Mapping and surveying complex environments
Latvian drone and drone software company FIXAR has been out testing its flagship outdoor drone, the FIXAR 007 on a number of use cases in land surveying and mapping.
The company produced the following report, which stems from its tests of the FIXAR 007 in surveying and mapping a mountain, a railway line and some settlement areas.
Whether the Fixar drone becomes the go to drone for related operations in the future is anybody’s guess. But it seems to have performed admirably in these projects.
FIXAR has operations in over 20 countries around the world, including in Africa.
Unmanned Aerial Systems, often referred specifically to drones, are becoming more common in land operations – mapping, surveying and inspection for the land development. The technologies have rapidly developed and now time-consuming tasks can be carried out efficiently and safely by a drone. Rapid technological development has also made drone technology more and more affordable of late.
Land inspection and development requires an accurate map and in-depth knowledge of the land. In order to get detailed and reliable maps and surveys, an increasing number of developers are using and relying on drone-based solutions reducing operation time and team size in comparison with ground-based methods.
The most common drone equipment for land mapping and surveying missions includes high resolution RGB photo camera, 3D scanners or LiDAR sensors. A drone equipped with these can replace conventional ground-based methods, and is particularly useful in challenging work environments, such as swamps, thick plantations or protected areas where conventional road transport and heavy machinery are prohibited.
The other benefit brought by drone technology is the reduction of risk for humans. Specialists are no longer required to handle operations on dangerous or hazardous sites, as a drone operator can execute the mission from a safe distance.
The drones can serve in surveying, mapping, monitoring the objects or land sectors and allow analysis for quality decision making. Let’s look at several diverse cases where drones substantially contribute.
Aerial Photography on Mt Elbrus
Mountains are one of the challenging areas to execute mapping and surveying.
And this is where drones step in.
In this use case, the team from FIXAR flew the company’s flagship outdorr drone, the FIXAR 007, to perform aerial photography at an altitude of 4,500 meters above sea level, on the peaks of Mount Elbrus in Russia.
Situated in the western part of the Caucasus Mountains, in the Southern Russian republic of Kabardino-Balkaria, the dormant volcanic Mt Elbrus peaks at 5,642 metres, making it easily the tallest mountain in Europe.
The reason why FIXAR was sent to the area was to create an accurate map using orthophoto as part of geodesic surveys for the construction of a Cable car in mountainous terrain.
The team opted for aerial photography.
Still, flights over mountainous regions are unpredictable due to rapid changes in weather and the thin air, sharp altitude differences requiring fine-configuration of the flight plan to achieve the required resolution of the images. Accurate vertical landing is mandatory, as landing with a parachute is most likely to lead to loss of the aircraft: wind drift and even inability to locate the device in the undulating terrain.
The FIXAR 007 helped solve these challenges with its aerodynamic design, which allows for vertical take-off and landing from/to unprepared areas with an accuracy down to one-meter radiuses, without the need for fancy take-off and landing platforms like a catapult or a parachute. The aircraft is resistant to wind speeds of up to 12m/s.
The drone also has a specially designed propelling unit for efficient flights at altitudes above 3000 meters – the FIXAR xGroundControl software (xGCS), allowed to load a specified altitude map and set a flight plan.
This software offers the possibility to set a minimum safe altitude. Adherence to the rules stated at the pre-brief for building a flight plan in the mountainous terrain ensures safe flights. FIXAR xGCS functionality allows a constant navigation altitude and high-definition images to be collected over any terrain throughout the entire flight. With no magnetometer sensors onboard, FIXAR 007 is fully independent of the magnetic environment and can be operated in the vicinity of reinforced concrete structures, shafts and mines, plus the system is fully autonomous from take-off to landing.
Detailed images of the terrain with a total area of 8.2 km2 were made with a resolution of 5 cm/pixel for a total period of 4 hours. In severe weather conditions in the high mountainous terrain, high-quality data-set was gathered and later used for the design and construction of the Cable car.
Mapping of Site Boundaries
Aerial photography is one of the most efficient and fastest methods of obtaining, studying and presenting objective spatial data for topographic plans, construction monitoring, etc.
At one time, FIXAR conducted an aerial photography mission of a cottage settlement for a youth sports and health camp. Vertical take-off and landing were carried out from the stadium located in the camp territory. Safety was a major priority and concern and it was ensured during all performed flights over the settlement area.
Aerial photography of the terrain with a total area of 1200 hectares was made with the resolution of 4 cm/pixel for a total of 6 operational hours with the equipment load weighing about 1000 grams on board.
The mission resulted in photographic materials of the required quality, which were subsequently used for cadastral work to map and define the boundaries of land plots in the cottage settlement.
Aerial Photography of a Railway Line
The team carried out aerial photography of a railway section to clarify the integrity of the security zone and infrastructure elements around it. The total length of the railway section surveyed with the FIXAR 007 was 32 km, and the width area of the recorded section was about 100 meters.
The total time spent with the pre-flight preparation, territory analyses and carried out work was of 6 hours. Flights for photographic and data collection took no more than 2 hours and were performed by several round-trip flights in a line pattern. Images were gathered using a 5 cm/pixel resolution. The used payload weight was 1000 grams.
Aerial photography of a long linear object is a complex process with a lot of obstacles. It is fundamental that find the right equipment is used in mapping out such areas. Even with drone technology involved, multiple flights are required in both directions to cover the length of the object to be examined, with some of these flights covering long distances and sometimes under rough weather conditions.
Often loss of the navigation signal from satellites leads to many drones having to be grounded, resulting in extensive operational downtime but also unnecessary time spent locating the aircraft in remote locations – not to mention the possible total loss of equipment.
High-definition photographic materials and data were obtained and subsequently used for a detailed analysis of the railway infrastructure and the security zone along the railroads.
Survey for Land Development
Specialists from Latvia University of Life Sciences and Technologies (LLU) took full advantage of the FIXAR 007 unmanned aerial system in order to perform a land evaluation for further Vecauce mansion (Latvia) complex and adjacent farm development plans.
As further steps, LLU in cooperation with the local municipality considers the opportunity to leverage the FIXAR technology to test the performance in field conditions as well as to estimate real costs and to determine the pricing of potentially provided services.
“We are looking forward to applying FIXAR drone-based technologies in order to introduce an EU-supported training course for LLU students,” says Indulis Levins, Board Member, managing director at LLU MPS “Vecauce”, SIA (Latvia University of Life Sciences and Technologies study and research farm “Vecauce” Ltd). “We believe that drones like FIXAR 007 can become an integral part of smart farming while refining techniques and practices in real agriculture conditions.”
The survey mission was performed using FIXAR 007 aircraft equipped with high-quality RGB camera Sony Alpha A6000 providing output images with 2 cm/px (0.8 in/px) accuracy. The detailed high-quality orthomosaics with 2 cm/px (0.8 in/px) accuracy for further analysis were created.
The survey took 38 minutes during which 58 ha (143 ac) of hilly terrain was covered. Compared to manual work, which usually takes about 2 working days, the FIXAR 007 UAV system made it possible to complete the project 15 times faster.