Texas Railroad Commission to use Drones

The Railroad Commission (RRC) of Texas has launched a statewide drone inspection program designed to help inspectors quickly inspect oil and gas sites that are made inaccessible during emergencies.

RRC Executive Director Wei Wang says that the program has massive potential to enable safer and faster data gathering in critical situations, which could be a big win for residents and the environment.

What counts as an “emergency?”

The RRC’s definition for emergencies requiring drone use is broad and includes hazardous leaks and spills, as well as fires, flooding, and other natural disasters – pretty much anything that makes a site inaccessible.

And, as the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps Texas, RRC representatives have also stated that drones may supplement or substitute traditional inspections to reduce inspectors’ risk of infection.

How much action have they gotten so far?

The RRC drone inspection team’s first emergency response was on April 28, following reports of a flood in Reeves County, west of Midland.

Due to the flooding, the road to the affected area was underwater, drone data gathering was the safest and most efficient option. And, at the end of May, the RCC performed a drone inspection near Portland, Tx. to confirm that a two-mile portion of a nearby creek didn’t have any signs of impact from oil or gas waste.

How big is the Texas Railroad Commission drone program?

Not a lot has been released about the program.

But, what we do know is that it consists of eight drones, with a total of 19 inspectors in the agency’s oil and gas and surface mining and reclamation divisions have received remote pilot certification from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Which drone platforms are being used?

According to the RCC, six DJI Mavic 2 Dual Enterprise Edition drones and two Mavic 2 Enterprise Zoom drones are being operated using the DroneSense platform.

Have there been any privacy concerns?

Nothing notable so far.

But, the RRC has been reminding landowners and oil companies that their inspectors use drones only for statutorily-authorized purposes, and that they can be identified as RCC inspectors by white vehicles that are marked with the agency’s logo and Texas exempt license plates.

Inspectors also carry Railroad Commission identification cards that landowners can verify by calling district offices.

Where is the program headed?

The future of drone use by the RRC will be heavily influenced by who gets elected to be the RRC’s next commissioners (there are three of them).

Primary winner Chrysta Castañeda says that the RRC needs to improve emissions accountability in the oil and gas industry and that, if elected commissioner, she would institute a program whereby drones outfitted with infrared cameras would be deployed to gather data on companies’ methane and fugitive emissions.

The agency would hold violators accountable, and publish all findings online for public access. It’s too early to tell how likely this program is to be implemented, but it’s certainly a sign that important stakeholders are thinking about expanding the ways that drone technology is used within the energy and government sectors.

Miriam Hinthorn - Contributing Author

Miriam Hinthorn - Contributing Author

Miriam Hinthorn is an experienced management professional who is currently pursuing her master’s in Data, Economics, and Development Policy at MIT while serving as principal consultant at Consult92.

Miriam developed a love for UAS technology when she served as operations manager at Consortiq. Today, having completed over 30 successful projects in 10 countries, she loves solving a wide variety of logistical, technical, and cultural challenges for her clients so that they can focus on what care about most.

Ready to Integrate Drones Into Your Organization? Contact Us Today to Get Started!

Germany’s Drone Detection System expects prototype tests in August

Last May, in the wake of the London Gatwick Airport drone debacle, a drone sighting at the Frankfurt airport led to the cancellation of 143 flights.

In response, the Ministry of Transportation tasked Germany’s air-traffic control authority, Deutsche Flugsicherung (DFS), with developing a drone detection system (DDS) for all large German airports. About a year later, after some COVID-related delays, DFS has announced that the system expects its first prototype tests to take place in August 2020. 

A one-year turnaround? That's pretty fast.

The DFS turnaround time is applaudable, but it’s worth noting that they weren’t exactly creating a system from scratch.

UAS have been a part of the national airspace in most countries for at least 10 years. And, there have been numerous technological advancements that have made creating and implementing counter-drone and UTM systems more feasible than ever before.

Airports throughout the US, UK, and numerous European countries have been rapidly testing and implementing various forms of drone detection systems for years now, so the DFS task force will have had many case studies and precedents to reference throughout the past year.  The most impressive aspect of what DFS is doing is that it is working to develop and implement a complete national solution, rather than leaving things up to the airports.

Okay. So, how is the drone detection going to work?

According to an April 2020 technical support tender, each DDS will comprise phased array and other customized radars, as well as radiofrequency detectors fused with primary trackers to ensure the system can distinguish between drones, commercial aircraft, and other flying objects.

 

Related: FAA Remote ID System Still a Priority For 2020

 

Furthermore, each DDS will be fully integrated within the recently launched national UTM, which will make future innovation and standardization more feasible than if each DDS operated autonomously.  

Sounds pretty failproof.

Not quite.

DFS will have to address several technical issues before DDS is fully functional. For one, the frequencies used by UAS are the same as those used by mobile phones and WiFi routers, both of which can be highly mobile.

This can cause drone detection accuracy issues that can interfere with the DSS’s effectiveness and disrupt airport operations.

To complicate matters further, the European Space Agency (EASA) ‘Prototype’ Regulation is centered around the notion that drones that weigh less (particularly those that weigh less than 250 grams) pose a relatively low risk, and thus require less stringent regulation than their larger counterparts. This will undoubtedly motivate people to opt for small UAS whenever possible, which will make it even harder to tell drones apart from other devices.

For reference, the physical footprint of a Parrot Anafi is not that much greater than most mobile phones, and smaller than many birds that also share the National Airspace with manned aircraft.

 

There must be a workaround.

Yes, but it’s far from perfect.

The UTM that Doniq has recently implemented in Germany features a 149 gram LTE modem “hook-on device” (HOD) designed to transmit the position of the drone, and its identification to the UTM via the cellular network. One hundred forty-nine grams may be nothing for a large UAS, but pilots and manufacturers of sub-250 gram drones – the ones that are the hardest to detect – are likely to resist this arrangement. That’s because it will cause the drones to go up a weight class, which will result in stricter regulatory requirements.

That said, electronics are perpetually shrinking and, in the future, it’s likely that the HOD will soon be small enough to align with regulatory incentives and UTM technical requirements.

Are these systems coming for other European countries?

Other European countries have taken an approach of tightening regulations and/or leaving the logistics of drone detection in the hands of each airport.

For instance, the U.K. NATS Holdings — formerly National Air Traffic Services — responded to the Gatwick incident by expanding the radius of the no-fly zone around airports from a minimum of one kilometer to a minimum of five, but left airports to manage the development of counter-drone systems on their own. French airports have been procuring and deploying DDS individually rather than collectively.

Meanwhile, in 2017 the Spanish Ministry of Defence purchased UAS detection systems, but airports are still left to address the issue of rogue drones autonomously. 

I zoned out... what should I take away from this?

Although there are many kinks to be worked out, Germany’s national airport drone detection system, combined with its new UTM, could place Germany at the forefront of government-driven UAS innovation.

If successful, the DSS could be deployed at military installations, prisons, and all sorts of critical infrastructure around Germany. And most importantly, Germany’s DSS could challenge the status quo of slow and fragmented development of drone detection technology in other countries.

Miriam Hinthorn - Contributing Author - Consortiq

Miriam Hinthorn - Contributing Author - Consortiq

Miriam Hinthorn is an experienced management professional who is currently pursuing her master’s in Data, Economics, and Development Policy at MIT while serving as principal consultant at Consult92.

Miriam developed a love for UAS technology when she served as operations manager at Consortiq. Today, having completed over 30 successful projects in 10 countries, she loves solving a wide variety of logistical, technical, and cultural challenges for her clients so that they can focus on what care about most.

Ready to Integrate Drones Into Your Organization? Contact Us Today to Get Started!

Will COVID-19 lead to a drone renaissance?

All over the world, governments and businesses alike have been turning to drones – among other technology solutions – to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. 

Here are some of our favorite examples:

COVID-19 Quarantine and Social Distancing Enforcement

During stricter phases of lockdown, Liloan, a municipality in the Philippines, used drones equipped with 360-degree cameras to monitor its streets for compliance with community quarantine guidelines.

Similarly, the government of Kazakhstan used drones to patrol the border of its locked-down capital Nur-Sultan, ensuring that no one entered or left without special authorization.

Meanwhile, an Indian drone manufacturer called Sagar Defence Engineering was commissioned to make customized drones fitted with megaphones for the Mumbai police force. Rather than patrolling the streets and risking infection, the cops have been working with Sagar Defence employees to deploy and operate drones from police outposts.

The megaphones on the drones are connected to police officers’ cell phones, allowing them to dial in and make customized announcements based on what they feel the situation warrants. 

Disinfection

Other companies in India, China, South Korea, and have been commissioned to complete a host of drone disinfecting missions, especially in public spaces such as railway stations, airports, and parks.

And in some cases, drones are even being fit with thermal scanners to identify potential virus carriers in a crowd.

Deliveries

All over the world, there’s been a boom in drone deliveries for COVID-19 tests, medical supplies, and other essential goods.

Drone delivery providers claim that their services are helping to fight the virus by minimizing how often people go outside, shortening wait-times for medical facilities and patients, and ensuring that important items can continue getting to remote locations even if the usual delivery network has been disrupted due to the pandemic.

In China, drone companies Antwork and Terra Drones, have been running up to 20 COVID-19 test delivery flights per day in the city of Hangzhou since February, and e-commerce company JD deployed a drone team to perform last-mile deliveries of goods to Chinese islands when ferries stopped.

Zipline is delivering test kits, samples, and protective gear in Ghana and Rwanda, where it’s been delivering blood and medical supplies for years, and in Singapore, the startup F-drones completed a pilot delivery of vitamins to a ship anchored off an island 5 kilometers away from the drone’s launch point. 

So drones are being used in all sorts of different ways now. What does this mean?

Well, as we’ve pointed out in our post about locust swarm management in India, what’s going on right has the potential to force aviation authorities to adjust regulations that were previously inhibiting innovation, or at least fast-track authorizations for promising use-cases.

For instance, the Hangzhou (China) Municipal Government helped broker an agreement between Antwork, the local ministry of health, and the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) to approve routes and ensure proper safety measures for the test sample delivery. 

It could also create a boom in drone innovation that gives small businesses the momentum they need to succeed. With new contracts and agreements with clients and partners, these businesses might get the capital needed to improve their existing products and services, while creating a track record that will ensure they stay in business after the pandemic ends.

In particular, the increase in demand for drone services due to the pandemic could change the way that “drone as a service” is managed. Garuda Aerospace, a drone start-up from Chennai, is launching an aggregator service model across 26 cities in India, under which it would provide a host of services, including spraying disinfectants to fight Covid-19.

The company has long wanted to become the “Uber of drone services,” but it seems that it is just now getting the critical mass of users necessary for the platform to succeed. Garuda has added various smart cities and state governments to its user base, thanks to their interest in sanitization services, while allegedly courting high profile prospective clients in Brazil, Spain, and the US, who are interested in similar services.

Is this only happening in Asia and Africa?

No, similar developments are taking place in western countries as well.

In Charlotte, North Carolina, Novant Health is partnering with Zipline to pilot a medical drone delivery system. And the UK Space Agency has recently announced that it will be funding an initiative to use drones to deliver medical supplies and samples to a group of islands off the west coast of Scotland.

A key difference seems to be that most western countries aren’t using drones so much out of urgent necessity as a desire to fast-track proof of concepts and prepare for future disasters. For instance, a Novant Health spokesperson has stated that the organization has no shortage of existing delivery options, but is testing drones because they may be helpful in a future crisis.

It’s impossible to predict the long-term impact of these developments, but one thing is certain: the pandemic has helped countries around the world imagine the potential that drones hold for society.

***

About Consortiq

Consortiq is a global market leader of custom drone solutions. Our employees are driven by a mission to help corporations and state organisations leverage drone technology to accelerate progress and achieve the success they desire. At Consortiq, we base our solutions on intensive quantitative and qualitative research, hard facts, and deep subject matter expertise. As a talented group of drone and manned aircraft pilots, software engineers, defense consultants, and former air traffic control professionals, Consortiq’s employees understand the intricacies of aerial platforms and are able to provide a wide range of nuanced, effective solutions. 

We have a strong track record of providing training, logistical operations planning, fleet management software, risk mitigation, and legal/regulatory services, to clients in the media, public infrastructure, and public safety industries in Europe, North America, and the Middle East.

Our accredited training program helps pilots prepare and go beyond the US Part 107 and the UK GVC

Ready to create a UAS strategy for your business? Complete the form below to get started!

Miriam Hinthorn - Contributing Author

Miriam Hinthorn - Contributing Author

Miriam Hinthorn is an experienced management professional who is currently pursuing her master’s in Data, Economics, and Development Policy at MIT while serving as principal consultant at Consult92.

Miriam developed a love for UAS technology when she served as operations manager at Consortiq. Today, having completed over 30 successful projects in 10 countries, she loves solving a wide variety of logistical, technical, and cultural challenges for her clients so that they can focus on what care about most.

Ready to Integrate Drones Into Your Organization? Contact Us Today to Get Started!

Drones take medical supplies to new heights during pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced governments and other stakeholders to explore how innovative technologies can assist in the fight against the virus. 

Some of the most exciting and promising solutions have come from within the UAV community.

From disinfecting public areas to delivering much needed medical supplies, drones are on the frontlines of the current healthcare battlefield.  

Drones are not only helping with the current global health challenge, but have extended medicine’s reach for several years now. UAVs have assisted doctors around the world since around 2014. The versatility of the platform makes drones highly adaptable to a wide range of use cases. 

In emergency medicine, vaccinations, and other specialties, UAVs are becoming indispensable tools to medical and healthcare professionals. A few examples are listed below.

Disinfectiong Public Spaces

As the COVID-19 pandemic began in Wuhan, China, it was clear the crisis required pulling out all the stops. 

One of the first UAV companies to respond was Shenzhen, China based DJI. For several years, the company has utilized its drones for public safety efforts. As the virus spread and researchers determined COVID-19 could survive on hard surfaces, it was clear a disinfection plan for open spaces was needed.

DJI utilized drones designed to spray pesticides for the agricultural industry to address the issue. Public spaces, such as parks and bus stations, have been covered in disinfectants delivered from the air. Drones can spray an area more efficiently than people and keep cleaning personnel out of harm’s way. 

While the method still needs to be researched for overall effectiveness, it provides a model for cleaning public areas in the future.

Emergency Medicine

Modern medicine has drastically increased life expectancy. 

In 1950, the average life expectancy globally was around 48 years. By 2012, the average was 70 years. Much of the improvement in this number is a result of lower response times to medical emergencies. 

On April 19, 2019, the world’s first successful drone supported organ transplant occurredin Baltimore, Md. A specially designed UAV flew a human kidney to the University of Maryland Medical Center, where doctors transplanted the organ into a 44-year-old Baltimore woman.

In another use case, Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) have been affixed to drones as early as 2014, when a graduate student in the Netherlands looked to lower emergency response times for heart attack victims. Companies like Reno, Nevada’s Flirtey, are currently working with government agencies to test out drone delivered AEDs in the United States.  

Initial results are promising.

Medical Supply Delivery

Around the world, drones are delivering medications and critical supplies. 

Since 2014, Zipline has used drones in Rwanda and Ghana to provide blood and vaccines to rural regions. In some cases, what would have taken a traveling doctor three days to deliver across the jungle now takes 30 minutes.

In response to COVID-19, UAVs are delivering prescriptions to patients at home to respect social distancing policies. UPS and pharmacy giant CVS have teamed up in Florida to provide medications to the elderly via drones. Manna Aero has been doing the same in rural communities within Ireland. 

The ability to provide supplies without direct human interaction is very appealing to both the doctor and the patient.   

In a time when human to human contact must be limited, drones are an ideal solution to providing medicine at a distance. The current global climate in response to the pandemic will likely accelerate the use of UAVs in this space.

Planning For a Safe Future

The current innovative uses for UAVs are only scratching the surface of potential applications in the medical field. 

For organizations exploring how drones can support their business model in the changing environment, safety should always be the primary concern.

Prior to testing drones, conduct a safety audit and develop a safety plan. Ensure operators are trained properly, establish standard operating procedures for events such as accidents and investigations, create logbooks & records, and ensure qualification requirements are met.

Drones have already had a lasting positive impact on the medical community. As new challenges from COVID-19 arise UAVs may provide many of the solutions. 

Ensuring we approach these challenges in a safe manner will facilitate the best outcome for all stakeholders. 

***

About Consortiq

Consortiq is a global market leader of custom drone solutions. Our employees are driven by a mission to help corporations and state organisations leverage drone technology to accelerate progress and achieve the success they desire. At Consortiq, we base our solutions on intensive quantitative and qualitative research, hard facts, and deep subject matter expertise. As a talented group of drone and manned aircraft pilots, software engineers, defense consultants, and former air traffic control professionals, Consortiq’s employees understand the intricacies of aerial platforms and are able to provide a wide range of nuanced, effective solutions. 

We have a strong track record of providing training, logistical operations planning, fleet management software, risk mitigation, and legal/regulatory services, to clients in the media, public infrastructure, and public safety industries in Europe, North America, and the Middle East.

Our accredited training program helps pilots prepare and go beyond the US Part 107 and the UK PfCO. 

Ready to create a UAS strategy for your business? Complete the form below to get started!

David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly, is an award-winning photographer/writer and licensed (FAA) Commercial sUAS pilot. A graduate of the United States Naval Academy, David is a former Marine Corps officer with a BS in Oceanography and has earned his MBA from the University of Redlands. David has worked for Fortune 100 companies and has a background in aerospace, construction, military/defense, real estate, and technology.
Miriam developed a love for UAS technology when she served as operations manager at Consortiq. Today, having completed over 30 successful projects in 10 countries, she loves solving a wide variety of logistical, technical, and cultural challenges for her clients so that they can focus on what care about most.

Ready to Integrate Drones Into Your Organization? Contact Us Today to Get Started!

Should You Use Drone as a Service or Start an In-House UAV Program?

Choosing between a Drones-as-a-Service (DaaS) provider and starting your own program

Many organizations benefit from utilizing UAV technology.

In fact, drones have established themselves as essential tools in numerous industries. Construction, real estate, agriculture, oil & gas, education, and many other sectors are seeing decreased safety incidents, lowered costs, and enhanced efficiencies.

One of the first questions you might have while investigating how drones can improve your operation is: Should we hire a drone service provider or create an in-house program.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both options. But, before exploring these points, there are a few considerations to discuss.

You’ll need to start with identifying your specific needs to determine which option works best for you.

What to Consider

First, how do you plan to use drones?

This is most crucial consideration. Will the UAV primarily be used for aerial photography, or for more complex tasks such as three-dimensional modeling as an extension of Geographic Information Systems (GIS)?

While some organizations have relatively simple drone needs, you may require sophisticated data collection and processing. In general, more complex needs require commercial drone pilots with specialized training and equipment. Some of the more technical payloads, such as LiDAR, can cost well over $100,000.

Next, how often do you plan to use UAV services?

Depending on the task, continuous use will point you toward the right option in terms of cost and availability.

Alright, so what’s your budget?

Investing in UAV technology should not be viewed solely as a one-time purchase. Drones require regular maintenance, and they include consumable parts such as batteries and propellers.

Equipment breaks, and upgrades will be needed from time to time. Furthermore, remote pilots require time to practice to maintain their skills.

Then, you’ll have administrative costs, such as insurance. UAV insurance can be purchased at an hourly rate or on an annual basis. The type of coverage needed will significantly change the cost per policy.

Also, more complex drone operations will require specific software, along with data processing capabilities. Data processing services for applications such as GIS can run as high as several hundred dollars, per user, each month.

Finally, you’ll need to consider the personnel commitment and training required for in-house UAV operations.

In the United States, any commercial drone usage requires a Part 107 remote pilot certification from the FAA. That license must be renewed every two years.

 

Related: Schedule Your Onsite Part 107 Essentials Enterprise Training Course Today

 

In the UK, the new General VLOS Certificate (GVC) must be renewed every five years, and an annual operational authorization from the CAA is required.

 

Related: Schedule Your GVC Training Course Today

 

Specialized equipment, such as thermal cameras, reaches full potential only when trained personnel interpret the collected data.

And, a healthy drone program includes extensive, continuous training, along with the adoption of standard operating procedures. In fact, those are essential to producing professional results while remaining safe & compliant.

UAV Drone Engineering Course - Drone Solutions - Construction -Consortiq

Drones as a Service: Pros & Cons

Drones as a Service (DaaS) — or, as we refer to it, unmanned data services — is essentially the outsourcing of an organization’s UAV needs.

PROS

Pros for choosing DaaS over building your own UAV program include: Ease of scalability, lower upfront cost, and incurring less liability.

CONS

The cons often associated with DaaS are: The potential for less flexibility, lower response time, and rigid pricing structures.

If your UAV needs are more complex, and you don’t have the in-house compentency necessary to achieve your goals, then DaaS is the ideal choice. Established service providers have both the expertise and equipment needed to provide whatever deliverables are desired.

Also, in most cases, data processing for significant projects is also best handled by DaaS.

And, if you’re working for a larger organization, you’ll also appreciate the reduction of potential risks from possible litigation and in dealing with human resource issues.

Drone Program - Drone Integration Course - Industry workers flying drone at construction site

Creating Your Own UAS Program: Pros & Cons

When you create your own in-house UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems) program, you have full control. You’ll have a team of trained remote pilots available at all times. Along with that, though, you’ll take on all of the associated responsibility & risk.

PROS

Benefits include: Maintaining full control of the operation, immediate response time, and designing the program to fit your organization’s needs perfectly.

CONS

Disadvantages to this option are: Increased exposure to risk, upfront and on-going costs of maintenance & equipment replacement, potential lack of resilience, and you’ll need to stay up-to-date on all legal requirements and regulations.

If your need for UAV technology is small in scale and complexity, but requires regular drone use, starting an in-house program is ideal. You’ll have the ability to maintain the drone program’s full control, from both an operational and fiscal perspective.

Having a drone and pilot ready to move at moment’s notice certainly has its perks.

Bringing It All Together

The decision to work with a DaaS provider or start an in-house drone program is an important one.

Whichever choice you make, it’s important to consult with UAS experts prior to getting started.  Experienced consultants will help you to identify your specific needs and explore the best fit to meet those needs. You’ll also get support on creating operations manuals, safety guidelines, and regulation requirements.

No matter what you choose, Consortiq has a solution for you. From unmanned data services that include aerial surveys and mapping, to extensive global remote pilot training and  drone consultancy, we’ll help you put the right plan in place.

Need expert-level support? Just compete the form below or call us at 1-855-203-8825 (Americas) or +44 (0)208 0450 322 (Europe) to get started!

David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly, is an award-winning photographer/writer and licensed (FAA) Commercial sUAS pilot. A graduate of the United States Naval Academy, David is a former Marine Corps officer with a BS in Oceanography and has earned his MBA from the University of Redlands. David has worked for Fortune 100 companies and has a background in aerospace, construction, military/defense, real estate, and technology.

Ready to Integrate Drones Into Your Organization? Contact Us Today to Get Started!

Drone Mapping in The Case of Ordnance Survey

Mapping terrain is critical for many industries.

Data and discoveries gained from mapping enhance preventative measures and provide details to ensure the feasibility of a project. Many organizations — Consortiq included — are using industry leading tools and innovative ways to accurately and efficiently capture this data.

Drone Mapping

Back in June 2019, Ordnance Survey, the UK’s national mapping agency, announced a framework agreement to provide different types of UAV (unmanned aerial vehicles) services to enhance their capability.

This was to include over 500 sites to survey, each using different techniques. However, one thing remained universally consistent … drone deployment.

Using the correct methods, unmanned vehicles ably capture and present the findings in many ways. For example, orthomosaics, digital terrain models (DTM) & digital surface models, and techniques & sensors can allow for accurate photogrammetry and LiDAR (Remote Sensing) output. 

Combining LiDAR and GIS to analyze and quickly manage the data, while also maintaining very high accuracy, saves time and improves efficiencies… a common goal that all surveying and mapping agencies work to achieve.

All of the above can be realized by using technology that is widely available now, so what about the future?

Last year, the BBC reported that the Astigan, a solar-powered drone, will be used to fly higher than commercial airliners (67,000 ft (20,400m)). Incredibly, the aircraft could circle the Earth for 90 days before it needs to land, capturing data on demand.

According to the article, Ordnance Survey told the BBC that the existing mapping satellites orbiting the Earth cannot provide enough high resolution detail for its maps.

While this remains a massive aspiration for companies like Ordnance Survey to develop new ways and future-proof their offering, they have concerns and challenges which need to be addressed today. One of those, in particular, is to accurately map and record Britain’s coastlines.  

Erosion and landslides can change the coastline daily. Thus, to ensure that these changes are captured quickly, and that their data reflects the current coastline, drone technology is utilized.

The UK has over half a billion geospatial features that need to be kept up-to-date. The UAV plays a critical role in helping to map features in rural and urban areas all year around.

New Tech, New Data?

LiDAR systems on crewed aircraft and drones are revolutionizing what researchers can find out about data previously unseen using photography and point cloud models.

LiDAR can remove the vegetation and show what lies underneath, something that was unimaginable just a few years ago. 

 

Drone Mapping - LiDAR Coastal Shot

LiDAR systems have been specifically designed for use in challenging environments. It can provide uniform and dense data in even the shallowest water. By using this remote sensor with a fixed-wing UAS aircraft, you’ll ably cover large areas which are otherwise difficult to survey with more conventional tools.

The average LiDAR sensor is typically a costly investment, and ensuring that the right data is captured can be challenging. Consortiq and its sister company, Argentech, have been using this solution for a number of years. 

We now provide state-of-the-art UAS-based imaging and analytics to markets as diverse as agriculture, digital mapping, and oil & natural gas

High-resolution photos, combined with LiDAR data, create geospatially accurate maps and models. Without LiDAR, the photos can still be stitched together to create orthomosaics, or used individually for inspection or documentation and planning purposes. This photo is from a bridge inspection in Columbia, South America.

Drone Mapping - aerial view of a bridge

“Aerial LiDAR provides the highest quality data for a wide variety of applications. Argentech (AgTS) offers LiDAR services on both manned and unmanned vehicles allowing us to meet the needs of our customers in the most effective and efficient means possible.” Rita Castonguay Hunt AgTS UAS Commercial Services

Even with drone technology, the techniques which enhance how we are presented with usable data advances over time, and UAS-mounted LiDAR is a great example of how blended technologies enable organizations to stay relevant, while collecting the most accurate, detailed information available to them.

With unmanned data services, Consortiq can provide this level of service without any organization having to invest heavily for the technology or platforms.

Our UAS pilots gather the information for you, and they provide the key results and data you need to fully understand what’s really going on.

Whether you’re looking to start a program, train your team, or simply get the data, we’re here to help you reach your goals. To get started, complete the form below!

Lee Barfoot - Sales & Marketing EMEA at Consortiq

Lee Barfoot - Sales & Marketing EMEA at Consortiq

Ready to Integrate Drones Into Your Organization? Contact Us Today to Get Started!

LiDAR and Drone Uses

When it comes to UAV payloads, thermal and Red Green Blue (RGB) cameras get a great deal of attention.

With low price points, the technology is easily accessible to just about everyone. Several standard drone missions, such as three-dimensional mapping, are effortlessly carried out using it. There are, however, limitations to using only these two types of payloads on drones.

Thermal cameras are ideally suited for inspections where temperature variations are the primary data points. Beyond this function they are, by design, limited.

RGB cameras are excellent tools for photogrammetry. While this survey method is accurate and useful in a wide range of applications, it is also not without its limitations. For example, drones with RGB cameras can survey vacant land in preparation for development. In most cases, the images collected can produce precise three-dimensional models and topographic maps that planners will find useful.

However, if this same land were covered in thick, dense vegetation, the RGB camera would fail to give planners any information on the actual earth’s surface. For this type of analysis, RGB and thermal cameras are not the best tools for the job.

What is LiDAR and how does it work?

Invented in 1961 by the Hughes Aircraft Company, LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) is ideal for the type of analysis mentioned above. LiDAR systems consist primarily of three components: a laser, scanner, and a specialized GPS receiver.

LiDAR works by accurately measuring the distance from the drone to the ground. A laser is fired millions of times from the LiDAR scanner towards the ground as the drone flies a predetermined pattern. As each pulse of light is emitted, the exact time the light is fired is recorded. As the light pulse is reflected, the scanner detects the return and again marks the exact time the light returned.

The specialized GPS receiver records the exact position of the sensor throughout this process. An equation that utilizes the constant speed of light generates a slant range for each beam of light fired. When all the data is compiled, millions of points on the ground produce an accurate representation of the earth’s surface and features above it.

The data points are so numerous and so precise that layers of vegetation or other obstacles can be removed to show the topography of the region. One light pulse can generate multiple returns and thus, layer the area being surveyed. The technology has seen successful use in many fields such as disaster response, high precision infrastructure monitoring, and topographic/hydrographic survey.

 

Types of LiDAR for UAS, and the industries that benefit

UAVs use two types of lidar.

For measuring the earth’s surface, topographic LiDAR is ideal. It utilizes a near-infrared laser for mapping land.

The second type — bathymetric LiDAR — is designed for surveying the seafloor and riverbeds. It uses a green laser to penetrate water, but operates on the same principles as described above.

LiDAR systems on UAS provide professionals across many industries the ability to map the earth’s most challenging environments. The level of accuracy spread across millions of data points is particularly beneficial to construction planners, as well as those monitoring utility infrastructures. Hard-to-see features, such as powerlines, are easily identified by LiDAR. These features can also be isolated from other features, aiding in in-depth analysis.

There is perhaps a no better example of the power of LiDAR than in archeology. The incredibly dense jungles of Central America were home to one of the ancient world’s greatest civilizations, the Mayan. The Mayans built vast cities with massive structures. 

After a mysterious decline and disappearance in 900 A. D., many of their cities were swallowed up by the jungle. Dense jungle canopies all but erased many locations. Traditional investigation methods, such as aerial surveys in aircraft, see only vast expanses of the jungle.

However, LiDAR systems on crewed aircraft and drones are revolutionizing what researchers know about the Mayans. LiDAR can remove the vegetation and show what lies underneath. In some cases, its identified previously unknown locations with tens of thousands of structures. LiDAR is helping to expand this ancient civilization’s study in ways that seemed unimaginable just a few years ago.

Bringing it all together

Drones carrying LiDAR payloads are a power tool.

With only a few years of UAV technology and lidar working together, impossible topographic challenges are becoming increasingly simple tasks. For decision makers in construction, utilities, survey, and research, the advantages of UAVs carrying LiDAR are worth further investigation.

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David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly, is an award-winning photographer/writer and licensed (FAA) Commercial sUAS pilot. A graduate of the United States Naval Academy, David is a former Marine Corps officer with a BS in Oceanography and has earned his MBA from the University of Redlands. David has worked for Fortune 100 companies and has a background in aerospace, construction, military/defense, real estate, and technology.

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How to Improve Education Programs With Drones

At the start of the new millennium, academic research identified a potential problem for students in the United States.

Compared to their counterparts around the world, American students were becoming less prepared for the modern global workforce. Studies identified a particular shortfall in understanding science and math-related concepts.

In response to the problem, in 2001, the U.S. National Science Foundation coined the acronym STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Mathematics). The acronym became the foundation for a new approach to education.  

The U.S. Dept. of Education states that:

  • only 16% of high school students are interested in a STEM career and have proven a proficiency in mathematics
  • 57% of high school freshmen who declare an interest in a STEM-related field lose interest before they graduate high school
  • There is an estimated need for at least 8.65 million workers in STEM-related jobs
  • The skills gap in the manufacturing sector is significant. It faces a big shortage of skilled employees – nearly 600,000.

STEM-focused curriculum exposes students to a deeper understanding of technical concepts and careers in the industries related to STEM disciplines. Students who become excited about working in STEM industries at an early age are more likely to attend college and receive a bachelor’s degree.  

Since the development of STEM almost 20 years ago, numerous countries have adopted programs similar to the one developed in the United States. STEM centered education now exists in the United Kingdom, France, China, Australia, South Korean, and Taiwan.

In recent years, drones have begun to play a significant role in STEM curriculum and education in general. Drones can help teach a wide range of concepts and life lessons that otherwise might be difficult for students to understand. Most UAVs are easy to learn to fly, and many are inexpensive, making them accessible to everyone.

How Drones Benefit Education

Drones — ground based, submersible and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) — offer many benefits to educators and students.  

Drones, and UAVs in particular, are excellent complementary tools for STEM education. Students benefit from exposure to technology, show signs of increased information retention rates, and can experience learning on an individual or group level. Educators benefit from high-quality resources, such as coding software with professionally built lesson plans.

As a form of technology, drones are simple and sophisticated at the same time. Studies have shown that the use of technology aids in the retention of information. As students use technology, they are often participating in groups or, at the very least, actively engage in the learning process.

When students are exposed to UAVs in the classroom, they can learn complex concepts, such as aeronautics, in an easily digestible format. Understanding the physics behind what makes an aircraft fly might be challenging to teach, at some grade levels, using traditional methods.  

If instead of reviewing the mathematics behind lift vs. drag, the student learns while flying a drone and the concept is often much clearer.

Additionally, drones are excellent tools for teaching the fundamentals of design. For a drone to submerge, drive, or fly, it must operate within specific parameters. The unmanned aircraft’s design must perform in a manner that adheres to principles such as lift vs. drag.

With a 3D printer, students learn why individual components, such as propellers, are designed a certain way, and can experiment independently with deviations on the design and how it affects performance.

Exposure to programming is another benefit. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, computer programmers had a median pay in 2019 of $41.61 per hour.

Drones bring programming into the classroom. Several high-quality software programs and applications help teach coding with UAS.

Some programs allow educators and students to complete a series of tasks with their drones through coding instructions. Others allow for the drone itself to “learn” how to fly.

In the ideal situation, students can design their drone and program as part of a project-based learning unit. Young children can even grasp programming through the use of drag-and-drop “blocks” of code which when plugged together can make the drone actually perform tasks in front of their eyes.

From an artistic perspective, drones can expose students to photography and videography. Much of our learning process deals with changing perspectives and challenging what is known about the world around us. Drones may be the first time a student sees the world from another viewpoint.  

Some educators are finding success in using aerial photography to aid in teaching map-making, as tools to learning new languages, graphing mathematical concepts, and much more.

Drones work well as tools for both individuals and groups. Students can learn responsibility from flying on their own and, in the process, gain confidence.

In a group, teamwork can showcase how, as a unit, students who know next to nothing about drones can start from scratch and design, build, program, and fly their team’s creation.

Educators are tireless professionals always searching for new methods to make the educational process stronger. With the right guidance, drones are easily integrated into the classroom. The benefits of UAV technology, particularly as a part of a STEM-curriculum, are well worth the investment.

David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly, is an award-winning photographer/writer and licensed (FAA) Commercial sUAS pilot. A graduate of the United States Naval Academy, David is a former Marine Corps officer with a BS in Oceanography and has earned his MBA from the University of Redlands. David has worked for Fortune 100 companies and has a background in aerospace, construction, military/defense, real estate, and technology.

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Could Locust Invasion Lead to Drone Innovation?

As you may have heard, huge swarms of desert locusts are devouring crops across western and central India in what has been seen as the worst locust invasion in almost 30 years.

The locusts had already destroyed over 50,000 hectares (125,000 acres) of cropland by the end of May, and by the sound of things, the situation could get worse in the coming weeks.

That's sad, but what does it have to do with drones?

Drone use was essentially outright banned in India from 2014 to 2018.

Since 2018,  authorities have nominally eased restrictions and tried to cultivate a robust UAS sector, but the regulations are so burdensome, and the permissions application process is so slow, that there has been limited innovation in the UAS sector thus far. 

However, due to the locust invasion, that might change. In rapid response to the crisis, on May 21st, India’s Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) granted a conditional exemption to the agriculture ministry’s Directorate of Plant Protection, Quarantine, and Storage (DPPQS). The exemption allows DPPQS to use remotely piloted aircraft in support of aerial surveillance, photography, public announcements, and spraying pesticides.

According to a senior government official, “this is unprecedented for India since it’s the first time we’ve allowed drones to carry payloads in a civilian use case, or spray any pesticides for that matter.”

He added that there had previously been some trials for crop spraying using drones, but that those were strictly restricted to specific zones, whereas the new exemption allows the agriculture ministry to fly drones anywhere.

Government drones are nice and all, but how will this foster innovation in the UAS sector?

According to the exemption, DPPQS can choose to own and operate their own drones, and each operation has to be carried out under their overall supervision and control, but they can engage third-party UAS service providers to provide and/or operate the drones.

Various state agricultural departments have issued tenders for drones and drone services to the private sector, and there’s been pressure on MoCA to work out some kinks in its regulation of agricultural drone operations that had been ignored for too long. 

Cool. So, back to pesticide drones - are they working?

It’s too early to tell just how cost-effective the pesticide drones are, but the initial reports seem pretty promising.

Notably, according to a deputy director of Rajasthan’s Agriculture Department, when government drones sprayed pesticide in two of Rajasthan’s districts, an impressive 70% of the locusts were destroyed.

However, there are some pretty tough operational challenges that might stymie success. For one, during monsoon season, certain regions of India get very heavy rain, which can make safe UAS operations impossible. For instance, a team in Jaipur was faced with heavy rains until late at night. They seem to have launched the operation around midnight,  which is technically a violation of the exemption’s conditions since technically nighttime operations are currently not allowed.

Additionally, the mountainous and hilly terrain of certain regions may make it hard to maintain visual line one sight (VLOS) throughout operations. On the bright side, perhaps these adverse conditions will force regulatory agencies to issue permission for night and BVLOS operations, which could set a pretty cool status quo for the UAS sector as a whole.

So, will the restrictions be loosened now that drones are "the good guys?"

It’s too early to tell, but this is certainly an unprecedented opportunity for the power of UAS technology to be demonstrated in India and other parts of the world.

If the locust-fighting drones are visibly successful, it could certainly pressure the government to create a framework for UAS authorizations for other dire circumstances such as flooding, landslides, and other natural disasters. And in a broader global context, the publicity of these operations in India could deepen global awareness of this use case. 

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has already been developing anti-locust drone solutions in east Africa since February, and if they, the government of India, and other disaster relief stakeholders, joined forces, they might just set a fantastic new precedent for drone use in agriculture.

Miriam Hinthorn - Contributing Author

Miriam Hinthorn - Contributing Author

Miriam Hinthorn is an experienced management professional who is currently pursuing her master’s in Data, Economics, and Development Policy at MIT while serving as principal consultant at Consult92.

Miriam developed a love for UAS technology when she served as operations manager at Consortiq. Today, having completed over 30 successful projects in 10 countries, she loves solving a wide variety of logistical, technical, and cultural challenges for her clients so that they can focus on what care about most.

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First Responders & UAS: A Safe, Cost-Effective Solution

First responders are the primary line of defense in protecting a country’s citizens around the world.

Challenges faced by these frontline professionals include everything from small house fires and minor personal injuries to multi-national natural disasters. Millions of people and billions of dollars are required to provide first responder services each year.

The International Forum to Advance First Responder Innovation, a group sponsored by the US Department of Homeland Security, studies the activities of the first responder community. The Forum is comprised of sixteen countries from around the world, and estimates their collective first responder strength to exceed 7.4 million people. Overall, operations for the member nations cost over $432 billion annually.

Finding ways to increase the effectiveness of these organizations while lowering costs is a daunting task for planners. In the last few years, an increasing number of agencies have looked towards UAS technology as one of the most promising solutions to this dilemma.  

Typical First Responder UAS Uses

The versatility of drones allows for greater flexibility in supporting first responder operations. Some of the earliest adopters of the technology were firefighters and law enforcement agencies.

Firefighters found drones with thermal cameras to be among the most beneficial for their needs. While resolution and frame rates vary from system to system, most thermal cameras can pinpoint hotspots in a fire with relative ease.  

Law enforcement utilizes various UAV payloads to monitor traffic, track criminals,  locate a missing person, and collect information for further investigation and prosecution.

For agencies with small budgets, UAS offers the capability to get eyes on the ground quickly over criminal acts, terrorism events, and armed incidents with minimal risk to people, and at a fraction of the cost of a manned aircraft.

Drones also offer the same, if not better, information. And. they have the ability to stream live images to control rooms, which provides situational awareness to commanders and controllers.

A quick internet search will bring up many examples of how drones assisted first responders in saving lives around the world.

Advantages

UAVs present three primary advantages to the first responder community: Safety, cost-effectiveness, and improved performance.  

Safety

Dangerous situations are commonplace in the first responder community. Any tool capable of minimizing the risk to human life is worth investigating.

Provide situational awareness and deploy crews, as required, to support the safe resolution of an incident using real-time thermal and color images.

Placing a drone in harm’s way is ideal for situations such as fires, HAZMAT, and active shooters. The data they provide is more accurate, and it helps to mitigate the chance of emergency service personnel from becoming additional casualties.

It’s not difficult to imagine a future where drones take on most risky situations in first responder operations.

Cost

It’s only been in the last five years or so that drones have become commonplace, even though the technology has been used in first response for well over a decade. 

Before this period, aerial data collection for first responders could only be achieved through expensive assets, such as a helicopter. While helicopters can cover one square mile in approximately 12 minutes — compared to about 454 man hours for the same area for officers on foot — they can cost over $2,000 per hour to operate. Most departments are unable to afford such resources.

The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that less than 1% of public service agencies can afford aviation resources. As a result, only the largest, most well-funded organizations have access to these platforms.

Fortunately, drones are unlike many new technologies, in that their implementation into existing operations is typically not cost-prohibitive. While some UAS cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, many effective drone models are very affordable, even for smaller organizations with limited resources.  

Performance

With the development of a sustainable drone program, along with proper training, first responders often see a marked improvement in capabilities and effectiveness almost immediately. 

Law enforcement agencies across the world are lowering response times and improving situational awareness by way of UAS. Model programs, such as the Chula Vista Police UAS Drone Program in southern California, have identified many improved efficiencies through drone implementation.

The department’s “drones-as-a-first-responder” initiative has lead to the UAS often arriving on-site well before any uniformed officers are in the area. UAS video feeds are shared with patrol cars, command centers, and other agencies involved. The Chula Vista Police force has even used its drones for search & rescue, building clearing, and forensic documentation. 

Bringing It All Together

The dedicated and courageous professionals that protect us in our time of need deserve the absolute best tools for their work.

Drones are among the most exciting innovations to come along in recent years. Given the versatility of the platform, and their many inherent advantages, all first responder organizations should consider implementing drones into their operations.

Bryce Allcorn, Consortiq’s head of global operations, spent 15 years as a firefighter in the United Kingdom. In that time, he utilized UAS frequently.

“UAS technology doesn’t replace first responders,” Allcorn said.

“But, if used properly, the tactical decisions this form of situational awareness supports really does help create safer and more efficient resolution of serious incidents. For firefighter crews and police officers, having a small UAS with suitable, useful sensors that is quick to deploy, operated by individuals that understand the data/information requirement, has made huge differences to incidents across the world.”

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David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly, is an award-winning photographer/writer and licensed (FAA) Commercial sUAS pilot. A graduate of the United States Naval Academy, David is a former Marine Corps officer with a BS in Oceanography and has earned his MBA from the University of Redlands. David has worked for Fortune 100 companies and has a background in aerospace, construction, military/defense, real estate, and technology.

Ready to Integrate Drones Into Your Organization? Contact Us Today to Get Started!