LiDAR surveys by drone: rising flight endurance

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LiDAR surveys are used to create precise 3D terrain models for mapping and more, and are an important commercial application for the drone industry. However, battery limitations and the associated short flight times remain a problem. The Californian company Skyfront is now working with the European UAV LiDAR solution provider Routescene to investigate the effects of increasing flight times with Skyfront’s Perimeter 8 gasoline-electric hybrid multicopter.

Drones battery life is an issue for all commercial drone operations. However, when combined with the weight of LiDAR sensors, flight time can be severely affected. “Usually a drone works with lithium-polymer batteries like a DJI M600 and a payload of 3.3 kg (e.g. a Routescene UAV LiDAR system) with a flight time of around 15 to 20 minutes,” says one Press release. “Landing, replacing batteries and taking off between flights can take longer than the flight itself, which has a direct impact on the size of the survey area that can be flown each day.”

The Effects of Reducing Downtime in LiDAR Surveys

At larger LiDAR survey sites that may require more than one take-off and landing pad, the limited flight time can result in significant downtime that is costly. Teams from Skyfront and Routescene wanted to show that extending flight time by using a hybrid drone can significantly affect data collection productivity.

The result was an impressive flight time of 3 hours for the Skyfront Perimeter 8 with a Routescene LiDAR payload: downtimes were reduced so much that a typical two-day project could be completed in one day. “The Skyfront Perimeter 8 is a hybrid UAV with eight rotors that is designed to transport heavier payloads such as LiDAR. For safety reasons, Perimeter 8 has both a rotor and complete motor redundancy, ”explains the approval.

Gert Riemersma, Founder and CTO of Routescene, commented: “Through these tests, the team found that the biggest benefit was in terms of efficiency. Due to the longer flight times, only one take-off and landing site was required, so there was no longer any need to travel between locations to be set up repeatedly. In addition, considerable time savings were achieved by eliminating the lead times for changing batteries. We estimate that with a flight time of 3 hours and 5 m / s you can easily cover 54 survey line kilometers, or just over 500 acres. This is roughly the equivalent of 10 x M600 flights, which would normally take two days. An impressive result that reduces two survey days to less than one day by avoiding downtime. “

The Routescene UAV LiDAR system has an integrated solid-state disc that can store data worth over 13 hours. “More than enough for a full day on site,” explains the team. “The quality of the data collected is monitored in real time throughout the drone survey using Routescene’s QA monitor, a web-based app, to ensure that you exit the survey page with the data you need. At the end of the survey, the data can be downloaded with the data processing software LidarViewer Pro from Routescene and checked on site. “

Gert added, “Routescene has a strong ethos of quality assurance and quality control (QA / QC). The implementation of strict quality assurance improves data quality and efficiency. QA Monitor gives you confidence in the data you are collecting as you collect it. The last thing you want after completing a long survey flight is to realize that a problem has arisen and the team needs to mobilize to fly the area again. It prevents time from being wasted. You can identify a problem immediately, fix it there and then on the spot, increasing the efficiency achieved through longer flight times. “

Longer flight times not only increase productivity, but also have a positive effect on safety. “The riskiest parts of a UAV flight are take-offs and landings when the drone is controlled manually and therefore accidents are most likely. Reducing the number of take-offs and landings obviously directly reduces the likelihood of an accident, ”says Skyfront.

Brian Maxwell, Vice President of Business Development at Skyfront, said, “Our 3-hour flight time was particularly impressive and enabled a large amount of 3D data to be captured efficiently. We have found that we can significantly improve the resilience, efficiency and safety of UAV LiDAR surveys by increasing flight time. “

Christian Andresen from the University of Wisconsin added: “In 2017 and 2018, as part of the NGEE Arctic project, we surveyed areas of the Arctic to study changes in permafrost and ecosystem structure. What we have observed in the 2 years of our work there was how much the drone technology has improved and what positive effects this had on flight times. The location in the Arctic was exceptionally remote and any incremental improvements will have a significant impact on our efficiency and reduce the time spent on site. A drone that could fly for 3 hours would make a dramatic difference to our future surveys in this remote area. “

Miriam McNabb is editor-in-chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a marketplace for professional drone services, and a fascinating observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Author of over 3,000 articles focusing on the commercial drone space, Miriam is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry. Miriam graduated from the University of Chicago and has over 20 years experience in high-tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
For advice or writing in the drone industry, email Miriam.

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