Drone Payloads for Business Transformation | Part 2

Advancements in drone payloads are a milestone in the streamlining of operations management in the new-age. Why not automate operations through a higher degree of surveying, mapping and surveillance? Drones offer this and much more.

The leading players like ideaForge have besieged inefficiency in every way bringing in the new-and-improved age of doing business. It’s the most realistic application of machine learning and Internet of Things with far-reaching applications. We spoke about the high-impact decisions enabled through the drones in part 1 of this discussion.

Let’s quickly jump back in to how drone-payload technology is transforming operations.

What is GPS tagging using GCPs?

Imagine being asked to survey multiple acres of land to ascertain its value or the amount of work it would require (cost-benefit analysis). Surveyors used to manually map the area, a process that took many weeks, even months. Then they bought in support of Ground Control Points (GCP). The GCPs are instruments which were placed at strategic intervals along the intended land.

The GCPs connect with overhead satellites for multi-factor positioning of their (and surrounding) location. The surveyors plant many such GCPs making a network, creating a ground grid. This helps gives an accurate picture (in terms of precise latitude, longitude and altitude) of the terrain. This information is used in subsequent mapping of the area. These GCPs improve on the Global Positioning System (GPS) for more accurate locations. This location mapping of a point is called GPS tagging.

Why is accuracy so important? Well, imagine requisitioning test-drilling at a point for oil (or minerals). What if the planned drilling point was erroneous by a factor a few metres, or even a few feet? It would lead to wrong assessments and results (leading to faulty decisions). The corrective measures, assuming the error, would escalate costs. The same goes for evaluation and planning for a construction (or agricultural) site.

How drones boost GPS tagging with PPK and RTK?

The problem with traditional GCPs is the time and equipment cost. The installation is time consuming (drudging up resource cost) when setting up a grid across multiple acres. The GCPs itself take close to a day to calibrate themselves to a point of acceptable precision (adding to the rented equipment and processing time cost).

Drones here act as clear and direct catalyst for GCPs. They help interconnect the GCPs across distances. They also enhance their calibrations cutting down the time cost. What this means is that with drones processing the GPS tagging from a layer in the middle of the satellites and the ground, you would need far less GCPs. The grid would require at least 40-50% less equipment for the same (or better) accurate surveying and mapping.

Drones and their high-definition cameras help process the GPS information with orthomosaic-corrected imaging. Multiple images are stitched together with perfect GPS tagging. The information (and its subsequent processing) can be conducted in real-time with drones. This is called Real-Time Kinematics (RTK). The information can also be processed just after the drone touches home-base after their trip. This is called Post-Processing Kinematics (PPK). This data helps in speeding up the creation of far more accurate 3D Digital Elevation Models (DEMs).

Drone-enabled RTK and PPK cuts down the time taken for surveying and mapping by 60-70%. The equipment, time and resource costs are reduced by at least 50%. The entire process can be finished within days and not weeks (as required earlier). This results in timely decisions and project culmination.

LiDAR technology | Drones with Laser Detection and Ranging

It’s not just drone-enabled HD cameras that have such an impact on operations management. There are many other imaging technologies that greatly enhance the processing capabilities of drones. One major technology here, is LiDAR. It’s an acronym for light detection and ranging.

LiDAR uses laser pulses to accurately create a virtual picture of any entity or terrain in its path. It works in a similar manner to Radar and Sonar. It processes the time taken between emission and reception of a laser pulse to draw-up a recreation of the target.

Drone-enabled LiDAR technology helps create accurate 3D-Models of equipment of the land. They help create clear vegetation and watershed mapping for a location. Furthermore, they help with equipment and project maintenance. Drone-led LiDAR can be used to detect surface anomalies across a bridge, a building or a boiler. They will point out and tag even fine faults like cracks which can be fixed instantly without any disastrous implications.

Thermal imaging | Deep insights beyond the visuals

You might have heard a lot about thermal imaging and it’s the easiest to grasp. Thermal cameras capture distinct infrared (on the higher side) radiation to visualize even the most obscure marks across long distances. Thermal imaging is broadly classified into black-hot and white-hot depending on the spectrum, each having their own applications. Thermal imaging is usually associated with night vision as they function beyond the human-visual range.

Drone-led thermal imaging gives a huge boost to homeland and critical defence forces. They help with detailed surveillance and reconnaissance. They act as scouts to gauge first-hand intelligence to plan future activities.

For enterprises, drone-enabled thermal imaging is extremely important. They can spot faults and anomalies across vast agricultural fields, solar installations, coal (or other mineral) stockpiles, critical equipment, etc. They help cut down on the manual surveillance required to spot these hidden faults, which are often fraught with dangerous human interventions. Drones can tag the fault location, directing the correctional forces to do their thing. This saves resources, time, money and human lives.

Spectral imaging | Drone-led electromagnetic spectrum processing

Hyper and multispectral imaging processes electromagnetic information for each captured pixel. The difference between hyper and multispectral lies in the range of spectrum they process. Drone-enabled spectral imaging is used to detect problems that wouldn’t be otherwise visibly detectable. They have a huge application in the agricultural sector. They can detect the health of standing crop, even diagnose them with diseases even before they show visible signs.

They can showcase the ripeness of each batch of crop, helping the farmers to optimize their harvest. It also helps them plan their entire operations, right from the resources, warehouse, transport, etc. required for distribution.

They are also useful in detection of harmful fumes/emissions in industrial zones or oil seepage near a plant.

NDVI and Near Infrared imaging | Boosting global agricultural yield

Drones have a wide range of applications in agriculture. Perhaps they have the largest transformative power here too. Agriculture must support a growing population, where the consumption would increase by 60-70% to feed a population of 9.2 billion by 2050. Drones are the perfect assistants for farmers giving them complete information and analytics to plan their operations, getting the most out of their yield.

Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) and Near Infrared Imaging (NIR) help create a digital (visual and thermal) map of the entire field. Drone-led imaging helps identify the ranging fertility of the land. Farmers can have a detailed grid showing them which zones need which fertilizers and where to begin their plantation. They can plan everything from seeding to harvest based on this information. They can even time the process up to precision so that when one batch is processed, another is just about ripening.Like spectral imaging, NIR also helps gauge the health of the crop along with infestation detection cutting down yield loss.

Induced polarization and geophysical imaging | Sub-surface mineral detection

High-end aerial imaging with drones enables induced polarization and geophysical analysis. Supervisors and operators can identify the sub-surface mineral make-up across the terrain. This is a big boon for the oil and gas, and mining industry. Drone-led upstream evaluations help find drilling points and understand equipment and resource requirements for proper operations planning.

These drone-tech advancements have increased the efficacy of preliminary surveying, planning, actual operations and overall efficiencies for companies.

Package delivery | Future is now with drone-led deliveries

Now, to tie a bow on this long piece, we cover the most sought-after application of drones in recent times. Commercial drones have garnered mass interest with the vision of fast drone-enabled package deliveries. Package drops were in play for some time now. Drones were used to drop medical supplies in disaster struck areas (as one of the activities they performed in rescue operations). In the past few years, precise package deliveries using drones has captured the collective imagination of the people and companies alike.

Drones have evolved in their endurance and are much more secure and stable. They are able to travel faster and better than ever before. They can carry packages directly to the customers, totally revitalizing the last mile delivery operations for the retail and e-commerce industries.

You have seen, over this two-part article, how drone payloads have transformed how we see operations and conduct business. It has laid the foundation for a myriad of applications across industries. This is just the beginning.

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