Mortenson Construction finds success with UAS technology on the jobsite
Mortenson Construction is one of the nation’s top builders and a company known for using leading-edge technology. Earlier this year, the company seized the opportunity to test UAS technology as a way to improve on the traditional surveying process.
Seeking a Better Way
From bridge inspection to agricultural scouting to disaster response, curious and innovative professionals, across numerous industries, are discovering the practical business benefits of drones. Taylor Cupp, Assoc. AIA, LEEP AP BD+C, is one of these people.
As Project Solutions Technologist for Mortenson, Cupp is involved in several types of projects and, throughout the years, has always looked for ways to be more efficient and effective on the jobsite.
In March of 2016, Mortenson began a project with a longtime solar client. The scope included a site prep phase that called for moving of 750,000 cubic yards of earth. Because of the large amount of earthmoving involved, the density of survey data, delivery timeframe, and data collection time were all concerns.
Another challenge: existing vegetation and other site characteristics would limit on-foot and vehicular access to certain areas for staking, further compromising the data accuracy of the overall site. Cupp knew there had to be a solution.
Diving Into Drones
Flash back a few years, a friend of Cupp’s was showing off his new drone.
“I remember thinking about all the possibilities I could see it having on the jobsite,” Cupp recalled.
Fast-forward to the 2016 solar project, and this was a chance to put that hunch to the test on the site prep survey work.
Mortenson already had a relationship with RDO Equipment Co., so Cupp knew RDO Integrated Controls offered drones and expertise in UAS technology. He reached out to General Manager, Adam Gilbertson who was excited for the opportunity to show Mortenson senseFly’s eBee.
Gilbertson and three of his colleagues joined Mortenson on the project site to begin the experiment.
Put to the Test
Mortenson relied on machine-controlled site grading for a quality check. Initial survey work was done to establish control. Then, it was time for the eBee to take flight.
The eBee flew the site five times, with each flight lasting 36 minutes. In total, it generated approximately 2 billion data points at a density of 2-centimeters per pixel. According to Cupp, this was an “astronomically” denser amount of data compared to the terrestrial method, which pulled data points at only every 10 to 15 feet.
Aerial imagery was gathered and processed with photogrammetry technology to generate topographical data of finish grade and rough grade of the site. Thanks to the quick turnaround of the eBee, Mortenson was able to collect and analyze the data that same day.
With Flying Colors
In comparison to the terrestrial survey method, the eBee showed topo density improvement of 300 times, an 84% topo accuracy improvement, and a 40-hour time savings.
While Cupp says these metrics were crucial in proving the value UAS technology brings to the jobsite, the real value came from something immeasurable.
“Where we saw the major value of UAS was in the real-time assessment and availability of data,” he said. The technology feasibly allows information to be captured throughout the life of the project. The constant flow of information enables more informed decision-making and adjustments by the team. It also allows consistent and frequent progress tracking.
He added that he’s very optimistic about the FAA’s new Part 107 rules for commercial drones making the use much more obtainable for companies looking to leverage the potential of drones on construction sites. One has to wonder if drones in general are on the path to becoming less of a luxury and more of a standard tool in every company’s toolbox. If you ask Cupp, Gilbertson or any of their colleagues, the answer is a resounding, “Absolutely.”
The June 2016 update to the FAA’s Part 107 regulations for flying drones is just one factor contributing to the increase of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) use in several industries, including agriculture. But that’s only half of the story. As anyone in business knows, in order for a tool to make sense on a worksite, it first has to make sense on the bottom line.
In order to see a return from a drone investment on your farm, you need to know how to use a drone to save time, improve efficiency, and increase yields. Then, the real key to unlocking the true value of a drone comes from understanding the technology behind it.
The high-quality images produced by drones are used for everything from pre-season scouting to monitoring crop health to identifying equipment issues. Drones produce three common image types:
-RGB images are similar to photos from a regular camera. They’re easy to understand, even for the novice drone user, but are the least descriptive of the three types.
Near Infrared (NIR)
-NIR provides images with higher levels of detail than those produced by RGB by utilizing color bands outside the light spectrum visible to the human eye.
Normalized Difference Vegetative Index (NDVI)
-NDVI uses both visible and near-infrared sunlight reflection to measure biomass (vegetation). Similar to NIR imagery, NDVI provides a higher level of detail than RGB images.
Each of these image types play an important role in the various applications for which drones are used.
The coverage area, vantage point, and speed a drone provides makes it a great tool for pre-season scouting. Using standard RGB imagery, the drone can produce 3D maps used for soil evaluations, topography reviews, and identification of drainage issues.
By gathering, reviewing, and evaluating this mapping data prior to planting, you only have a complete view of the whole area, but you may be able to identify problems and adjust planting strategy before, rather than during, the season.
The primary advantage of drones over a manual scouting process is speed. An area normally monitored by a crop scout in several hours can be covered in a single, quick drone flight. This allows for one of the most common uses of drones in agriculture – ongoing monitoring of crop health throughout the season. NIR imagery is most valuable in this process for several reasons.
First, NIR images show heat so they can easily identify areas of plant and water stress. Their high level of detail offers additional applications such as weed detection, defining management zones, evaluating effectiveness of ponding and water management, and quantifying machinery-induced crop limiting factors. This ability to identify concerns and intervene quickly is directly linked to a better year-end harvest.
There are uses for RGB images in-season as well. They’re often used to identify planter skips and evaluate areas of lost production, allowing you to correct the problems.
In addition to their immediate help before and during the season, drone use can be beneficial over long periods of time. Like RGB and NIR, NDVI images can also show ponding, help assess crop vigor, and show changes in field conditions over time.
NDVI images measure the amount of biomass or “greenness” of a plant and create an index, which is then compared to areas of less vegetation and more vegetation. The numbers range from -1 to +1, with high amounts of biomass and green vegetation having increasingly positive numbers.
NDVI values are very sensitive to anything that affects light, such as haze, clouds, or even soil. For this reason, NDVI images are most effective in optimum conditions.
Bottom line: A drone is a helpful tool that can provide quality data and images but it’s up to you to analyze data and use it to make the best decisions for the crop and your farm.
About The Author
Nate Dorsey is an Agronomist for RDO Equipment Co. and based in Moorhead, MN.
Contribution to this article provided by Matt Hayes, Mapping Product Supervisor, and Bill Edmonson, UAV Product Specialist, both for RDO Integrated Controls and based in Billings, MT.
Bridge inspection traditionally requires significant time and manpower. Closing down lanes on a bridge puts a strain on traffic; on smaller or remote bridges, the only option may be ladders or rope access (basically repelling off the edge of the bridge).
RDOIC became involved through our relationship with Collins Engineers, Inc., who is responsible for a lot of bridge inspection work for MnDOT.
Collins Engineers is very familiar with drones and their capabilities on bridge inspections. In Phase I of the project, they utilized a drone where the camera was suspended underneath the unit. For Phase II of the project, they determined that they needed a drone with additional functionality and capabilities. They found the albris by senseFly. Along with representatives from senseFly, our team was on site during the inspections and were even responsible for some of the flying.
The benefits of the senseFly albris were noticed immediately. There was no need to close the bridge for traffic and no need for anyone to repel off the bridge. Utilizing the UAV enabled Collins to inspect the bridge up close and the high-quality imagery made identifying problem areas very straight forward.
Being involved with this project was a great learning opportunity. One of the highlights was watching the UAV impress everyone involved – as we completed the flights, everyone involved really began to realize how drones could truly help in the field and aid in safety and efficiency for both the inspectors and those utilizing the bridge.
UAV usage is expanding every day in new ways, shapes, and forms – industries that may not have initially seen a use for UAVs could soon be rethinking what UAVs could possibly make easier.
Contact our experts for any questions you have regarding the use of drones in your next project.
Three Things You need to Know To Get Ready for Your Part 107 Test
Three Things You need to Know To Get Ready for Your Part 107 Test
The Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) new small drone rule –known as Part 107 – went into effect on August 29. If you’re confused by what Part 107 means to you, we’ve provided three key components to help make sense of it:
Find your test Location
Don’t be in the dark when it comes to finding your nearest testing facility. Check out the official list of FAA testing locations.
One unique service that RDO Integrated Controls offers is an FAA Compliance Package. These customers have access to an FAA consulting team, which includes a personal Ground School instructor available to answer your questions and guide you through your preparation, as well as keep customers informed about changes and announcements from the FAA and Part 107 Compliance tips and tricks.
To learn more about the RDOIC FAA Compliance Package, or for any UAV-related questions, contact us today.
To Rent or Buy?
Why You Shouldn’t Overlook Renting Machine Control & GPS Equipment
We’re in the heart of construction season, a time many companies are asking themselves if they need to rent or buy more equipment to meet project demands.
This same question is commonly asked when thinking of expanding GPS and Machine Control equipment. But with this type of equipment, the questions are a little more specific:
What’s the amount of work ahead?
What’s the current financial situation?
What’s my cost of ownership vs. cost of renting?
GPS and Machine Control rental can be a very viable solution and add profit to your bottom line.
Here are the top 5 reasons for renting 3D Machine Control and GPS equipment:
Equipment Trial: Would you buy a car without test driving it first? When you rent, you can test out one or several models to make sure you find the perfect piece to fit your needs.
No Depreciation and Increased Borrowing Power: When renting, you don’t have to worry about annual depreciation associated with owning equipment. You can always rent the latest, up-to-date equipment in order to be more efficient on your jobsite. Reducing balance sheet liabilities will offer a better asset to liability ratio for your business.
Up-to-Date Equipment: In order to succeed in today’s competitive environment and be as efficient as possible, you must have the latest equipment. Many businesses cannot afford to buy the equipment necessary to gain a competitive advantage and that’s where rental can be a great solution.
Flexibility: With an extensive machine control rental fleet at your disposal, you can take on more projects that require a wider variety of equipment during peak times.
No Capital Investment Needed: Rental expenses can be billed back to the customer or deducted annually as a business expense. Buying a piece of equipment, however, is a capital expense that must be treated as such when taxes are due.
Until recently, unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), or drones, were primarily viewed as either a “cool toy” or the “latest and greatest” piece of technology only owned by the largest and most cutting-edge farms.
As the technology has become more accessible, drones can now be considered a practical business tool for all growers, including hay and forage producers.
Drones can, in a single flight, monitor crop health over hundreds or even thousands of acres. As a result, they’re enabling hay and forage professionals to spend less time on manual scouting and reacting to problems and more time proactively addressing field needs before major issues arise.
While UAS technology is appealing, many are wary because they feel they lack the skills to use one effectively in their business. Before making the leap into drone ownership, every grower should consider the following key areas: cost, regulations and personnel.
There are several options for low-cost drones purchased from big-box retailers. While the low price tag may be attractive, these units are designed for recreational rather than professional use.
Software, high-quality cameras with the option to measure different bands of light, ease of use and overall durability often aren’t part of the package.
On the other hand, drones engineered for professional use are equipped with nearly everything needed to begin using them in a farming operation out-of-the-box. These units are engineered well, include flight-planning and image-processing software and often have great warranties and optional insurance plans.
When purchased at a reputable dealership, they also likely come with service and training from a knowledgeable product expert.
Flight safety should always be a priority, and it also helps to protect the investment. It’s important to consider personal safety, the safety of others that might be in the vicinity and the safety of the equipment.
Respect to regulations
Going hand-in-hand with safety, regulations are a significant part of UAS operations. Anyone who has paid attention to drones in the media has heard about the regulations that come with ownership. Because drones are classified as an aircraft, federal regulations set the requirements all operators must follow.
To be brought up to speed, take a look at the resources available from the FAA and RDOIC.
The final consideration regarding UAS ownership is one often overlooked: personnel. This doesn’t necessarily mean adding more people to a team but could mean developing the right person or people to make it successful.
In order to achieve the maximum benefit of the technology, it’s essential that someone have the resources needed to learn to operate and manage the technology for a business.
All decision-makers should ask themselves the following questions prior to a drone purchase.
First: “Do I have the capability to manage this process myself?
If that answer is no: “Can one of my existing employees take ownership of this?
If you’re still unsure, the question may be: “Do I need to hire an expert or someone who can be trained to be an expert?”
From research to reward
No longer reserved for an elite group of professionals, UAS ownership can be a practical and smart move for all growers. While it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement and surging popularity of these units, a tactical and thorough evaluation is still a must when deciding if drone ownership is the right decision for your business.
How RDO Integrated Controls Creatively Solved a Wisconsin Landfill’s Connectivity Issues
If all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.
Wisconsin in January is cold -- bitterly cold, with temperatures dipping to 20 below with wind chill. This fact was visibly apparent as members of our RDO Integrated Controls team exhaled clouds of conversation as we assessed the frozen garbage field. In the fading winter light, we planned our next move on where to place the two specially fabricated, solar powered radio-repeater stations. But these weren’t just any radio-repeater stations, they were a Rajant Radio 2.4 GHz wireless mesh system specifically tailored for Marathon County’s Bluebird Ridge Landfill; and RDOIC developed this solution while circumventing several formidable obstacles.
For landfills, Carlson Machine Control offers operators, engineers, and site managers the opportunity to omit traditional grade staking operations, increase garbage compaction efforts, and tighten up landfill slopes for federal (EPA) and state compliance standards. However, in order to produce the high accuracy of machine control, and take advantage of valuable data transfer, a combination of an Ultra High Frequency (UHF) radio signal, and a cellular (for data transmission) connection are required. It’s a fairly standard way to approach the connectivity problem on any landfill. Yet, in Bluebird’s case, the RDOIC landfill team had to get technically creative.
The cellular connection at the Bluebird Ridge site was around 1x, too poor for data transmission, and terrible as a connection to a local online server for an accurate GPS position to the landfill’s heavy equipment. Brainstorming, we opted for a robust 2.4 GHz wireless mesh network for both data transmission and GPS/GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) positioning. The landfill’s working face, where all incoming refuse is deposited and spread in layers, was hidden in a thick forest of massive pine trees; an issue for the line-of-sight Rajant system. Our solution was to install several solar powered radio stands on the perimeter of the working face (Fig 1.).
This configuration allows the 2.4GHz signal to easily bounce from one antenna to the next, providing solid terrestrial data transmission and, most importantly, accurate GPS positioning. We then layered the repeater stations over a Google Earth map to show equipment operators and management how their transmission signal appears in relation to their work area.
Since its winter integration, the landfill personnel have adapted to the Carlson Machine Control system. They like the functionality, ease of use and overall support they’ve received from RDOIC. Were we not able to use a multifaceted technology approach with this site, this project may not have been feasible. Using our commitment to being a total solutions provider, our customer was able to find the right tool for the right job.
A professionally ground-up-designed and executed RDOIC solar stand with radio box & panels situated atop an old “capped” landfill cell. We were not allowed to pierce in any way, so we built a flat-bottomed unit which rests on top of the capped cell, weighted down by more than 400 pounds of rock and cement.
The Marathon County Landfill GPS/GNSS and UHF Base Station with computer server, developed by RDOIC team member James Fields.
If you have questions about Carlson Machine Control, or how RDOIC can improve your business's efficiency, contact us today.
Processed Flight Data Formats Part 3: Animations and Triangulations
Part 3: Animations and Triangulations | MPV, AVI, CSV What’s what, and what is it for?
Welcome to Part 3 of our 3 part series on Pix4D and PostFlight Terra 3D digital outputs. In this final segment, we cover Animation Outputs available and touch on the least visual of all the outputs - the CSV of X,Y,Z coordinate points in the point cloud.
An animation created by “flying through” the data set. Although not usable for accurate measurements and meaningful volumes, these animated fly-throughs are popular for marketing, internal reports, and project overviews. Managers can use these to share a visual representation of a site with employees, investors, or online in a website portfolio without the need for modeling software or a high power computer. The files are relatively smaller than a full resolution point cloud or triangulated mesh and are compatible on PC, Apple, and Linux operating systems. Data sets can be flown through as a point cloud or a mesh, as many times and at as many angles and speeds as desired for multiple versions. Animations can be exported as either MPV or AVI and can be edited in popular movie editing programs where music or narration can be added along with special graphics and scene transitions. You can create an animation using the animation tool in the Ray Cloud view.
Also referred to as an “XYZ” file, this text document containing individual point parameters, is not proprietary and can be read by any professional point cloud editing software. This large text document contains X,Y, and Z coordinates of every point in the cloud and can be exported in Space, Tab, Comma, and Semicolon format as a .xyz file. These are readable in Windows Notepad but often times need to be opened in Microsoft Excel and saved as a .csv before imported into point cloud editing software. Your XYZ file will organize the data for the points in this order even if you are using an arbitrary coordinate system with GCP’s in Y,X,Z otherwise known as; Northing, Easting, Elevation. The XYZ file does not include RGB values so the point cloud derived from it will be monochromatic as a result.This short series serves as a starting point for expanding your photogrammetry processing potential. Our goal is to help you learn more about Pix4D and PostFlight Terra #3D output formats and to utilize all the flexibility UAV photogrammetry data can provide.
Missed Parts 1 or 2? Part 1: 3D
3DPDF, DSM/DTM, Mesh, Point Cloud, Contours
FAA Part 107 Rules for Flying Drones was Just Finalized. What’s next?
On June 21, the FAA announced that Part 107 Rules for UAS (Drone) Operations in the National Airspace have been finalized.
The name of the operator's certificate required is "Remote Pilot's Certificate" and clients will need one to fly with Part 107 or their Exemption.
However, the new rules will not be implemented for 60 days, presumably in late August. Until then, you may consider the current operating rules unchanged, and use this window as a time to prepare.
Overall, this announcement has great benefits for the use of UAVs in agriculture, civil engineering, aggregate, and mining industries. It will now be easier for companies to become compliant to fly commercial UAVs.
Here are the highlights from today's announcements:
Getting the Part 107 Remote Pilot Certification for non-FAA Pilots
You may begin the Part 107 Remote Pilot Certification training online.
You may take the Knowledge Exam at an FAA testing Center once the Rule is implemented.
Getting Part 107 Remote Pilot Certification for current FAA Pilots
You may begin the Part 61 additional Remote Pilot Certification training online.
You do not need to take a Knowledge Test at a testing center, but must complete the online training course .
Current 333 Exemption Holders
Your FAA Pilot must complete the online Remote Pilot Certification training online before the implementation of Part 107.
Your 333 Exemption is still valid per the time period stated on it.
Pending 333 Exemptions
You will be notified by the FAA that you are in one of three tiers and be given options to continue or transfer to Part 107
You will be required to be approved and vetted by the TSA in order to fly with a Remote Pilot Certification.
What are the final rules?
The FAA has posted a summary and a complete overview of the final rules, which will be implemented later this summer.
Want to Learn More?
Our experts at RDO Integrated Control offer an FAA Compliance Package as part of our Fleet Shield Services. This consulting service provides best practices, advice, and training on all topics covering compliance with the FAA, TSA, and local governments as they pertain to commercial drone flights. Contact us to learn more.
Motor Grader 3DMC2 Measure-up & Calibration + BONUS White Paper Download
“Does a degree make a difference?”
For anyone dealing with GPS systems, you already know the answer to this. In layman’s terms – yes, a degree can make a significant difference. But determining how that degree can alter accuracy with a 3DMC2 system is another story.
At the RDO Integrated Solutions Center, a team of highly-trained individuals provide solutions for Topcon, Carlson, Sokkia, and all other manufacturers sold and supported by our team.
With call volume growing each year (in 2015, they took more than 5,000 calls), the Solutions Center has heard – and answered – a lot of questions.
The number one topic they receive calls on, however, is a lot more specific than you might think:
Resolving a Northing, Easting, Elevation issue between a 3DMC2 Motorgrader System and a Survey Rover