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With the explosion of the drone market or the more formal term, unmanned aircraft systems, we asked Travis LeMoine, our Emerging Tech Director and Drone expert to put together the following FAQ’s.
1. What locations are restricted from flight?
In altitude, the FAA restricts a drone to within 400 feet of the ground or a structure. What does this mean to you? In general, mapping and surveying missions are limited to 400’ AGL. Inspection applications of tall structures allow a bit of freedom to fly higher, but it does require that you stay within 400’ of the structure. Another major restriction is the proximity to some airports. If an airport has surface airspace classification then an airspace authorization must be requested and received from the FAA.
2. What drones does Seiler Instrument work with?
We have formal partnerships with DJI Enterprise, Delair-Tech, and Trimble; however, we have relationships with other manufacturers for more specialized systems. DJI platforms that we have the most experience are the Matrice 600 Pro and the Phantom 4 Pro. We are excited for the launch of the Matrice 200 and will begin working with it as soon as it’s available. Delair-Tech recently acquired Gatewing from Trimble and we are pleased with what this means for us and our customers. Delair-Tech will continue to build on the platform and continue the UX5’s reputation for precision.
3. What sensors does Seiler Instrument work with?
We offer a broad range of various sensors. We primarily work with visible spectrum cameras (with similar or the same image sensors found in digital cameras), but we’ve also worked with NIR (near infrared), multispectral, and thermal cameras. We are currently investigating LiDAR options as well. Historically, LiDAR systems for drones have been very expensive and haven’t offered enough accuracy or the right features for many of our customers. We think that is starting to change and will begin offering LiDAR when we are finding an acceptable balance.
4. Do I want a fixed wing or multi-rotor drone?
The answer to this question depends on many various factors. Each type of drone has some positive and negative attributes that better fit them to specific applications. Fixed wing drones, like the UX5 are great for large sites, but suffer from the lack of ability to hover and require larger areas for takeoff and landing. Additionally, fixed wing drones must fly past the edges of the area to be mapped to allow them to turnaround. Multi-rotor drones can take off and land in small areas and have the ability to hover and fly in any direction. The downside to these attributes is that multi-rotors require more power to maintain lift and are somewhat limited in forward speed as some lift from the rotors must be directed down to maintain lift. This typically suits multi-rotors for smaller sites, but allows for use in inspection and areas that have less clearance for takeoff and landing. This said, the lines are blurring more and more as flight times and speeds increase for multi-rotors and clearance areas needed for fixed wings decrease. Additionally, we’re seeing more development in hybrid airframes which are fixed wing drones that have VTOL (vertical takeoff or landing) and hover capabilities. It’s believed that this is going to be another rapidly developing area with drones as companies like Google and Amazon bet big here in efforts to develop systems for package delivery.
5. What software do I need for a drone?
Like we’ve come to expect in the geospatial industry, the answer isn’t a single piece of software, but many. To start, some utilize project or equipment management software to track all of the systems, pilots, batteries, and monitor readiness for flight. Most all drones utilize some sort of flight planning software. Additionally, most manufacturers provide some form of this software. There are quite a few third-party applications available for some of the more common brands, like DJI. Generally, we recommend against using these unless the manufacturer’s software cannot provide the needed functionality. The desire with this recommendation is that we want to avoid finger pointing and ensure we identify the cause more easily if there is a problem. After the flight mission, the data will need to be processed. If it was a surveying/mapping mission, the data processing can be complex (if you want more control of the process.) We currently work with two different providers of image processing software, Trimble Business Center/ UASMaster and Datumate’s various options, however there are quite a few options out there, such as Pix4D or Photoscan. We find that a customer’s typical projects generally determine the best software for them. In some cases, it may be best to utilize both for different types of projects.
Please email [email protected] if you have any more questions.