Jared Reeves has worked as a Surveyor for more than 10 years. When Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) technology came across his radar, he saw the huge potential to save time, improve data quality and increase efficiency for a wide range of surveying tasks in numerous industries.
“Having spent many years working in the field collecting data manually using GPS, I understood the impact UAS technology could have on the surveying industry from an efficiency perspective,” Mr Reeves explained.
“I also think that many survey firms will find it hard to justify the costs of investing in a drone themselves, so I saw the opportunity to start my own aerial survey contracting business to provide specialist services,” he added.
Mr Reeves said that one of the biggest advantages UAS has over traditional survey methods is the quantity and quality of the data generated. “Drones provide a complete historical record of the site with aerial imagery, enabling you to go back and survey different areas or check details at any point, without having to go back out on site,” he said. “If you are conducting regular monthly surveys, it also enables you to ‘go back in time’ to check the progress at each stage of project development” he added.
Choosing a system
Mr Reeves spent a great deal of time and effort to ensure he picked the right UAS for his needs. “I did a lot of research online and came up with a master chart that listed all the different makes and models,” he said.
“I narrowed it down to two systems, based on a combination of accuracy, price, user friendliness, launch and landing options and maintenance requirements.”
Ultimately Mr Reeves chose the Sirius Pro UAV by MAVinci, purchased through local reseller, Position Partners. The Sirius Pro is a fixed-wing UAS with the unique ability to deliver +/- 5cm accuracy without the need to set out ground control points.
“I was keen to adopt the RTK technology that the Sirius Pro offers, as not having to set out ground control saves so much time,” he added. “In addition, it increases safety as I don’t have to walk around the site near heavy machinery to set out ground control points, as well as enabling me to survey areas that are completely inaccessible.”
So far, Mr Reeves has successfully completed work for a couple of motorway development projects, along with stock pile volumes for a few quarries.
“I’ve had great success so far with the jobs I’ve done, the clients have been very happy with the level of accuracy as well as the additional data that my services are able to provide,” Mr Reeves said. “Not only do they receive the volumes they required, but they also get a complete digital terrain model of their site as well as comprehensive up to date aerial imagery of the site. They can also store this data as a historical record and refer back to if need be.”
One motorway project included surveying a causeway across the end of a harbour, an area that would have been very difficult to survey using traditional methods. “The terrain was almost completely inaccessible by foot, so the Sirius really proved its worth in that instance as it would be hard to get accurate data without it,” he added.
Mr Reeves reports accuracies of +/- 50 millimetres or less with the Sirius Pro UAV, but says that proving the reliability of new technology at the start of a project is sometimes a challenge. “I had one client that was concerned about the accuracy I would be able to achieve as they needed it to be +/- 10 centimetres, but because I have full confidence in the system I was happy to guarantee that I would meet their requirements or my services would be free of charge,” he said.
“With a new technology that is still proving itself in the industry, you have to be able to reassure clients and remove the risk for them. When they see not only the accuracy the Sirius Pro delivers but also the comprehensive data set they receive at the end, clients seem to be very happy indeed,” he added.
More productive workflow
Mr Reeves says the time it takes to deliver a stockpile volume survey on a quarry, for example, is just a fraction of the time that a traditional survey would take. “I spend about an hour coordinating the MAVinci GPS Base station with local coordinates, installing some checkpoints, and conducting the flight on-site, as opposed to a whole day’s data capture using GPS,” he said. “The processing time depends on the size of the site, but on average it’s about four hours, which can be done overnight so it doesn’t impact my workday.
“The volume calculations take the same amount of time, however, the accuracy is a lot better as I have a complete model of the stockpile, not just a series of points like I’d have with GPS. Plus there’s the complete site model and orthophoto for the client that I wouldn’t be able to provide from a traditional survey,” he added.
Mr Reeves invested in a high powered computer to enable fast post-processing of the data. “Instead of outsourcing the post-processing, we invested in the software and considerable hardware required so that we could maintain complete control over the entire process from start to finish.
Learning a new technology is a challenge, but Mr Reeves said he has received excellent training and support from Position Partners. “Having local training and local support here in New Zealand has been great, the team at Position Partners has helped to make sure I was up and running as soon as possible,” he said.
“Their UAS experts in Australia and even the research and development team at MAVinci in Germany have been very helpful if I ever have a question or experience any problems. I’ve been very impressed with the level of support I’ve received, it’s an important factor when you’re starting your own business to have suppliers you can rely on.”
Mr Reeves says that although it is still early days for his new company, Overview Surveying, he is confident that a number of New Zealand industries have much to be gained from aerial mapping technology. “There are so many applications that can benefit from UAS technology, we’re really only beginning to make use of its potential,” he said.
“For example, I’m looking to extend my services to the landfill industry this year, as landfill sites are a lot safer and more pleasant to survey from the air rather than the ground!”