for a third runway – although currently on hold – will bolster the UK’s economy even more. As part of these ambitious design plans, Heathrow’s engineering team needed to develop a highly accurate 3D digital model of a 29 km2 area surrounding the existing airport.

Tablet showing 3D digital surface model of Heathrow Airport.
This digital surface model (DSM), orthomosaic and 3D mesh, totaling 19 billion data points, was shared on Sensat’s cloud-based platform for collaboration across multiple shareholders with Heathrow and the design team. Photo: Sensat

We sat down with AgEagle’s global sales manager, Chris Thomson and the team at data visualization specialists Sensat, to hear how our eBee X fixed-wing drone helped to save £20m in costs and more than 100,000 project hours.

Overcoming project barriers

Operating next to a busy airport is a challenging environment for a drone. But traditional ground-based mapping methods weren’t feasible, as much of Heathrow’s surrounding area is privately-owned farmland. It would also be time-consuming to map such a large area on the ground – not to mention expensive. Keeping disruption to a minimum was key; the controversial nature of the project meant mapping needed to be safe and unobtrusive, without affecting normal airport operations.

Data processing would also be a potential challenge due to the scale of the site. More detailed, engineering-grade data was required compared to previous projects at Heathrow, and with various stakeholders involved, a better way of sharing the information was needed.

Why the eBee X fixed-wing drone?

In the first project of this scale, Sensat chose to map the area using fixed-wing drones. The team picked fixed-wing systems over quadcopters, to achieve better coverage on a single flight using only Extended Visual Line of Sight (EVLOS) permissions. The chosen drone also needed to be reliable and easy to operate. Plus, being able to capture the required data in a shorter timeframe would also help minimize interference with other air traffic.  

The Sensat team already knew our eBee system well and selected the eBee X fixed-wing drone after it proved to be reliable on similar high-risk missions. And with the eBee X’s superior endurance and eBee series S.O.D.A., a sensor optimized for drone applications and photogrammetry, they could benefit from longer flight times and improved accuracy, with sharper resolution images.

Mission parameters for eBee X were assigned in eMotion, our flight planning software, which allowed operators to easily set a circular working area as a barrier – preventing entry into restricted zones.

Screenshot of eBee X mission over Heathrow Airport.

By working closely with National Air Traffic Services (NATS), Heathrow Control Tower, Airfield Operations, airport security and the local police forces, the eBee X could fly unrestricted to capture the necessary data without safety incidents or interruption to normal airport operations.

Mapping safely and efficiently

Using a fixed-wing drone was a valuable resource-saver. Only two operators were needed for low-risk areas, while a minimum of three people were required where it was a higher risk, including a spotter for the runway. Although there were limitations to when flights could take place, the data was captured in just 16 site days – without any need for land access approval.

The results helped the team to create a high-density point cloud, digital surface model (DSM), orthomosaic and 3D mesh – totaling 19 billion data points. This information was then shared on Sensat’s cloud-based platform, to be used as a digital native workspace for multiple shareholders at Heathrow and the design team to collaborate. Integrating the data with CAD and BIM also helped to provide more detail, speeding up the design process and reducing the risk for errors.

Future-proofing airport infrastructure design

Using fixed-wing drones was a game-changer for the Heathrow expansion project, enabling a large area to be surveyed faster and more cost-effectively than typical on-the-ground methods. What’s more, the team could survey the site without gaining land access permissions, which would be lengthy and more dangerous.

The eBee X proved to be the ideal solution for mapping such a complex, high-risk site. When the expansion plans restart following legal approvals, Sensat plans to use the eBee X again to gather more insights. Could fixed-wing drones pave the way for future infrastructure to be designed and developed in a similar way? We think so!

Achieving greater speed, efficiency & accuracy in stockpile surveying with eBee X

Stockpile volume calculations remain one of the most important, yet challenging tasks in mining and quarry. The site size, area of coverage, material type and safety factors all could potentially result in operations collecting subpar data. To effectively complete the task, operations need a combination of the right tools that enable them to measure stockpiles accurately, efficiently and fast.

For Chattanooga Tennessee-based Wingfield Scale and Measure these values are at the core of their business and promise to their clients. Over the past 85 years, they have grown to become a nationally recognized scale and data acquisition company, and today, they offer their customers innovative mapping and measuring services for surface/quarry work, underground mapping, structural scanning, real-time inventory products and drone services.

As the first scale company in the U.S. to complete accreditation to both ISO 9000 and ISO 17025, Wingfield holds a strong focus on its response time, reporting accuracies and on-site safety practices. Their mapping work reflects the true nature of how materials are stockpiled on the ground, as well as the base topography beneath the material – creating a true digital representation of the area being surveyed.  This approach lends itself to accurate, repeatable, and prompt delivery of volumetric information to clients.

“90% of the work that we do requires multiple measurement platforms. Whether that’s a terrestrial scanner, total station, photogrammetry UAV, or LiDAR UAV, there are different tools that when used together, give you a better, more complete result.”

Hayes Wilkinson, UAS Certified Mapping Scientist, and Senior Aerial Mapping Specialist at Wingfield Scale & Measure

They attribute this success to a combination of surveying technologies, workflow and attention to data management factors that enhance both quality and accuracy.

Combining Aerial and Terrestrial Data for Better Results

There’s no silver bullet when it comes to obtaining a complete data collection. Wingfield Scale and Measure is a data acquisition group and always recommends using the right combination of tools for the job.

For example, if your operation has half its piles under structures, it’ll be nearly impossible to survey without some sort of LiDAR technology.

“90% of the work that we do requires multiple measurement platforms,” says Hayes Wilkinson, UAS Certified Mapping Scientist, and Senior Aerial Mapping Specialist at Wingfield Scale & Measure. “Whether that’s a terrestrial scanner, total station, photogrammetry UAV, or LiDAR UAV, there are different tools that when used together, give you a better, more complete result.”

Left to right, James Kenney, senior engineer and Hayes Wilkinson, senior Aerial Mapping Specialist of Wingfield Scale & Measure next to some of their terrestrial survey equipment and drone fleet.

Wingfield Scale & Measure has used a variety of UAVs over the years, and recently added an eBee X fixed-wing drone and S.O.D.A. camera to its survey toolbox. The eBee X has long been used in mines worldwide for their ability to cover mid-to large-scale sites quickly and deliver highly precise photogrammetry.

Wilkinson adds that the eBee X has the ease-of-use and user-friendliness to hit high accuracy requirements with photogrammetry, while directly complementing and validating their LiDAR measurements to ensure accuracy in reporting.

On a recent survey for a cement plant, Wingfield conducted a stockpile survey using terrestrial equipment and the eBee X on a wide variety of stockpile sizes and materials, and was pleased with the results.

As seen in the comparisons below, the laser scan data and eBee X / S.O.D.A 3D data complement each other very well as the eBee data was able to fill in the areas which were not visible or inaccessible in the terrestrial laser scan data, due to the geometry of the stockpile.

In the opposite effect, the laser scan data complements the eBee data in visually obstructed areas as shown below, where this stockpile was covered by a shed roof.

In this example, both types of data were easily merged producing a rich and accurate data set combination which gives inventory managers greater control over the volumes and resulting KPI calculations.

Required Accuracy vs Material

Laying the groundwork for efficient collection is first understanding the accuracy that’s required for the type of material being measured. This accuracy is important to site supervisors conducting weekly reporting and monitoring of monthly KPIs.

“If you’re dealing with a high-value material like gold ore, a 5% or 10% swing in volume accuracy can have huge downstream effects on a company’s books and operational decisions.  Even with lower value materials like gypsum or clay, the same holds true – accuracy affects the bottom line,” says Wilkinson.

As a result, there are very different realms that you’re working in as far as how different and how tight the data requirements need to be – and are required to be.

Material Reflection

The reflective properties of the project material surface are very important when it comes to noise versus accuracy. The surface color of a stockpile changes dramatically across its form, while the surface texture remains the same.

Darker material in a pile will absorb a large amount of the sun’s reflectance in comparison to lighter material, which will reflect a large amount of light.

When processing in photogrammetry, it is important the camera can adjust to this differentiation of light reflectance and give a good overall white balance correction, so as not to overexpose the images and produce noise in the data.

“This noise can equate to false detection of extra volume if not carefully filtered or removed,” says Michael Blake, Product Manager, AgEagle. “Depending on the type of material, these false volumes can fluctuate the weekly reports and monthly KPI’s which can determine a company’s strategic, financial, and operational achievements.”

This volume difference can be exponentially more evident on high-value materials like gold, silver, and copper.

Workflow Enhances Accuracy & Efficiency

Thanks to the ease of use of the eBee X platform and intuitive eMotion flight planning software, the Wingfield team also realized an enhanced workflow from flight planning to post processing.

It’s a natural step from eMotion to Pix4D to produce final rasters and vectorized data and this workflow results in less work. With other platforms, it’s common to need additional third-party software at this stage to produce georeferenced data and project files.

Taking their data processing a step further, Wingfield typically brings their drone and LiDAR data together in third-party software and filters it, removing any noise before performing cut and fill calculations. 

This additional step enhances the richness of the data the drone provides while giving a better overall accuracy to end calculations for monthly KPIs.

Michael Blake, Product Manager, AgEagle

Much of the filtering done in the third-party software can be automated.  Wingfield has custom-tailored workflows to streamline certain aspects of point cloud filtering and preserve consistency from one dataset to another. Additionally, all newly acquired data is compared back to previous surveys to make informed decisions about where to delineate stockpiles, and how to reuse historical bases and data.  A critical and experienced eye is applied to every stockpile inventory and topographic survey, something that is not provided by many cloud-based Structure from Motion (SfM) photogrammetry solutions. 

“This additional step enhances the richness of the data the drone provides while giving a better overall accuracy to end calculations for monthly KPIs,” says Blake.

Data Quality Control

Wingfield Scale & Measure compared their new eBee X to their DJI Phantom 4 with an aftermarket PPK kit to see if there were any observable differences in data quality. There were four areas where the team immediately noticed differences between the technologies.

Image Quality

The quality of various point clouds can be assessed by observing point density and noise. Generally, point density is very high in the case of terrestrial laser scanning point clouds, however, the earlier comparisons show that the UAV’s less dense point clouds achieve similar results. While UAV point clouds provide less detail than a terrestrial laser scanner point cloud, there is still enough detail provided for most typical survey applications.

When Wingfield compared outputs from their UAVs, the team noticed the images from the DJI Phantom 4 PPK stock 20 MP sensor (same camera as the P4P-RTK) had more noise and poor color balance in comparison to the eBee X with S.O.D.A 3D. This can equate to a lot of blur in the images and give poor orthomosaic quality and more point cloud noise which has to be filtered.

While the eBee X with active RTK delivers high-precision accuracy down to 1.5 cm without requiring GCPs for georeferencing, their use is still recommended to verify data quality. As a result, significantly fewer checkpoints need to be laid and for the size of Wingfield’s project, the team would only need three to five GCPs for data verification, which of course increases safety and saves time.

The above image taken with the DJI Phantom 4 RTK shows a higher exposure leading to more noise and a difference in color balance.
This image of the same location, taken with the eBee X and S.O.D.A. shows a refined color balance and significantly less noise.
The above cross-section of a stockpile shows an overlay of data points captured by LiDAR in orange, eBee X in Pink and DJI in Blue.

Flight Time

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

From data acquisition to battery changes and transition times, fixed-wing drones also require fewer flights than multirotor platforms. In this comparison of a 194-acre aggregate site, the eBee X covered the entire area in a single flight with enough battery life in reserve to map a similar-sized site 5 more times under ideal flight conditions. It took two flights with the DJI Phantom 4 PPK to cover this one site. 

The eBee X skilfully managed winds of ~10-15mph during its automated mission seen here, above the digital surface model of the site in eMotion flight planning software.

Georeferencing

The overall Root Mean Square (RMS) was a lot larger with the DJI in comparison to the eBee. GCP points were needed to correctly georeference the Phantom 4 RTK data with the LiDAR data, whereas the eBee X data aligned perfectly with the LiDAR data – with no GCP points need.  

Since November, Wingfield has geotagged ~20,000+ images taken by the eBee X with CM level accuracy with a > 99% success rate. Hayes adds that in comparison, the third-party PPK GPS unit for their multirotor is good and simple to use, but less consistent in field and post processing workflows.

The process of collecting point data in the field with the RTK-enabled eBee X, means operators are more efficient by spending less time in the field, and safer by not having to traverse potentially hazardous terrain to lay numerous GCPs. Thanks to good photogrammetry, only a couple of checkpoints are required around the site as a best practice to ensure the RTK/PPK workflow is working correctly.

Post processing

Data processing with photogrammetry software can be time-consuming, depending on the quantity of data captured and computer hardware being used. However, by using the IMU and “direct-in-flight geotagging” data from S.O.D.A. 3D in conjunction with PIX4Dmappers’s accurate geolocation and orientation calibration method, you can accelerate the initial calibration stage, resulting in a time savings of up to 35-40%.

This 3D reconstruction generated by the S.O.D.A. 3D can be used for environmental and water runoff control.

“What’s more, we found no compromise to accuracy,” adds Blake. “Vegetation and water bodies also reconstruct and recompute much better, giving more detail and contextual information to the dataset.”

See our previous blog post on achieving faster initial processing for more information.

As an added data security measure, Wingfield completes all their processing on a local PC and no images are uploaded to a remote/cloud-based server, which is a common data management consideration for clients with sensitive job sites.

For large mines and quarries, fixed-wing drones represent a valuable method which surveying teams can reduce their data collection workloads. Therefore, this allows organizations to reduce their staffing costs, offer more competitive pricing and/or complete more projects within a set time.

Additionally, drone acquired data such as orthomosaics can lend additional benefits to open pit operations, mine design, site planning and many other areas.

While tracking stockpile inventories remain one of the most important tasks in mining and quarrying, fixed-wing drones, and the efficiencies they deliver, are minimizing what used to be a challenge. Their ability to rapidly provide photogrammetry and high-resolution point clouds that enhance LiDAR enables quality management of stockpile surveys with greater speed, efficiency and accuracy.

For a closer look at comparative LiDAR and photogrammetry data, watch for our Wingfield Scale & Measure case study – coming soon!

Sidebar: Controlling for Environmental Factors

Another key factor to take into consideration during data collection is the proper setup for ground control and changing lighting conditions. This step can easily get overlooked by busy personnel and results in gathering and processing subpar data right out of the gate.

Mines are highly active environments and a lot can change over a month. Hayes recommends doing a quick check before each flight to ensure ground control points are cleared, checked and ready to go with their placement throughout the site.

The lighting at the time of your aerial survey can also affect your data collection and it’s worth noting that results can vary depending on your drone platform.

“One thing I’ve noticed from personal experience with both platforms is with the eBee, it’s much easier to control for changing lighting conditions than with the Phantom,” says Hayes. “If you lock your exposure, and it’s too bright or too dark to account for changing light conditions, you can get some wonky results.”

The eBee’s exposure settings float between a constrained range by default that’s been precisely refined to allow the shutter speed to be fast, yet still, let enough light in.

In addition to default settings that have been precisely refined over time for Aeria X and S.O.D.A. 3D cameras, eMotion also features settings for cloudy, shady or sunny days to adjust exposure settings. 

“With the Phantom, sometimes if you let it float on an automatic mode, the shutter speed can be way too slow and you’ll get a blur to the images which isn’t ideal,” adds Hayes.

Why Upgrade to an eBee X

Today’s eBee X performance is the direct result of senseFly’s 10 years of industry experience and direct customer feedback. Our fixed-wing is built to boost your data collection’s quality, efficiency, and safety like no other.

The eBee X features the latest evolution of technology beyond previous models.

Suitable for the following industries: Surveying, mapping, agriculture, engineering, construction, environmental monitoring, research, education, utilities, crisis management, humanitarian, mining, quarries, and many more. 

Table of content

1. Drone comparison table3.3. Performance
2. What we maintained3.4. Flight time
3. What we enhanced for the eBee X3.5. eMotion
3.1. Cameras 3.6. Advanced operations ready
3.2. Modular design & durability 3.7. Portable

Comparison of senseFly’s fixed-wing drones

Comparison senseFly drones

What we maintained 

What we enhanced for the eBee X

Cameras

Modular design & durability

Performance

 Flight time

eMotion 

Advanced operations ready

Portable

Want to upgrade to an eBee X?

Trade up to an eBee X drone
First Impressions After Using eBee Geo

We sat down with Fernando Vilela, director of the Brazilian company AeroPulv, to get his first impressions of the eBee Geo fixed-wing drone, which recently joined their multi-rotor fleet. 

Could you tell us a bit more about your company?

Sure! AeroPulv is located in Iturama, a municipality in the state of Minas Gerais, in southeastern Brazil. We provide services throughout the south-central area, where most of the agricultural regions in the country are concentrated. 

We arose from the needs of our customers to introduce technology that can better guide the use of resources while increasing the productivity and profitability of the crop. Our company focuses on technologies that benefit producers, providing solutions that help them reach positive results. 

Fernando Vilela, director of the Brazilian company AeroPulv, with an eBee Geo in the field
Fernando Vilela, director of the Brazilian company AeroPulv, with an eBee Geo and a multi-rotor drone.

What is your company’s experience with drones?

Until now, we have been providing spraying services with multi-rotors and using small RTK models of these drones for mapping. 

Besides this, I have also worked at other companies and flew fixed-wings made in Brazil. They were very big, with a parachute, and some of them needed a launcher, like a catapult, to take off. They are not the same as the eBee fixed-wings. 

“At the end of the day, what matters is how many hectares you were able to fly.”

Fernando Vilela, director, AeroPulv.

What are your impressions after using eBee Geo? 

The eBee Geo came to add more value to our company. We have increased our mapping capacity from 300 ha (741 ac) using multi-rotors to 1,000 ha (2,471 ac) per day with the eBee Geo. 

Another thing that has surprised us is the accuracy and reliability of eBee X series RTK/PPK technology. We are used to doing projects that require high accuracy, such as surveying planting lines to be used in automatic pilots of agricultural machines. Accuracy is essential because any error can bring losses to the crop and accidents in agricultural operations.

” We have increased our mapping capacity from 300 ha (741 ac) using multi-rotors to 1,000 ha (2,471 ac) per day with the eBee Geo.”

Fernando Vilela, director, AeroPulv.

I confess that I was a little afraid at the beginning because, as I said before, I have worked with other fixed-wings and had some bad experiences. However, we saw that both the landing and the take-off are done very smoothly. Also, we have been able to take off and land in places with very short space. All these points have brought more security and tranquility to our operations. 

sensefly eBee Geo in the field
eBee Geo drone in the field.

What’s next for AeroPulv? 

Now our company has made a technological leap and, in addition to increasing the volume of mapping and security of our operations, we are working on integrating the eBee Geo to generate agronomic information for applications with our spraying multi-rotor drones.

This way we can generate a great ROI for our clients and rural producers. The business impact is a cost reduction for farming inputs and increases in gains and income. Also, this means better treatment of natural resources and respect for the environment, which now receives less herbicide – because it’s applied in the correct quantities and places.

Thank you for sharing your time and perspective, Fernando! 

Drone mapping discovers priority archaeological sites at Doganella

Tech-savvy archeologists are picking up drones before their trowels to rapidly and non-invasively survey sites of interest and determine where to dig with greater precision. Duke University researchers recently used the eBee X and MicaSense RedEdge-MX on a recent expedition in Italy to map a large archeological site and through multispectral imagery, peel back layers of time to unveil history hidden just below the surface.

Not far from Rome, in the province of Orbetello, is Doganella (VII-III cent BCE), home to one of the most affluent and important Etruscan colonies of Etruria. Here, Duke University’s Professor Dr. Maurizio Forte leads a team of archaeologists who are implementing a new fully digital workflow to preserve entire excavation sites and their findings for greater accessibility worldwide.

The story behind how Doganella transformed lies in the buried structures and artifacts that await the team just below the surface. Using a combination of geospatial data recording, remote sensing and drone photogrammetry, Dr. Forte and Antonio Lo Piano, a doctorate student in classical studies, leads a research team in creating a 3D replication of the entire site – and there’s a lot of ground to cover.

Project Details
Mission Type: Archaeology
Location: Italy, Vulci (Montalto di Castro) and Doganella (Orbetello)
Area: 700 ha / 1,730 A
Drone: eBee X
GSD: 4.8 in/pixel @ 60% overlap
RTK/PPK: None
Flights: 20
Total Images: 15,000
Processing Time: Weeks
Processing: Pix4D, Metashape
Outputs: Orthomosaic, DTM, NDVI, multispectral maps, 3D models, point clouds
Data by: Duke University

New field, faster results

Doganella, combined with its sister site Vulci, near the town of Montalto di Castro, is roughly 700 hectares (1,730 acres) and features terrain which resembles a modern-day farm field. Both archaeological sites have not yet been mapped or fully investigated and it’s estimated that 95% of the archaeological remains are still buried and only accessible through remote sensing.

The archaeological site of Doganella in the province of Orbetello, Italy has all the appearances of a modern-day farm field vs the flourishing Etruscan colony it once was. Photo: Duke University

Dr. Forte, a longtime advocate for using digital methods for archeological fieldwork, knew that a drone would help the team to collect data and identify areas of interest while guiding efforts for protecting the site and future excavations.

The team’s main objective from June through December 2021 was the creation of classified maps of the landscape with accurate identification of soil marks and crop marks. Soil marks and crop marks usually identify the outline of archaeological buildings, graves, roads, or other infrastructures.

Duke University archaeology team, (L-R) Nevio Danelon, Photogrammetry Specialist, Dr. Maurizio Forte, and Antonio LoPiano, Ph.D. Candidate in the field with the eBee X.
Photo: Duke University

Aerial drones and especially long-range fixed-wing models like the eBee X can rapidly cover the entire surface area of a large-scale archaeological site. By comparison, the amount of coverage required on the Doganella project alone would take weeks or months of traditional field walking surveys.

“The use of multispectral drones in Etruscan archaeology is really rare and these results are outstanding. In a relatively short time, we generated thousands of images and data with very high accuracy and with several outputs: digital terrain models, point clouds, orthomosaics, spectral mapping, 3D models. In short, the creation of a multilayered archaeological landscape never seen before.”

Dr. Maurizio Forte, Duke University

Multispectral mapping potential

Another challenge is that the archaeological landscape in the summer is overwhelmed by vegetation and crops making it difficult for the team to recognize sites and archaeological features in RGB imagery alone.

The use of a 5-band multispectral sensor can classify the landscape by infrared and NDVI and identify archaeological features related to the percentage of humidity, vegetation and crop growth.

Dr. Forte has flown drones for years and to meet the demands of this expedition he partnered with senseFly (now AgEagle) to use an eBee X paired with a MicaSense RedEdge-MX multispectral sensor.

Over a few weeks, the team flew the eBee X 20 times, collecting 15,000 images with 60-70% overlap at an accuracy of 4.8 in/pixel. The images were then processed in Pix4D and Metashape to create a variety of outputs.

This digital surface model shows elevation variances across the terrain.
Photo: Duke University

“The use of multispectral drones in Etruscan archaeology is really rare and these results are outstanding,” says Dr. Forte. “In a relatively short time, we generated thousands of images and data with very high accuracy and with several outputs: digital terrain models, point clouds, orthomosaics, spectral mapping, 3D models. In short, the creation of a multilayered archaeological landscape never seen before.”

In this hillshade of the main natural terrace, city walls can be seen in the south and northeast indicating the largest section of the circuit wall and the city’s major gate. Photo: Duke University

Common in early settlements, defensive walls visible in the terrain morphology (N and E side of the imagery), served to protect the colony against outsiders. These perimeters cannot be seen in RGB imagery, however, are easier to identify thanks to the combination of multispectral imagery and digital elevation models.

Looking at a section of the city wall in the northeast, the dark purple areas indicate mounds, and the area in between is the robbed-out city wall. Photo: Duke University

“The MicaSense RedEdge-MX sensor is cutting edge and the inclusion of 5 bands provided outstanding results,” says Dr. Forte. “Our team was able to identify numerous individual tombs, structures, and large sections of the ancient street network still buried in the fields of these sites thanks to capabilities of the camera.”

Several blocks of rectangular structures in purple can be seen here in between the streets marked out in yellow. The darkest regions of the NDVI are also related to the densest area of artifact surface scatter, including tile and pottery fragments. Photo: Duke University

This small region of the settlement shows a grid of buildings all in the same orientation or possibly a larger complex. In time, future excavation will reveal their purpose.

Two sensors are better than one

Dr. Forte discovered that a combination of sensors has proven particularly successful in several sites of interest. The imagery collected by the eBee X will serve as a precise guide for a secondary team using ground-penetrating radar (GPR). Multi-modal remote sensing will extend the team’s perspective of the site by obtaining a secondary reflectance map.

However, to make a GPR map of a whole 300 to 400 ha area might take months; with the eBee X, the team collected a site-wide map in one day.

“The eBee-X is the best choice for large-scale projects and the multispectral sensor due to its battery life, software and hardware integration, and portability of the system,” adds Dr. Forte. “Because of the fixed wings and the multispectral camera, it is ideal for mapping and classifying large archaeological sites.”

The archeological site of Doganella, seen here in the eMotion flight planning software, is 8 m above sea level. The team mapped this area with the eBee X at 70 m ATO.
Photo: Duke University

“The integration of the hardware with the eMotion software greatly simplified flight planning,” says Dr. Forte. “The 3D maps and integrated weather and wind data enabled us to make more informed decisions both before and during the flights. It is easily the best flight planning software we have worked with.”

The use of a drone before bringing in other equipment has both time and cost-saving advantages. GPR equipment is costly to transport and operate and having a general multispectral map of the entire site from drone enables the team to bring in the GPR on a very small scale and image specific areas of interest with great precision.

Environmental & cultural clues

Another interesting feature discovered within the multispectral imagery is that the orientation of the Etruscan buildings is very different from the orientation of the agricultural fields, which means the organization of the territory was different from the medieval, late-Roman period. It’s very likely the Romans started these changes, and the topography evolved into the Tuscany landscape we see today.

There are very few features such as dark soil, which you can see in the RBG image to the right, but when compared with multispectral imagery (left), and a blue band (left bottom), features such as the building and road marked by the red arrow, become visible. Photo: Duke University

Thanks to the results, Dr. Forte’s team can plan future archaeological campaigns for excavations in specific areas identified by the eBee X drone. This work continues to completely redefine these sites and in the case of Doganella, its long urban transformation.

This project is made under the permit and in collaboration with the Soprintendenza ABAP Siena Grosseto e Arezzo.