Geospatial data is becoming more complex by the day
The geospatial industry is at a turning point according to Christopher Rice, Founder of Colorado Cartographics Ltd. We reached out to Christopher following his section 333 approval paperwork to learn more about his business, his experience with the FAA, and more.
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Q. Your section 333 paperwork notes that you are using drones for surveying, geo, and geoscience services. How will your approval impact what you are doing?
Right now, the geospatial industry is at a turning point. As data becomes more complex, and seemingly exponential each day, the challenge is yielding the best answers from it. GIS and visualization platforms have the ability to analyze and report data in very innovative ways, and users want results immediately. However, complex data analysis and the high costs associated with it can eat up budgets quickly. More and more organizations are beginning to perform primary data capture, a method of doing all data collection in-house (or contracted), and with minimal equipment.
The advent of UAV makes this process even more affordable, and it will benefit all for so many reasons. For us, the impact UAVs will have on our data collection methodologies is massive, because they offer incredibly affordable alternatives to traditional manned-aircraft flight operations.
Q. How did you determine that the use of drones would make sense for your business?
The basis of our business is developing solutions for customers who have little to no existing investment in geospatial technologies. Recently, the company was divided into two entities, one that offers the aforementioned services, and the other, a primary data capture and visualization division. We felt the need to diversify, and so far, we’ve been able to attract customers who do not have this ability in-house.
We plan on using UAVs for multiple purposes, chief among them photogrammetry applications (remote sensing, using cameras and sensors for IR, Thermal, NDVI, and visible), surface modeling (LiDAR), and surveying operations. Our rationalization for using UAVs is basic: it’s safer than manned aircraft, a fraction of the costs associated with manned aircraft, and deployment times are greatly reduced. I could go on but we are all aware of the limitless capabilities UAVs have for all types of industries!
Q. We noted in the exemption that you are going to use the DJI F550 Flamewheel and a Tarot T810 drones, why are they the right ones for you use?
That is a great question; we are actively prototyping the F550 for NDVI capabilities on a small scale. The unit has a max payload of about 12 ounces (340 grams) after FPV system is installed, with the standard payload. We are using a modified camera system and a steady gimbal for true nadir (looking straight down) imaging. The Tarot T810 is “bare” at the moment, due to some technical issues, but we have discovered this unit can lift a max payload near 4 lbs!
The goal moving forward is to build upon the units we have now to keep costs low, but we are also in discussions with UAV vendors at the moment to potentially add a more sophisticated, fully-automated UAV to our fleet. To answer the question fully, we intend to use the current fleet but if the need arises, we will modify it based on the demands of our customers.
Q. What training have you taken and are there any local schools we should add to our list of Drone Training Programs?
We have not been involved in any formal training other than logging flight hours, determining the strengths and weaknesses of our fleet, and testing all fail-safe components of the flight control systems. It is our intention to enroll in formalized training if and when the need arises. In terms of training, an organization in the Denver Metro area is Juniper Unmanned (www.juniperunmanned.com), that does offer UAV training, among a host of other services for emerging UAV operators.
Q. Do you use any other drones as a hobbyist?
I have a few mini-quads that I use for practicing manual flight, and for indoor use!
Q. We believe that safety is paramount to public acceptance of drones, having proposed our own set of hobbyist drone guidelines. Are there recommendations you would make to fellow commercial drone users about how to safely operate their UAVs?
Hobbyists, in my opinion, should be more restricted to where they can fly their drones, and the basis for this reasoning is due to the fact that they aren’t adhering to an otherwise highly regulated set of rules that someone with a COA possesses. Now, with that said, I’d like to emphasize the COA restrictions, and they are actually tailored for each certificate holder. For example, my COA does not allow me to fly a UAV higher than 200′ AGL, and I cannot use the UAV for any other purpose than geospatial mapping applications. As a result of this, I’m already restricted more than a hobbyist would be. However, the caveat is, only for commercial purposes – but what if I’m not working with the drone – does that make me a hobbyist? Certainly some interesting dialogue forthcoming!
In the general realm of UAV safety, the best advice I can give is to have your “head on a swivel” before, during, and after your flights. Simply put, be aware of everything going around you – changes in wind direction, wildlife, vehicles, etc.. And, don’t rely heavily on the UAV’s systems to prevent dangerous situations. There is so much a UAV pilot can do to mitigate issues, and one of them in particular is knowing exactly how much time your battery systems last. I cannot stress this enough that simple things like setting a flight timer (most transmitters begin a timer on throttle-up) will greatly reduce otherwise preventable catastrophes.
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Q. How soon to you see UAVs providing a positive return on investment (ROI)?
At this early phase, its obviously difficult to predict, however, with any new technology, there will be successes and failures. All I can do is continue to have those successes and failures and learn what works, and what doesn’t. Collectively, the UAV community has a very large hill to climb, yet I am confident it will all benefit us all.