Drone technology has been a “buzz word” in the aggregates industry recently (pun intended) with more producers taking an interest in how these remote controlled units might benefit them at their facilities. Recently, at the Ohio Aggregates and Industrial Materials Association Annual Meeting and Trade Expo in Columbus, OH, Andy Willis, senior VP at consulting firm ESCI, LLC and Greg Lemke, associate and project manager at Air-Land Surveys, offered ideas on how to use drones in today’s industry applications. These presentations included an overview of the various models of drones that are currently available and what kind of accessories, licensing and training is needed to own and to fly them and what kind of services are available from firms like ESCI or Air-Land Surveys.
A variety of choices
On the technical side of the presentation, Greg Lemke shared an overview of what owners will find necessary when successfully using drones. Lemke said there are several acronyms that describe this equipment. DRONE is Dynamic Remotely Operated Navigation Equipment. UAS is an Unmanned Aerial System. UAV is an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle. A small Unmanned Aerial System that weighs less than 55-pounds is an sUAS. He said that within the industry, the Drone or UAV is called a “bird” and when the associated hardware and electronics are included in the conversation, they are jointly referred to as a UAS.
He said that routinely, drones are controlled either autonomously by computers and guidance systems or by remote control from a pilot on the ground or in another vehicle. Drone configurations include fixed wing and rotary wing models. The fixed wing units look much like airplanes while the rotary wing models resemble some form of helicopter. Their names usually describe obvious features. These include Tri Copter, Quad Copter, Octocopter, Multicopter, Hexacopter and Insectocopter (yes, this in an extremely small device).
Drones can be outfitted with a variety of features and tools for doing observational and survey work. These include Global Positioning Systems (GPS), Inertial Measurement Units (IMU), Gimbel mounted and fixed mounted still frame cameras, video cameras, LIDAR (light detection and ranging) sensors and thermal sensors. These features are usually dependent on who is using the system. Military, commercial and recreational hobbyists have differing needs and thus, different equipment.
Lemke stressed the importance of securing an FAA license and appropriate liability insurance when flying drones. Fines for not having a license can be severe and an unexpected accident could create financial hardship for the operator and/or company flying the drone. Currently, typical commercial applications for UAS include surveying and mapping, inspecting equipment, pipelines, dams, construction sites and other entities, motion picture filming, news and journalism events, law enforcement, archeology and agriculture.
Since this technology is still relatively new, Lemke believes that new uses will be commonplace for a number of years. He said that The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems (AUVSI), a 7,500 member organization, predicts that by 2025, drones will bring about more than 100,000 new jobs. This could have an economic activity of approximately $82 billion.
Noting that the FAA’s final rule for small, unmanned aircraft went into effect on August 29, 2016, Lemke said that UAS users who plan to fly drones for commercial use, must be licensed and follow the current regulations. The summary for Part 107 rules can be found at www.faa.gov/uas/media/Part_107_Summary.pdf .
Common tools for surveying
Andy Willis, senior vice president for ESCI, LLC, a multidisciplinary consulting, engineering and environmental services firm based in Lexington, KY, told attendees that his company has come to rely upon drone technology as a common tool for doing survey work. They acquired a fixed wing eBee™ from senseFly, to do their surveying overflights. He said that this particular unit has the ability to be pre-programmed to do a specific area fly over and then return to the sending point when the job is complete. “With this unit, there isn’t really a pilot,” he said. “We input the flight plan and it does the rest. It goes up to the prescribed altitude then flies over the area and returns when it is completed. If it begins to run out of power, it returns to the origin.”
He said that drones are just the most recent addition of technology to their repertoire of surveying tools. “We have to adhere to all of the FAA regulations,” he said. “Drones can be used for a number of uses.”
Willis noted that aerial photography with a drone is far more detailed than photos taken by satellite. He said that the drone takes hundreds of photos as it flies over an area then compiles them into a high res image that can be closely examined when needed. The series of photos that this unit takes are then stitched together with proprietary software to provide the kind of detailed mapping that ESCI customers require. He said that a recent job revealed that a stream had changed course, which had affected the legal boundaries of that property. Similar results are typical when doing stockpile inventory work at quarry installations.