While drones have grown in popularity for engineering applications in recent years, so have the restrictions and guidelines surrounding their use. To clear up some of the questions, we turned to Brian Siperko, geospatial team lead, and Don Bollinger, geospatial team lead and LDG’s resident pilot-in-command for drones, otherwise known as unmanned air vehicles (UAVs).
How long have you been using UAVs?
Don Bollinger: I’ve been flying drones since 2007, mostly for the military and the government. I’ve been the UAV pilot for LDG since 2017.
Brian Siperko: We’ve been testing UAV technology since about 2015. We worked with a few third party vendors, and had some successes. Those experiences were helpful for learning the do’s and don’ts of UAVs. It’s a rapidly advancing technology, moving along at a very fast pace in its platforms and even its software.
What projects has LDG flown already?
Don Bollinger: We’ve flown numerous gas well pads in West Virginia and Ohio. We’ve also done a few quarry and pile surveys, which allowed us to obtain volumetric data for a lot of our customers in a shortened time frame. We have also used the technology for our land development projects, as the UAV can capture beautiful images with highly accurate 3D data.
Can UAV technology be used for any project?
Don Bollinger: It can; however, there are some restrictions. We avoid project sites which are close to an airport or a military base as well as public transportation zones.
Brian Siperko: If you’re within a controlled air space, it’s possible to get a waiver from the FAA, which opens the door to completing the flight. However, it can be lengthy process—you have to apply for an application, and it can take up to 90 days. If you don’t receive a response, you may have to start the process all over again. So, there are some restrictions, but technically, the sky’s the limit.
How does the data compare to what we collect conventionally or with the Laser Scanner?
Brian Siperko: It’s comparable to GPS, laser scanning, or conventional surveying with total stations. The accuracy is dependent upon the number of ground control points we set on site, the spacing, and the placement. Additionally, variables such as the altitude and the speed at which you fly, need to be considered while developing the flight plan. Done properly, the data can be incredibly precise—you can get accuracy up to 2 centimeters for contour level information from a UAV. It’s technically photogrammetry; it’s a micro-photogrammetry application.
If someone wants to learn more about what’s involved, who should they contact?
Brian Siperko: Contact Don Bollinger, Gary Sheets, or me. We would be more than happy to fill you in on it. We can even set up a demo for you.