In the past, aerial imaging used to involve either the commissioning of expensive manned planes or relatively low-resolution and sometimes out-of-date satellite imagery.
However, with the arrival of drones or unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technology, professionals in need of accurate geo-data can achieve the bird’s eye view they require to assess the situation on the ground cost-effectively, at a higher resolution than satellites can provide, and - critically - at a time that suits their exact schedule and data needs.
Data captured by drones has a positive effect across several verticals, boosting the efficiency and productivity of professionals working across fields as diverse as land surveying, environmental protection, civil engineering, agriculture, forestry and many more – enabling these professionals to map specific areas quickly, accurately and safely, including remote areas that were previously inaccessible by foot.
The result: drone technology is helping professionals in different fields achieve successes and breakthroughs that they could only dream of just a few short years ago.
By looking at aerial data quality, data analysis, costs and future opportunities with drone data, we can explore the different ways drones increase success and job efficiency for professionals:
Improving aerial data quality
Collecting data via satellite imagery can be limiting. Results might be slow to arrive or the resolution not high enough to be of value. Drone technology, however, can offer the ability to collect crucial high-resolution data, of down to a couple of centimetres per pixel, on demand, without booking aircraft, waiting for weather conditions to improve, or traversing the landscape. In short, drones offer the convenience of working largely on demand.
This flexibility enables professionals to make better, more timely decisions to increase productivity and make educated decisions, fast. In the agriculture industry, for example, drones make it simple for farmers and crop consultants to capture high-resolution photos of fields. These photos can then be transformed into index maps, used to analyse crop health and create highly accurate ‘prescriptions’ to load into modern tractors — allowing professionals to optimise their application of water and chemicals. This makes not only for a more cost-efficient operation, but also a greener one.
Accurate data analysis
Simply flying a drone and collecting images or video is, however, only the first step in using data. The user then needs to process this data in order to create data products such as maps, digital surface models, 3D point clouds and more, before evaluating these findings in order to benefit from the data captured.
This analysis might involve assessing the map of a newly altered post-flood landscape, recommending anti-erosion measures, determining a site’s new boundaries, measuring the volume of a stockpile, or assessing a property-related insurance claim.
When data is local, accurate, and up-to-date, work efficiency only improves.
The quick and none-intrusive form of data collection can also reduce business costs – allowing operators to map an area more quickly than booking third-party imaging services or using slow, labour-intensive terrestrial techniques.
For example, collecting bridge inspection data with a drone is often now a single-day job for two staff, compared to the traditional approach of bringing a team on-site to build scaffold or operate a hired platform in order to get at the underside of the bridge, at a cost of up to thousands of pounds per day — not to mention the increased safety for those staff involved.
The future of drone data
Data has become one of the key drivers of almost every business in today’s transforming world – and the ability to produce and analyse quality data on-demand looks set to become a critical component of any successful business or venture.
Drones in all shapes and forms are now being used across various verticals, from engineering to agriculture, all with common geo-data needs– namely to document, map and model specific sites, in high-resolution, from above. The ways in which drones are being used around the world are expanding all the time, from creating real-time maps of how diseases spread, to mapping volcano craters to assess the likelihood of further eruptions.
Other fields that are set to benefit in the future include archaeology, search and rescue, emergency response, package/medicine delivery and internet service provision, to name just a few.
Looking forward, drones and their data will become more accessible and used more widely by professionals in virtually every industry as organisation’s become aware of this technology’s safe and efficient info-gathering potential.
Jean-Christophe Zufferey, CEO and co-founder of senseFly