Drones & Software For Surveying


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I too am about to purchase a drone to get my survey/mapping/aerial imagery business up and running. I am a licensed Land Surveyor (LS) in Western Washington and am looking forward to making the leap.  Prior to being an LS, I was a licensed pilot and the UAV Coach Part 107 school to review for the exam and passed with flying colors within 2 days of the test being made available.

After spending quite a long time researching at various models, including custom and self built, and taking the UAV Coach course on mapping, I have settled on the DJI Phantom 4 Pro. I likely will not do the plus as I want to use an IPad due to the greater flexibility in applications than when using DJI's tablet, even though it does have the very nice brightness. There are other more expensive drones and camera's, but while the 20MP, mechanical shutter camera that comes with the p4p is likely the lowest resolution I would go, it will do the job I need and the price point cannot be beat. Particularly enticing are all the collision avoidance and RTH function built into the p4p. A custom rig would be too many headaches to get started with so that was the first thing off the list.

As for software, I would advise taking the course offered here for to see the flight control applications, and see the differences. Then just try each out.  They are not particularly expensive.

As for imagery processing software, if you are not going with something like Maps Made Easy that does the work for you, I would definitely recommend Photoscan Pro. I tried about every one of the various programs on a real world project  and Photoscan was by far my choice. Pix4D is good as well but Photoscan's workflow and ability to process were my favorite. May of the other programs are variations of the same thing (which is some of French, I thin, program). That's just my opinion and I know Pix4D is popular and making changes and improvements all the time. It just didn't work as well for me.

So there's my 2 cents!


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On 5/19/2017 at 2:31 PM, Nickell said:
I'm reviewing the drones to purchase and would like any recommendation on a Drone and Software for mining purposes, measuring stockpiles and 3D mapping.

My first question is what size area are we talking about? A small site has different requirements vs a large area to be flown. If the job site is under 10 acres then you have a wide range of products you could choose from to fly the site and gather your data. For something larger, then you might start looking at a UAS that can handle larger areas on one battery and a higher degree of precision like a FireFly 6 Pro with RTK (https://www.birdseyeview.aero/). I am currently using a DJI Inspire 1 v2.0 for mapping and ortho work which works fine for small areas as long as you use GCPs to bolster its accuracy. It might work on smaller jobs for you as well though you should probably look at the Inspire 2 which has better range and a better camera.

On the software side, Pix4D, Correlator3D or Photoscan should provide you the imagery that you need and the tools for volumetric measurements that you want. All have trial versions and you should do your homework and try each out to determine what works best for you.

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  • 3 weeks later...

When do you see Open Drone map being stable and reliable? Also the software is meant to be run under ubuntu. Nothing wrong with ubuntu but I have never used that os and I particularly do not want to deal with running the vm to run Open Drone in a windows environment. Is there any chance to Open Drone being run natively under iOS or windows? Thanks.

Edited by eColumbia99
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Most people asking this type of question are drone enthusiasts trying to add some utility to a consumer drone to make money.  Nothing wrong with that, but if your livelihood depends on certified data then acquisition of that data with the level of software and hardware suggested in this thread is unlikely.

Its the entire drone "system" -- type of drone, sensors, workflow and processing software, not any single component that determines total positional error.  "Pretty" orthomosiac's without accuracy are "art" and worthless to civil engineers and surveyors.  

The following is a quote from an article by Mike Tully:

 "It matters very little what the drone vendor says about the positional accuracy of its products. A combination of factors (and seldom a single factor) affects the positional accuracy of an orthophoto, DEM, or other derivative of remotely sensed data. Poor operation of the best drone can vitiate the positional accuracy of a deliverable. If a drone manufacturer claims their camera is accurate to two pixels for any given ground sample distance (GSD), the resultant positional accuracy for the orthophoto is dependent on each of the following factors. [The list below is not a comprehensive list of error sources but includes the major contributors of error.]

  1. the cameras inherent potential accuracy
  2. the stability of the flight
  3. the quality of the GPS data
  4. the quality of the inertial system (if the drone even uses one),
  5. the quality of the DEM used to make the orthophoto, and
  6. the type and quality of processing of the raw imagery into an orthophoto (this factor alone has several important sources of error from a “raw” to “finished” product)
  7. the number and quality of ground control points"

We recently scanned a power substation:

http://realitymodeling-pw.bentley.com/a3D/Construct Timelapse/models/4-12/App/?scene=http://realitymodeling-pw.bentley.com/a3D/PGE/Las Aguilas/Rough Draft/scene/production_1.3mx#%2F

This is a low resolution model using NADIR and Oblique aerial data.  In order to generate a 3D model that can be certified you need to be able to blend data, in this case NADIR, Oblique and ground based data. We have tried Pix4D, DroneDeploy, Maps Made Easy and SimActive, none of them worked for this application.    

We used ContextCapture, what I believe is a bit unique about our process is that this is the second scan and and when compared with the first and the design blueprints its remarkably accurate and repeatable.  If we had flown this with a Phantom and DroneDeploy for example, not only would there have been a discrepancy between the models from the two missions, there would have been a discrepancy between two models using the same mission data.  Not only is repeatability valuable in data certification but its a necessary precondition for Civil Engineers to trust aerial data.

If you have a customer where positional accuracy is not important and you can charge enough for the data to make it worth collecting then that's as good a reason to hang out a shingle as any but if your going to attempt to sell your data services then accuracy and precision is your value proposition and that goes way beyond including GCP's.  

What I recommend to most people asking these questions is to find a company, civil engineering, land surveyor, mapping etc., who are already profitable and interested in researching the viability of adding drones as a service, partner with them and see if you can figure it our together.

That can work but if the only value you bring to this limited partnership is a toy drone and a iPhone App its probably not going to be a fruitful relationship.   

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