Drone Work is More Than Playing with Toys.

A drone is much like a hammer, or a paint brush. It’s a tool with which you can create. The majority of the drone work that I do, doesn’t consist of flying drones, in fact it only makes up a small amount of it. What I really do, is help businesses utilize 3D scanning, imaging and mapping to improve processes, efficiency, safety, and save money. This is done through the use of many tools, and includes data from survey equipment, scanners, airplanes, drones, satellites, and more. The images from drones are very useful, but creating digital copy of the world that is dimensonally accurate, is even more valuable.

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) is a group of technologies that makes up modern mapping. If you’ve ever used a mapping service like Google or Apple Maps, these are essentially GIS platforms. Beyond what you would consider to be a map, you can plot data based on location, which is typically used in demographic data, population statistics, concentrations, etc. Essentially with GIS, you can associate a location on earth, with any kind of data.

The technology is particularly useful in understanding assets over time. A great example, is in construction. Buildings are created from plans, which are drafted in 3D software by architects. These plans include the dimensions and materials of a building. Using this 3D mapping technology, you can create a digital copy of the site on a weekly basis, and because it is dimensionally accurate, you can compare the real life site, to the plans. This creates the ability to document the different phases of construction, and once you create the digital copy, you can make a measurement anywhere within it. Fast forward to when the building is complete, you can then compare the condition of the building year after year, and assess maintenance needs, and carry out inspections.

Another great example is the monitoring the environment. By having repeatedly mapping the earth you can evaluate changes over time. Geologists want to understand the formation and movement of the earth, which can be measured by comparing the position of natural features over time. Scientists want to better understand physical characteristics such habitat, and vegetation change due to weather, animals, humans, etc. Having a current understanding of elevation can be used to predict flooding, erosion and much more.

Satellite map of a marsh from Google Maps (2009)
Drone map of the same marsh (2020)

The field is very young, and thus, it has a ton of terms used to describe it. GIS has principally included 2D maps, based off of satellite imagery and survey techniques. Satellite imagery tends to not be of the highest resolution, which is where drones really shine; they have high resolution cameras, and are relatively close to the ground. Recently, GIS technology has evolved to handle 3D maps. 3D mapping, or “Reality Capture” is an overarching descriptor of various types of technology used create 3D maps / models of the world. It encompasses: 3D mapping, digital twins, 3D modeling, photogrammetry, photoscanning, pictometry, laser scanning, terrain modeling, digital elevation modeling, digital surface modeling, and much more. This blog will focus on drone work, including 3D mapping, and a variety of other uses.

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