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Talking eBee Geo Features & Benefits for Surveying, GIS Professionals

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Share | 11/23/2021

The senseFly eBee X series of professional fixed-wing mapping drones now includes three complete drone solutions: eBee X, eBee Geo and eBee Ag. Naturally, the launch of a new UAV is always an exciting event, so Waypoint sat down with senseFly Product and Solution Manager, Benjamin Pinguet to talk about the new eBee Geo, learn who it’s best suited for, what sets it apart from the eBee X and other questions related to its features and benefits.

Thanks for chatting with us today, Ben. To get started, can you give us a little background as to how the eBee Geo came about and its link to eBee X?

With eBee X, we brought a lot of new tech to the eBee platform and a lot of improvements. I’m talking primarily about improved robustness and improved product modularity. The goal with eBee X was to appeal to a broad range of customers that want to boost their surveying and data acquisition capabilities with the type of efficiency achievable with a fixed-wing drone.

Over time and through customer feedback, we realized that there was and is a growing contingent of customers that don’t need all the bells and whistles eBee X provides. So, for those customers, we developed eBee Geo to be a professional-grade fixed-wing mapping drone that features many of the same state-of-the-art technologies found on the eBee X but streamlined for customers with narrower project requirements.

What are some key features that set eBee Geo apart from other drones and/or terrestrial surveying tools?

eBee Geo is in line with the design philosophy of all senseFly drones, which means it’s ultra-light and safe to operate by design. It offers 45 minutes of flight time, which is roughly 50% percent more than what you get from a typical quadcopter. So you gain greater efficiency and mission range.

eBee Geo also comes with the senseFly S.O.D.A. camera. This sensor was designed by [senseFly] and is special in that it is fully intended for drone applications [editor’s note: S.O.D.A. stands for Sensor Optimized for Drone Applications). Because S.O.D.A. is optimized for photogrammetry, it means you’re going to get excellent data quality from this payload. It also comes with RTK as an option, which you can choose to activate when you need it. RTK adds extra efficiency and safety because you don’t have to put GCPs on the ground, which really makes it an efficient solution for medium-to-large-scale mapping.

How does eBee Geo maintain data quality and data consistency?

Data quality is so important for our customers, which is why eBee Geo offers the same professional data quality as our premium eBee X drone. This means state-of-the-art autopilot, professional GNSS board and professional-grade software such as our eMotion flight planning software. You have here the combined experience in camera control, drone control, GNSS information and data management—with the necessary failsafe and quality checks being performed through the entire flight.

What types of use cases and applications is eBee Geo best suited for?

eBee Geo is best suited for medium-to-large mapping missions where you need to create an orthomosaic or DSM. The types of applications are fairly-broad, such as urban mapping, mining and forestry.

Is there a specific size firm or ideal customer that eBee Geo is best suited for?

In terms of customer profile, it really varies. Our goal was to position eBee Geo for customers that may be more cost-conscious. So, it’s certainly a more budget-friendly option. And it’s also a very good value, with many of the same premium features of the eBee X. Of course, not everyone is ready or needs the full capability of the eBee X, so I would say eBee Geo is great for drone service providers that want to add their first fixed-wing to their fleet but at a more approachable price point. eBee Geo is a great entry into professional-grade mapping and the eBee X is available as an upgrade/trade-up, should they need the expanded capabilities when the time is right.

Is there a misconception that fixed-wing drones are more difficult to operate because of how they launch and land? And how does eBee Geo alleviate those concerns?

It’s unfortunate but true that there are misconceptions that fixed-wings are more difficult to operate because of how they land. Also, there is this misconception that fixed-wings are more expensive, which often scare people away from the technology. I can speak to that in a minute, but I want to mention that, like all our eBee X series drones, eBee Geo is easy to launch because you don’t need a catapult and the drone is very light at just 1.3 kg (2.87 lbs). And all our drones feature automated flight, so you plan the mission, launch the drone and then the data capture is all automatic, which not only makes it safer to operate than, say, a quad, but it also means data quality remains consistent because we reduce the chance of operator error that may stem from manually controlling the drone in flight.

So, operating a fixed-wing is actually easier and less risky than a quad because you have less operator error. As for landing, I know from being out in the field that while the landing can seem harsh or even aggressive, I assure you that we’ve designed all our drones specifically for this type of landing and that all our drones are very robust! The kinetic energy is absorbed on impact and with the exception of some minor scuffs and scratches, the drone can take numerous hard impacts and just keeps going!

You mentioned how planning missions in advance is part of the eBee Gee’s automation process, but can you tell us a bit more about eMotion? What makes eMotion so special and what sets it apart from other flight planning software out there?

eMotion is a key element to all of our drones. Usually, people realize they want [our drones] after they see the software! eMotion has been a leading software for 10 years now because it’s easy to use. It has a lot of capability. If you are doing a simple mapping mission it’s very easy to create a flight plan in just a few minutes. eMotion also allows you to fly in very challenging environments, such as mountains and other areas with drastic changes in elevation. So, it’s great in a wide range of environments.

eMotion also offers a lot of safety features. For example, it’s capable of checking if the drone’s altitude is not intersecting with your elevation data, so you don’t have a risk of ground collision. It also has a built-in failsafe regarding how far and high the drone can fly.

Additional failsafe features ensure your data capture is good, which means we maintain full control of the payload, we ensure the camera is taking pictures at the right time and that the geotagging is being recorded properly. There is also a safety failsafe regarding the status of the drone’s battery, which means the drone can determine on its own if it has enough battery to complete its mission and return home safely. If it detects that it does not have the required power, it automatically returns to home, so you don’t have to worry about the drone just falling out of the sky.

eMotion really is the one software you need for planning, execution and post-flight. After gathering your data, you can export projects directly from eMotion toix4D, Trimble Business Center projects, Agisoft  and so on.

In terms of integration into other software, how does that work and what is the benefit to customers?

When flying other drones, in the majority of the cases, you have all the pictures in one file on an SD card. After the flight, the user then has to collect the SD card, gather the pictures manually and maybe even do the geotagging in different software, which is additional work and opens up opportunities for mistakes.

What we have with eMotion’s flight data manager and integration with third-party software is that from eMotion you gather the data from the SD card, divide them per flight, geotag via RTK correction and directly from there create the processing project. So it’s faster to do it all via eMotion and less chance of forgetting images or introducing other user errors.

How important is automated flight and mission planning to data quality and reducing user error?

When you create a mission in eMotion, the operator just has to create a background map, click the area where they want to map and everything else like the flight path and where the pictures need to be taken are automatically calculated by the software. When you do photogrammetry, it’s really important that the ground sampling distance (resolution) and overlap stay consistent. eMotion is also the only flight planning software that allows you to import your own map and import your own elevation data into the software.

Getting back to the drone itself. You mentioned robustness – how does eBee Geo maintain its robustness and hardware reliability?

eBee Geo is a drone designed to do belly landings like an airplane. The belly has been reinforced with a special material that is very robust and allows it to take hundreds of landings, protects the electronics and the camera of the drone. The potential risk of injury is also very low, due to the material used. The belly piece is also easily replaceable, so even if the underframe cracks, it can be easily swapped.

In terms of ROI, how does the eBee Geo help surveyors and GIS professionals?

There are many ways. Fixed-wings like the eBee Geo can fly farther and faster on a single battery than quadcopters. That alone can impact how efficiently you collect data and even impact your business’ profit generation. So, not only can you take on a greater variety of projects with a fixed-wing drone, but the extended flight time and versatile nature of the technology make it easier for you to complete jobs quickly. When it comes to medium-to-large area mapping projects or accessing difficult-to-reach sites, eBee Geo makes that easy, too, thanks to its extended flight radius. But it doesn’t just outperform quads, eBee Geo gives you the capability to complete more mapping jobs faster than traditional terrestrial surveying methods, too. And with its available RTK, you gain even more efficiency.

In terms of training, what resources are available to eBee Geo customers?

When learning how to use a drone the first thing that’s important is to get the proper training, so we make sure to properly train and certify our distribution partners around the world. This ensures they have the knowledge, experience and capability needed to train customers. It’s always good to have somebody show you the ropes and provide you with the foundational knowledge you need.

On top of that, we have our new senseFly Academy Training Program and Certified Operator Course that gives you all the skills you need to get the most from your drone and ensure your projects are successful. We also have an extensive library of resources via the senseFly Knowledge Base, which provides detailed answers and step-by-step guides on a wide range of topics related to the drone and mapping.

I know you’re really excited to talk about it, so tell us about the new backpack that now comes with all senseFly drones.

The new backpack is very exciting! It makes transporting all our drones to and from the field easier than ever and is made from a soft yet durable material that protects it from rain and dust. It also weighs only 4.6 kg (10 lbs) empty. Fully loaded with accessories (drone batteries, laptop, etc.), it weighs under 10 kg (22 lbs), so you have everything you need to fly in one convenient and lightweight case.

What happens if something goes wrong during or after a flight?

We believe in a strong local network of support centers through our authorized distributors. If anything goes wrong, simply contact your local distributor and they will help make it right. But we also have a dedicated Customer Service and Support Team in Europe and the US that work with our partners. Anything that is not serviceable by your local dealer comes to our internal teams. They provide quick answers, spare parts when needed and are on hand for more advanced technical support.

What would you say to a customer considering an eBee Geo or an eBee X?

If you have a very specific need in mind that consists of creating orthomosaics and DSMs, then the eBee Geo is a good platform to start with. If you know you want a platform that offers payload modularity and an even higher level of efficiencies, such as longer flight times, range and PPK functionality, then I recommend the eBee X as your platform of choice.

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