Automated drone operations: surveying and mapping, minus the dangers and difficulties

In industries such as mining, energy, construction and transport, there are myriad jobs that are rife with difficulties, often placing the experienced and highly trained individuals who do them in serious danger. These risks and time-draining complications have long been accepted as facts of life in these industries; unfortunate necessities for completing essential operations that can have regional, national and even global impacts.

With the leaps and bounds by which technology has been advancing, however, it was only a matter of time until a much improved method was found for some of these onerous tasks. Thanks to the advent of automated drone systems, for surveying and mapping, that time is now.

Surveying danger

Regardless of what industry they’re working in, land surveyors are highly qualified professionals accustomed to working with complex equipment in often remote and hazardous locations. In the mining industry, land surveyors are frequently traversing unstable surfaces such as stockpiles in areas including blasting sites and open mines. For construction and transport projects, land surveyors are often working at active construction sites or along busy roadways. The energy industry requires land surveyors to work in remote locations, including high elevations, where communication can be impeded and requests for help due to emergency issues such as heat exhaustion or wildlife encounters may not be heard quickly enough.

Mapping frustrations

In addition to being life-threatening, traditional surveying operations also suffer from major inefficiencies, requiring significant manpower and investments of time for procuring the surveying information necessary to create the maps and other reports so essential for the success of an organization. Not only that, but for as much time and effort goes into surveying, the reports and maps generated by geomatics professionals can only be as accurate as the measurements provided by human surveyors, who are limited by how many survey points they are able to use due to time and physical constraints. That’s where automated drone systems come in.

Automatic safety improvements

Drones built with end-to-end automation, requiring no human intervention for launching, flying, landing, data collecting, data processing, maintenance, shelter, and payload and battery changing are having a major impact on industrial operations, including offering unprecedented accuracy in surveying and mapping.

Automated drones built for industrial use can provide both on-demand and scheduled surveying. Automated drones can fly into and over areas human land surveyors would face difficulty with, and as automated drone manufacturer Airobotics states, can collect unlimited aerial data as well as more precise survey measurements, including distances, angles, positions, elevations and volumetric measurements. They also complete surveying missions in approximately one-third of the time ground-based methods would take for the same missions.

Automated drones provide a time-efficient surveying option, which translates to a cost-efficient surveying option thanks to the reduction in manpower. With the accompanying increase in accuracy and improved operational efficiencies, there is no reason for human land surveyors to continue to be put into trying or dangerous situations for the sake of surveying.

Automatic accuracy improvements

By making surveying a more time-efficient process, automated drones make surveying more accurate by providing the most precise possible measurements through the exponential increase of the number of points used to provide those measurements. For instance, to determine the volume of a typical stockpile at a mine, land surveyors using ground-based techniques may use between 300 and 400 points whereas an automated drone can use upwards of 10 million. Human surveyors now have an opportunity to adopt a revolutionary, new type of technology to achieve their missions. With the ability to take charge of all inputs and outputs of the drone system’s data, surveyors can reach new heights.

In one pilot project, Israel Chemicals Limited, a leading mining and chemical company, found a 1.37% difference in reported stockpile measurements when compared to measurements obtained using ground-based techniques.

This increased accuracy makes the mapping process easier, as does the powerful software that industrial drones can be equipped with for data processing and analytics, which support important processes such as site planning. These payloads can be automatically swapped based on the type of surveying mission being completed.

Survey says

Technological advancements are revolutionizing industrial operations, and organizations across a number of sectors are poised to reap the benefits of automated drones. Companies that look to the sky for their surveying needs will be able to decrease the risks posed to their human workers, increase the accuracy of survey measurements and all ensuing maps and reports, and improve the time, cost and operational efficiencies of this essential task. All automatically, to boot.