Can drones for mapping and surveying fuel economic growth?

Drones for mapping and surveying can accelerate the economic growth of a nation as the technology directly benefits heavy industries.

The growth of a country is measured by the milestones it achieves in various sectors. And here are the usual suspects- urban planning and development, better infrastructure in mining, railways, energy, irrigation, and precision agriculture. When we think of the budget provisions we’re making in these sectors, are we also paying equal attention to the technological advancements needed? More so about the one common thing all these industries have- a huge manpower requirement for basic mapping and surveying that is the very foundation of building new projects. And what better solution there is than using drones for mapping and surveying when what the nation needs is rapid development in the most economical manner?

Drones solve the big problem that is “doing the groundwork” in the fastest, safest, most accurate and economical way. Around the world, drones are increasingly being deployed for newer utilities. Among those, land surveying has possibly been one of the most rewarding uses of UAVs.

For aerial mapping, drones are perfect. Repeatable, accurate flight makes a drone the ideal flight platform for near-ground mapping. The combination of today’s high-resolution cameras and inexpensive flying devices enables mapping at levels of detail never before imagined.

So, what are the different methods in which drones can be used for surveying and mapping? Here’s a quick look at the technology that drones are equipped with to make this possible.

Photogrammetry is how we extract measurements from photographs, based on the exact positions of surface points. Photogrammetry has been in use since the mid-19th century. If you’ve seen a map on an atlas, you know that it is scaled like “1 cm = 100 km”. But we’ve gone well beyond the realm of cartography.

Photogrammetric analysis can be applied to more than one photograph, making it useful in high-speed photography and remote sensing to detect, measure and record complex 2-D and 3-D motion fields. How do we do this? Simply by feeding measurements and imagery analysis into computational models. With this, we can successively estimate the actual 3-D relative motions.

Another technology that has come in handy for drone mapping applications is Lidar.

Lidar is short for Light Imaging, Detection, and Ranging. The target is illuminated by laser light and a sensor detects the reflected light. This helps in measurement and making a 3-D representation of the topography. It involves both 3-D scanning and laser scanning.

Lidar is commonly used to make high-resolution maps.

UAV lidar and photogrammetry imaging applications are increasing rapidly. When you have GPS enabled drones, aerial survey becomes very cost-effective as compared to using an aircraft equipped with photogrammetry devices, being manually flown over the survey area.

UAVs are relatively inexpensive, and it enables every organization to own their own fleet of drones. This is highly beneficial for infrastructure projects as it allows for rapid surveys across large areas of land. With GPS equipped drones, digital cameras and powerful computers, surveys have an accuracy right down to 1 centimeter.

As we examine drone mapping technology, we can look at all the sectors that benefit from drones for photogammetry and Lidar mapping. This includes (and is not limited to) oil and gas exploration, mining and quarrying, urban planning, and transportation planning. Think of all the roads, railway lines, electricity distribution lines that are still on paper, simply because manpower constraints don’t allow for projects to begin. This is one of the primary challenges that ideaForge drones reliably solve. ideaForge’s Q Series UAV and NINJA UAV has the breakthrough technology that allows for rapid progression of large projects in several capital intensive sectors.

Further, when it comes to the actual visualization of the surveyed data, a Geographic Information System (GIS Software) is employed. This is designed to store, retrieve, manage, display, and analyze all types of geographic and spatial data. When spatial data is visualized through GIS, it allows organizations to make intelligent decisions keeping in mind the opportunities or the hurdles they have on the ground.

However, the way information is stored via GIS is that each feature is represented as a point, line or area. Consider traffic lights were points, roads were lines, pincode boundaries were areas- an aerial photo containing the three would be processed as a raster image. It would allow organizations to read the data pixel-by-pixel.

Finally, the question is not about what one drone or a small fleet of drones can do. Right now, humans are training robots to perform simple tasks. However, with the rapid compilation of data, the predictable future can make swarm intelligence real. Imagine drones that can think and train each other. It would mean that when you incrementally increase the size of your fleet, your new drones would be completely in sync with the ones that are already there. Now, not only can they be covering a large area of land, they could also simultaneously perform specialized tasks.

Now it’s possible to be invested in a future for infrastructure that is as quick as e-commerce currently is.



October 2022

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