Not long ago, UAVs were a new technology – admired by many and successfully used by few. Fast forward to today, drones have found their way onto numerous jobsites, and are successfully being used for numerous applications. However, the story doesn’t end here. In fact, the story of UAV technology on the jobsite likely won’t ever end; instead, it will continue to grow, change, and evolve.
Because of this, RDO Equipment Co. and RDO Integrated Controls have continued to make significant moves in the UAV space. Our teams strive to make the technology and products accessible to more customers, and have expanded offerings to provide more choices.
The agriculture industry has been a major focus, with the additions of the senseFly eBee SQ and Sentera DJI Phantom drones. Another major area of focus is the construction industry, particularly, using UAV technology for surveying and mapping.
Last year, RDO Integrated Controls expanded its UAV offerings with the addition of the new senseFly albris drone. One of the albris’ biggest advantages is its ability to switch between capturing video, still, and thermal imagery, all during the same flight.
The team at RDO Integrated Controls is also offering the senseFly eBee RTK drone. Designed to be a survey-grade mapping drone, the eBee RTK is compatible with most base stations and can provide accuracy down to 3 cm with no need for ground control points.
Meeting the changing needs of customers and an ever-evolving product line doesn’t come without foresight. And looking ahead, our team sees surveying and mapping as major areas of potential for integration of drones on construction jobsites.
For those interested in putting UAV technology to work on the jobsite, RDO Integrated Controls is offering special rates and a one-year warranty on its loaner/demo fleet of albris drones. Contact the team at RDO Integrated Controls to find out more.
This blog was originally posted on January 5, 2017 and updated March 1, 2017.
Applications for Drones in Agriculture
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.
Practicing Simplicity – How RDOIC Can Help you add a Simple and Effective Drone/UAV System
Whenever I demonstrate the senseFly eBee and albris drones to potential clients for RDOIC, people are most excited to see the drone fly and land. “Well that was cool!” is generally what spectators say afterwards. Flying is typically what most people think of when it comes to a drone. But the real fun is what comes next.
The aerial photos the drone snaps are combined into one giant mosaic photo. A mosaic image is tied to a project site similar to the design plan for building a project site. Seeing how the existing surface compares to a current design surface gets the greatest reaction. Suddenly, flying the aircraft is now considered the first step, and putting the data to use is the most exciting part of having a drone. Immediate and accurate data is crazy addictive. It is now absolutely necessary to reliably collect this information and becomes the new “normal” for the data users to merge it with their existing design platforms (Civil CAD, Vulcan, ArcMAP, etc).
Any part of flying a drone (aircraft/radio setup and use, battery usage, flight time, camera use, cabling of accessories, flight software, even transport to the site) that’s difficult will not be tolerated for very long. Just like a passenger boarding a plane to arrive at a destination, the drone should be both simple to use and get you there directly, flight after flight. Simple site design in the flight software, easy assembly of the airframe, reliable autonomous flying and landing including built in fail-safe return to home redundancy, and the ability to handle some wind are expected. There may be six or eight flights that need to be done that day, not just one.
There are legal requirements in commercial drone ownership, like having an FAA exemption and a pilot. Our team at RDOIC helps prepare a standard application that is customized to assist a company with both the application process and follow-up paperwork for flying in certain areas after receiving the exemption. A drone has to be approved as an aircraft (unless it is already approved like the eBee and albris). RDOIC assists with the registration of the aircraft. A pilot that is familiar with your system can be on retainer, or like many companies, you can grow a pilot from within (usually employees are more than willing to get their basic sport pilot license if sponsored by the company).
A simple and reliable drone system is not only efficient in itself but makes everyone who uses the data that much more valuable. Contact our team to learn how adding a drone to your business isn’t as complicated as you might think.
North Dakota Continues as Technology Pioneer – This Time with Drones
It’d be difficult to miss the discussion of UAVs in North Dakota. In fact, the state is being heralded as the “Silicon Valley of Drones.” More and more companies are recognizing the possibilities that drones can provide them.
Recently at Drone Focus, a once-a-month meetup, industry leaders provided insight into their uses of UAVs. These Drone Focus meetings, organized by Emerging Prairie, are a time where users, businesses, and government officials can ask questions, discuss the technology and regulations, and learn and help one another. (Read full coverage of the February meeting here.)
Scott Schumacher (@RDOICScottS), Account Manager in Moorhead, MN, represented RDO Integrated Controls at the event and spoke about how the team is helping companies find new, unique uses for drones, like working with the Minnesota Department of Transportation on a bridge safety project (see more information about that project here).
“We’re happy to have a seat at the table to discuss how UAS technology makes our customers more efficient, productive, and profitable,” commented Scott.
There’s so much happening with UAVs not only in North Dakota, but across our entire footprint, and you won’t want to miss it. Check out all our recent drone blog posts and contact us to find out more.
And Save the Date for the 2nd annual Drone Focus Conference, happening June 1 in Fargo, ND. Back for its second year, this event will feature presenters from across the nation, local industry leaders, and technology innovators who will share insight on the growth, advancement, and future of the drone industry. RDO Equipment Co. is proud to return as an event partner.
Generating Highly Accurate, 3D Data Using a senseFly albris Drone
We’ve recapped the results of a project in which the senseFly albris close mapping and inspection drone was used to conduct a photogrammetric land survey of a construction site, using ground control points (GCPs). For this project, an albris was deployed to acquire 2D, high-resolution images at 2mm ground sampling distance (GDS). Each flight’s images were then used to generate a 3D point cloud.
The results show that 3D points clouds produced with an albris can reach global precision comparable to a typical total station survey and, as such, meet the typical accuracy of construction projects.
While professional drones are commonly used in land surveying and GIS applications today, it is unusual to see them employed on construction sites for highly accurate survey work. The senseFly albris close mapping and inspection drone was developed to achieve the kind of accuracy capable of changing this perception.
The project featured five aerial targets and Ground Control Points (GCPs), and five check points (benchmarks) over half an acre construction site featuring a complex environment with trees and buildings. The flight was conducted at a constant height of 45 ft above take-off, which led to the ground sampling distance of .08 inches. 108 images were collected in total.
The results achieved show high positional accuracy throughout the point cloud. This is due to the high resolution sharpness of the flight’s images, and the quality of Pix4D’s processing engine. See results below on checkpoints placed around the flight.
The albris flight (see above) achieved 2.1mm in X, 1.9 mm in Y, and .1mm in Z (RMS). The accuracy achieved was due, in part, to the high relative accuracy of the GCP’s, and in part due to the excellent re-optimization achieved by Pix4D.
The albris survey produced a 3D point cloud of millimeter accuracy, equivalent to the survey achievable using a total station. The albris solutions—the drone and its two included software programs—is therefore proved to be a high performance surveying instrument, capable of fitting into existing surveying workflows. Additionally, albris-produced point clouds provide an extraordinary density of points and additional information, such as texture.
To learn more about the capabilities of the senseFly albris for your next project, or to learn about all our UAV solutions, contact us today.