Modern drone technology can take your business to new heights

Eyes in the sky. Unmanned aerial systems (UASs) are catching on and gaining momentum in several industries all over the world. Businesses operating in various sectors such as surveying, forestry, mining and agriculture just to mention a few, have started to realize the substantial value of investing in modern drone technology instead of just continuing down the traditional path.

This significant rise in popularity is highlighted in a new forecast by Gartner, which predicts that the global drone market revenue is expected to increase by 34 % to a total of more than $6 billion in 2017 and rise to more than $11.2 billion by 2020.

Advantages of using drones from a business perspective

So, how come this increased interest in drones? From a business perspective, there are several ways that a drone could have a positive impact on your strategy as well as your operations. If we look at the market for surveying, this is a perfect example of how modern technology can be the catalyst for moving to a new business model.

Let’s have a look at four major advantages of using a drone compared to more traditional surveying methods:

  1. lncreased data accuracy and coverage: The data collected from a drone exceeds anything one potentially could achieve using traditional methods. The data is often captured in the millions of data points during flights. Let’s illustrate this through an example: a professional two-man team of surveyors should be able to collect up to between 500 and 600 data points per day. This compared to a drone that can capture up towards several million data points in just 15 minutes. So, not only do you get equal or better accuracy, you also get far better coverage (data density).
  2. Up to date data: Per the example above, surveyors have found that not only is there a significant increase in data density, there is also the additional benefit of shorter lead times. For example. in the mining industry, where large volumes of ore is moved over large areas on a daily basis, planning the daily activities based on accurate and relevant data is a must. The fact that you can capture large areas in a short time period is highly beneficial.
  3. Higher productivity: The fact that traditional methods require significantly more manpower than using a drone inevitably results in lower productivity. By investing in modern drone technology, projects that once took days or even weeks can be done in just a few hours. This means, there will be more time for you to focus on more strategic parts of the business, and even to take on more extensive projects.
  4. Increased accessibility (and safety!): There are certain terrains that are not considered a walk in the park to survey. However, the job must still be done. A drone eliminates a lot of risk to the drone operators by keeping them out of dangerous terrain and from having to use hazardous equipment in hazardous places. In addition to that, drones can also perform a GIS survey using visual, thermal, or even multispectral imaging over any terrain.

Is your business ready to take off?

The market for drones is booming and this should come as no surprise. There is an increasing market demand for accurate and relevant GIS data, and this demand can be met by investing in modern drone technology for your business. Considering where the market is moving along with various advantages, you should ensure you are not the last one onboard. Because one thing is for certain; investing in a modern drone is not a matter of “if,” – it is a matter of “when”.

If you want some more arguments on why you should consider investing in modern drone technology for your business, you can download our guide here.


5 examples of how drones can be used in forestry applications

5 examples of how drones can be used in forestry applications

Over the past few years, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), often referred to as drones, have increased significantly in popularity within a variety of sectors. Whether you are working as surveying engineer, farmer, or why not an urban planner, drones have provided brand new ways to perform your work, facilitating the daily lives of people and businesses all over the world.

One of the domains in which the use of drones is expanding substantially is the forestry sector. In this blog post, we describe 5 important application areas where drones serve as a useful, even revolutionary, tool for the forest industry.

1. Improve forest management planning

A forest management plan specifies the objectives that a landowner has for his or her land, followed by a series of actions that should be taken in order to for those objectives to be met. In addition, these plans also contain information about factors such as acreage, boundaries, forest stands, wood species, and biological inventory. UAV technology is very useful as a tool in the production of these plans. The forest planner saves a lot of time and also, the quality of the plans can be substantially increased.

2. Document actions

As mentioned in the previous section, drone technology can be of great help when it comes to documenting actions, both those that have already been taken, but also those that the forest planner recommends should take place. For example, the data captured by the drone can provide information about the potential need for cleaning or thinning; It can map windfalls after a storm, reducing the costs for recovering the fallen timber. It can also document driving damages after and corrective actions can be taken.  

3. Detect and manage pests and diseases

Pests and diseases can be a big danger to the survival of forests. The good news is that by using drone technology, it is possible to detect outbreaks in an early stage, so that corrective actions can be taken immediately. Also, with this knowledge at hand, the landowners can take preventive actions in order to protect their forests against future infestations. In these situations, it is advantageous to equip your drone with a multispectral camera, which we talk more about in this blog post about precision agriculture utilizing UAVs.

4. Manage and prevent forest fires

Another important drone application area in forestry, where drones can even save human lives, is handling forest fires. The drones can for example help the firemen to keep track of fire fronts and identify the location and intensity of hotspots, helping the decision makers direct the firefighting activities. After the fire, using drones is a very efficient way to find hotspots that might cause the wildfire to rekindle. You can read more about forest fire control using drones in one of our previous blog posts.

5. Manage large scale forest plantations

Finally, drone technology has become an increasingly popular tool when it comes to assessing and managing forest plantations. The drones can provide the owner with information about vital factors such as volume, tree height, as well as the overall condition of the plantation.

Opening up for new possibilities for the future

Using drones in forestry applications undoubtedly implies a number of advantages, such as time and cost savings as well as increased operational efficiency. Although the use of drones in forestry may still be in an early stage, the technology definitely has great potential in the near future.

Want to find out how YOU could use drones in your own operations? Don’t hesitate to contact us, we would be glad to help you sort it out!


Things to consider during UAV night flights

How come we at SmartPlanes find this an interesting topic? Well, there’s no mystery to it, we have customers that need the ability to fly at night, simple as that.

One example is the World Wildlife Fund, WWF, that owns a dozen of Freyas that they use for locating rhinos and elephants, as well as looking for poachers. The thing with looking for these animals is that they are easier to find during dusk and dawn. It is also so that due to the background heat radiation of the African savannah the only time you can fly a thermal sensor with any chance of success is during late night and dawn.

What do we mean by “night”?

Let us start by using a definition from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the US. Night means the time between the end of evening civil twilight and the beginning of morning civil twilight, as published in the Air Almanac, converted to local time.

Problems with UAV night flight

We have a few considerations when flying at night.

  1. We can’t see the plane
  2. Low visibility with regards to the surroundings
  3. Lack of a UAS Traffic Management, UTM

1. Visibility

It would be difficult to operate a small unmanned aircraft system during the night unless the small unmanned aircraft has anti-collision lighting visible for at least 3 miles, or 4.8km.

Preferably we would like to know what direction the UAV is pointing to in the darkness of the night. The answer to that question can be found within manned aviation.

In addition to this we would like to introduce a strobe function, as we have found that the strobe function makes it even easier to detect and locate the UAV.

2. Collision avoidance

In a previous blog I stated that collision avoidance in a fixed wing UAV was a bit of a gimmick (and explained my position). I also stated that the exception was during landing and takeoff, where lower altitudes are a given. And of course, with no visibility of the surrounding area, during the night, it would be a good thing.

3. UTM

A UAS Traffic Management, UTM, system for low-altitude airspace may be needed. According to NASA, a UTM system would enable safe and efficient low-altitude airspace operations by providing services such as airspace design, corridors, dynamic geofencing, severe weather and wind avoidance, congestion management, terrain avoidance, route planning and re-routing, separation management, sequencing and spacing, and contingency management.

No doubt several of these features would be of help in a night flight situation. Especially if flying closer to civilization.


One of our Freyas have already been approved for night flight in the US, utilizing anti-collision lighting. That said, there is still a lot of improvement that can be made, and work is ongoing.

Roger Ohlund, CMO SmartPlanes


LiDAR vs Photogrammetry | Part 1 – Background

For the past 6 months, I have based my blog on daily discussions within the company, and of course the ever-evolving market trends. When I recently found myself short on topics for the blog, and when I received a question from one of our customers that demanded a slightly more extensive discussion than the average response, it led me to believe that such questions and answers could be of interest to others. That, and since these more complex topics are well suited to the blog format, has given me access to an extensive source of ideas for a continuous blog, meaning that you’ll have to suffer my writing a while yet.

In this blog post, we will be discussing the use of airborne LiDAR (Light Detection And Ranging) versus photogrammetry, and what we can expect from advances in sensors and post processing.

What makes sense from a business perspective?

As with all investments your choice should obviously be based on what makes sense for your business. At the end of the day it becomes a choice of technology based on the work that you are expected to perform, that and the budget available. To understand the correlation between available technology and your business need, it makes sense to educate yourself regarding the available technology, something I aim to help with.

LiDAR vs. Photogrammetry – what’s the difference?

When we are discussing LiDAR and Photogrammetry technologies, we are essentially talking about laser measurements and photographs. Photogrammetry use captured images to make measurements, while LiDAR use lasers to enable measurements. Lasers are distinguished from other light sources by their coherence. Spatial coherence is typically expressed through the output being a narrow beam, which is diffraction-limited. I.e. laser beams can be focused to very tiny spots, achieving a very high irradiance.


LiDAR is a surveying method that measures distance to a target by illuminating that target with a pulsed laser light, and measuring the reflected pulses with a sensor. Differences in laser return times and wavelengths can then be used to make digital 3D-representations of the target. It also requires extremely accurate angle measurements to determine the direction of the laser beam. One of the advantages of LiDAR is the information that the sensor gathers, LiDAR scanners with multiple return capability are measuring more than a single point when a laser is reflected. This means we have multiple reflections that can for example represent both the surface of a tree canopy and then the ground, and even objects in between. Processing and modelling software allows the user to analyse specific areas and data of interest. For example, filtering the point cloud data to remove everything except the ground returns, resulting in a highly accurate Digital Terrain Model, DTM.

Terrestrial LiDAR System, TLS.

Terrestrial Laser Systems are comprised of rapid pulse lasers, calibrated receivers, precision timing, high-speed micro controlled motors, precise mirrors and advanced computing capabilities. Along with precise angle measurement, echo digitization and waveform processing it is critical to measure time of flight accurately. There’s a higher point density and accuracy in terrestrial LiDAR than in airborne LiDAR.

Airborne LiDAR System, ALS.

An Airborne LiDAR System is typically comprised of three major components, a LiDAR instrument, a GNSS receiver, and an Inertial Measurement Unit, IMU. The LiDAR instrument captures range information which is then combined with IMU and GPS data. Through post processing the result is a geo-referenced point cloud. The quality of the point cloud data produced by ALS depends on GPS and IMU accuracy, LiDAR ranging and angular accuracy, extended GPS base lines and SW post processing algorithms.


Photogrammetry can only create points based on what the sensor of the camera can detect illuminated by ambient light. It involves estimating the 3-dimensional coordinates of points employing measurements made in two or more photographs taken from different positions. Common points are identified in each image, and a line of sight can be constructed from the camera position to the point on the object. It is the intersection of these lines that determines the 3D location of the point through triangulation. Furthermore, photogrammetry’s point cloud has a RGB values for each point. This means that you’ll have a colorized point cloud with good visual representation of textures.

In the next part, we will continue the discussion around accuracy, pros & cons and use cases with regard to both technologies. 

Roger Öhlund, CMO SmartPlanes


Buyer’s guide for fixed-wing drones: What you need to know

Have you decided to invest in a fixed-wing drone for your surveying business? Good call!

Moving from using traditional surveying techniques to using fixed wing drones can actually boost productivity with as much as 800 %. This is just one of the reasons why more and more businesses decide to invest in modern drone technology – you can read more about the advantages here.

What you need to consider when investing in fixed-wing drone technology

So now that you have come so far that you have taken the decision to buy a drone for your business, the next step is to find the best solution for your business needs.

When it comes to fixed wing drones, there are dozens of options in the marketplace. Finding the right UAV is not done overnight, as there are many factors you need to take into consideration. The drone you choose for your business depends on various things, such as the complexity of your projects and what type of data that is to be collected.

Below is a list of some things to consider, which can come in handy when you are to evaluate different fixed-wing drones:

  • Payload: Does the drone have flexibility concerning the payload, and what payload should you go for to be able to produce the required data?
  • Take-off and landing: How does the drone take off and land? There are several different launch and landing methods, and you need to make sure the method is suitable for your needs.
  • Maintenance and parts: Considering the need to routine maintenance and the risk for component failure, will there be proximity to service centers and providers?
  • Software: Is the data captured in a usable format for post-processing and integration into your work process?
  • Safety: Have you considered the prevailing safety requirements? Both European and American regulatory agencies have decided on a weight classification for UAVs, and they are simultaneously investigating sub categories based on impact energy.

The above list only covers a portion of the things you need to consider when looking for the best fixed-wing drone technology for your business. To help you navigate the drone jungle, we have put together a buyer’s guide that you can use as a handbook when you are to invest in fixed-wing drone technology for your business. Get it here!


Meet SmartPlanes at Intergeo 2017 | Let’s talk drones!

The summer has come and gone (well, at least in some parts of the world), and the fall is waiting around the corner. And as we all know, fall is conference season, which means that we have a bunch of great events to look forward to.

Discussing the future of BVLOS at InterDrone

This week, the SmartPlanes team could be spotted at InterDrone in Rio, Las Vegas. InterDrone brings the UAV industry together, and as always, the program offered some valuable insights of where the industry is and where it is going. What we found especially important was the discussions around the future of beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) operations, which is something that SmartPlanes put very much focus on right now.

Coming up – Intergeo in Berlin!

In less than a month, another big event is coming up, i.e. Intergeo in Berlin. The 3-days event takes place September 26-28, and features more than 550 exhibitors from over 30 countries. Some pretty good networking opportunities, in other words.

SmartPlanes will be exhibiting together with our partner Mena3D and you will find us in hall 3.1 at booth C3.009. Please feel free to drop by and experience the many features and functionalities of our UAVs and sensors. Get a sneak peek and feel free to send us a message in advance, in order to set up a meeting onsite!



Forest fire control using drones

When a fire goes out of control disaster strikes

In October 2016, Little Valley, Nevada, embers from a controlled burn set 10 days earlier in timber above Washoe Valley sparked and flared in the wind. “Smoke rose from the site, prompting a call to 911 that was dismissed as unfounded. Twelve minutes later, a second 911 call brought firefighters out. By the time they reached the burn site, the blaze had grown to at least 5 acres and was spreading fast.

When the Little Valley Fire was finally contained at 2,291 acres more than five days later, 23 homes and 17 outbuildings, including historic structures, had been destroyed.”

One of the conclusions was that the Nevada Department of Forestry, NDF, failed to adequately monitor the burn site. The NDF simply put, did not have the resources in place to monitor a 250-acre prescribed burn site.

The day before the winds picked up and reignited the fire, NDF reported to have had five people on site for mop-up. Mop-up is the term used to describe the extinguishing of the fire where needed. Mop-up is usually done around the perimeter of the prescribed fire to keep it contained and controlled. Active patrol of the control lines (fire edge) will continue until the prescribed fire is completely out. After that periodic patrol will continue to ensure no latent smoke and/or heat is detected.

Five people watching the perimeter of 250 acres was obviously not enough, also because hotspots are not necessarily visible to the naked eye, the heat lingering below the surface of the ground will go undetected.

Could a drone have made a difference?

At SmartPlanes, we looked at this tragic event purely from a technical perspective, and asked ourselves “Could our system have made a difference?”. Being a manufacturer of fixed wing UAVs and having both thermal and calibrated thermal sensors in our portfolio, we believe the answer to be; Yes, it could!

Forest fires

Forest fires can be separated into several categories,

  • Controlled or prescribed burning
  • Hazard reduction burning (backfire, swailing)
  • Wildfire

Controlled fire can be a tool for foresters, and stimulates the germination of some desirable forest trees, and reveals soil mineral layers which increases seedling vitality, thus renewing the forest. Hazard reduction or controlled burning is conducted during the cooler months to reduce fuel buildup and decrease the likelihood of serious hotter fires. Back burning involves starting small fires along a manmade or natural firebreak in front of a main fire front. Back burning reduces the amount of fuel that’s available to the main fire by the time that it reaches the burnt area. A wildfire is a fire in an area of combustible vegetation, and can be characterized in terms of the cause of ignition, their physical properties, the combustible material present, and the effect of weather on the fire.

In industrialized countries, controlled burning is usually overseen by fire control authorities for regulations and permits. The party responsible must delineate the intended time and place. Obtaining a permit may not limit liability if the fire burns out of control.

There are two basic causes of forest fires. One is natural (lightning) and the other is people. Controlled burns have a long history in forest management.

Back burning is utilized in controlled burning and during wildfire events. While controlled burns utilize back burning during planned fire events to create a “black line”, back burning or backfiring is also done to stop a wildfire that is already in progress. Firebreaks are also often used as an anchor point to start a line of fires along natural or manmade features such as a river, road or a bulldozed clearing. It is called back burning because the small fires are designed to ‘burn back towards the main fire front’ and are usually burning and traveling against ground level winds.

Fighting wildfires or controlling prescribed burning with SmartPlanes drones

In the event of a wildfire or a controlled burn, information is critical for fire management and suppression.

The scientists at the Ljungberg lab at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Umeå did a two-day field excursion to test thermal cameras in drones, joining the students at the fire management course at the forest faculty, who were going to do a prescribed burn of a 40-acre clear-cut. The scientists wanted to test their fixed wing UAV from SmartPlanes and their multirotor drone to capture thermal images and video.

SmartPlanes Freya equipped with a thermal camera is a powerful tool to collect information both during and after a fire. With the thermal camera, you can see the location of the fire through the smoke, but also the location and intensity of hotspots, helping the decision makers direct the firefighting activities. After the fire, it is a very efficient way to find hotspots that might cause the wildfire to rekindle. A Freya will cover up to 450 acres in one flight with the duration of 1 hour 40 minutes. And we are here not only speaking of a perimeter search, we are speaking of the entire burn area.

You can find the scientist’s short, but very enlightening, video here.

Fighting wildfires or controlling prescribed burning with drones


Freya is easily transported to the scene of a fire by a single person and rapidly deployed with an auto takeoff feature. It has very long endurance and delivers high quality information to the decision makers on the ground. The fact that Freya is built in Lexan and carbon reinforced EPP with heat laminated composite surfaces makes it exceptionally suited for use in forest environments. Furthermore, a UAV is very cost effective, and using manned aircraft to gather the same information would be far more expensive.

Sources: http://www.rgj.com/story/news/2017/02/15/little-valley-fire-investigation-size-response-key-factors-botched-burn/97553760/

Roger Ohlund, CMO SmartPlanes


LiDAR vs Photogrammetry | Part 2 – Comparison

In the first part in this mini blog series, I discussed the use of airborne LiDAR (Light Detection And Ranging) versus photogrammetry, and what we can expect from advances in sensors and post processing. In part two, I will now elaborate on the topic and make a comparison between the two technologies.


For most of the applications of airborne LiDAR or camera data, accuracy is the most important requirement. Accuracy can be quantified in absolute and relative accuracy. Absolute accuracy is how accurate the point cloud is in relation to known points in any given coordinate system. Relative accuracy is how accurate the point cloud is relative to itself.  If you have good relative accuracy, then points in your point cloud would be where they are supposed to be in relation to the other points in the same point cloud. This means is that you can have good relative accuracy, but have terrible absolute accuracy. It also means that good absolute accuracy is dependent on good relative accuracy.

There is a popular belief that LiDAR has unparalleled accuracy in applications where the deliverable is a point cloud. And while this is definitely true for terrestrial LiDAR, and a well used argument from LiDAR manufacturers, the fact is that when it comes to airborne LiDAR it is nowhere near as obvious. Aerial LIDAR uses a very accurate distance and angle measuring device, but this is reliant upon relatively inaccurate position and angular measurements caused by the UAV. This means the final data is of comparatively lower accuracy. Furthermore, airborne LiDAR also makes it difficult to gather high resolution data in comparison to photogrammetry.

Airborne LiDAR sends laser pulses and measures the time it takes for the pulse to return, but as the position and direction in space only can be determined relative to the aircraft’s coordinate system, given by IMU data and GPS positioning, there are obvious dependencies very similar to that in the case of photogrammetry. Photogrammetry uses advanced triangulation and pixel matching to establish point clouds, utilizing post processing software, and does a very good job of creating an accurate 3D model. Another difference between photogrammetry and LiDAR is that LiDAR works by scanning progressively through the scene, as opposed to taking a snapshot of the scene at one moment, so any discrepancy in its measured movement during the scan will distort the resulting data further. Think of it as a coordinate system inside a coordinate system, and while the inside coordinate system may be accurate (produced by the LiDAR itself), the outside coordinate system (determined by the aircraft) is not only less accurate, it is constantly changing position during a progressive scan, making it difficult to achieve significant accuracy within.

The positional information can be made more accurate if using RTK/PPK GPS systems. A much bigger problem though is the angular measurement. The rate and accuracy with which normal drone IMUs measures angular movement is nowhere near what the LiDAR itself is capable of. Assuming you did know precisely where the sensor is positioned, using even top of the range military-spec angular measurement sensors (not likely as it would require an enormous budget), the best you can generally obtain is in the order of 1/100th of a degree. This sounds quite precise but results in a large error when you are flying high over a site. Lightweight sensors currently used on drones are typically unable to achieve better than 1/10th of a degree angular error.

With photogrammetry, the accuracy comes from each photo being a momentary, complete and precise record of everything seen within the frame, so it doesn’t require such accurate positional and directional sensor information. Within each image, there is always a precise relationship between the angles of different pixels in the image at a given distance, so there is no substantial chance of inaccuracy within an image once you know the precise internal lens and camera parameters.

A potential source of error comes from the process of stitching together many different images to make the 3D model. However, this can be countered by a high-degree of image overlap and the use of Ground Control Points (GCPs). GCPs are positions marked and surveyed on the ground, visible in the aerial imagery, to which the data is precisely fitted during the processing stage. This ensures that the entire 3D model is accurate, i.e. usually ~5cm across the site, but it is possible to increase this accuracy, which has been demonstrated to as high as 5mm accuracy.

Pros and cons

As we have seen above, there are limitations as well as advantages to both airborne LiDAR and photogrammetry.


Photogrammetry uses ambient light, why it becomes obvious that low light conditions are detrimental to producing a useful deliverable. It also needs structure to be able to identify unique points in several pictures, as such a snow-covered ground or a large asphalt space makes it difficult, if not impossible, to post process. Photogrammetry cannot penetrate vegetation canopy, making it impossible to produce an accurate Digital Terrain Model, DTM. With photogrammetry modeling narrow objects such as transmission lines, pipes, sharp-edge features results in low conformance because photogrammetry makes rough approximations and then smooths the model out to remove noise. An unfortunate side effect, is that conformance at edges declines.

Airborne LiDAR

Airborne LiDAR is an expensive choice if you are measuring bare earth mine sites, earthworks projects, and other areas that are not occluded by vegetation canopy. Modeling with LiDAR is monochrome and generally has much less resolution/point density. Accuracy is not as good as photogrammetry, and one can expect positioning accuracy to be as bad as 15 to 20cm.


While accuracy usually is priority 1, it is as often followed by cost considerations. Airborne LiDAR is more expensive than photogrammetry, period. Mostly because airborne LiDAR is an active scanner requiring a high precision GNSS receiver and an equally advanced IMU, while photogrammetry uses passive scanners that rely on available ambient light and ground control points, and post processing require less of the GNSS and IMU.


There is a distinct difference between the deliverable from airborne LiDAR data and photogrammetry. While both are able to generate point clouds and 3D models, the airborne LiDAR data is often of significantly less resolution and lack the color information provided by a RGB camera. Finally, water bodies or transparent surfaces are not accurately captured by either photogrammetry or LIDAR, however this is not a problem as you can interpolate from the nearest shoreline, given water is effectively a level surface.

Use cases


Photogrammetry is well suited to the task of mapping mine sites, earth works, quarries, and other areas that are not occluded by vegetation. Typical use cases include surveying, generating Digital Surface Models, DSM, and volume calculations. There are of course many other use cases that involves other types of sensors than RGB, and that utilize photogrammetry to achieve its end result, these are however not relevant in a comparison with LiDAR.

Airborne LiDAR

LiDAR, while capable of doing what photogrammetry does, disregarding the previously discussed limitations, is particularly well suited to the task of mapping areas that are occluded by ground vegetation, mapping in low light conditions and mapping of narrow objects such as transmission lines, pipes and sharp-edge features. Typical use cases include generating Digital Terrain Models, DTM, calculating biomass in forestry, modelling of narrow objects such as transmission lines, pipes, sharp-edge features.


In comparing these two technologies, what’s essential to understand is that the one is not better than the other. They both have their applications, and they also have their limitations. It boils down to understanding the differences in approach and the capabilities/limitations of the two technologies, and then make an educated decision based on business need, cost and ROI.


Some of what I have written about above is subject to change. Once focal plane array (FPA) LiDAR, or solid-state LiDAR, is available on the market, LiDAR will be able to frame a shot, similar to taking a photo, capturing a momentary scene with an array of detectors, as opposed to the previously discussed progressive scan. FPA LiDARs are thought to become cheaper, smaller and more geometrically accurate than the current LiDAR technology. 

Roger Öhlund, CMO SmartPlanes


How to choose the right drone camera

How to choose the right drone camera

We often get questions regarding our choice of camera and the relevance of a high pixel count. I will take the liberty to elaborate on this, mostly because it seems to me that there is a lot of misconceptions.

Size matters, APS-C sensor quality

The consensus in the world of photography is that Image quality does not equate to pixel count, not even by far.

Below you can see a picture captured by a sensor that is 9.6 x 12.8mm (left), but also the Ricoh GRII sensor that is 25.1 × 16.7mm. The smaller sensor is 20 Megapixel while the Ricoh GRII sensor is 16.3 Megapixel (right).

How to choose the right drone camera

The size of sensor that a camera has, ultimately determines how much light it uses to create an image. In very simple terms, image sensors (the digital equivalent of the film previous generations might have used in their cameras) consist of millions of light-sensitive spots called photosites which are used to record information about what is seen through the lens. Therefore, it stands to reason that a bigger sensor can gain more information than a smaller one and produce better images.

Think about it this way, if you had a compact camera with a typically small image sensor, its photosites would be dwarfed by those of a DSLR with the same number of megapixels, but a much bigger sensor. Able to gain more information, the large DSLR photosites would be capable of turning out photos with better dynamic range, less noise and improved low light performance than its smaller-sensored sibling. Which as we know, makes for happy photographers.

A larger sensor will:

  • result in improved low-light performance
  • increase dynamic range
  • mean less diffraction
  • achieve greater depth of field

Despite a lower Megapixel count (16 vs 20 Megapixel) the Ricoh GRII offers a better image quality for photogrammetric processing (lower noise due to a larger sensor pixel pitch, and no antialiasing filter).

Anti-aliasing filter: Most consumer cameras have an antialiasing filter (an optical low-pass filter) to reduce moiré effects. An Anti-aliasing filter effectively reduces the effective resolution of an optical system.

Still today, 2017, the Ricoh GRII is listed among the top ten APS-C compact digital cameras in the world.

So when choosing a camera for your drone, go for the larger sensor rather than the higher pixel count.

Roger Öhlund, CMO SmartPlanes


Case Story: Buck Forestry improves efficiency and reduces data collection costs using UAV technology

Buck Forestry Services is a leading technical forestry services company in New Zealand. They undertake a wide range of technical services for forest owners, such as forest inventory and forestry operations quality control. This case story gives you a glimpse of how they use modern UAV technology in order to provide their clients with more accurate data at a lower cost and with increased efficiency.

Buck Forestry uses the latest techniques and software to collect accurate and reliable measurement data. One of the techniques they use is UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) technology, commonly referred to as drones. Kevan Buck, General Manager of the company, tells us more about how they use drones in their everyday business, and how this has helped them streamline their own as well as their clients’ business operations.

It all started with a client request

A couple of years ago, one of the company’s clients was on the quest to find ways to improve their data collection cost and efficiency. They considered various techniques and methods and eventually came to the conclusion that UAV technology should be a suitable tool, thanks to its high data accuracy as well as the supporting mapping software. When Buck Forestry was informed about this, they immediately realised the business potential and decided to dig into the matter, working with the client to evaluate different alternatives.

Evaluating alternatives

After a thorough analysis of the various types of drones, such as quadcopters, multi-rotors and fixed-wing drones, they came to the conclusion that a fixed-wing drone would be the best fit. “We needed a reliable drone that could fly for long periods in difficult terrain and in adverse weather conditions, so fixed-wing was the tool we wanted to pursue”, Buck explains. To ensure they would make the right decision, they first evaluated three different suppliers regarding several important criteria, and finally they decided to go with SmartPlanes, who have a supplier based in Australia.

Various application areas

Buck Forestry uses their Freya UAV on a daily basis and for various applications. The drone provides high quality aerial imagery as well as high precision orthophotos, which makes it possible to survey large areas and make decisions based on accurate measurement data. Buck describes a typical scenario where the UAV comes in handy: “At the moment, many of our clients require accurate mapping updates in order to keep track of areas that have been harvested. In these situations drones have served as a very useful tool”. UAVs have also proven very useful in the creation of digital terrain models as well as investigating hydrology aspects.

The result

Drones have proven to be a very cost and time effective tool for Buck Forestry, and Buck himself praises UAV technology when it comes to increased efficiency in their daily operations. “Compared to having people on the ground using more traditional methods, the UAV provides more data at a lower cost,” Buck explains. However, he points out, there is a lot more to it than just flying the plane. You must also be able to make sense of the data that the technology provides you with. “The whole analysis and data interpretation process is a huge part of the solution. You need to have skilled people that can do not just the flying but also understand the whole data analysis part”, Buck concludes.

For companies considering investment in UAV technology, just as Buck Forestry did a couple of years ago, Buck highlights a couple of things that you should have in in mind. Firstly, you need to ensure that the drone is reliable and fit for your specific purpose. Secondly, you should make sure you have a committed and service-minded supplier or point of contact, preferably not too far away geographically wise. Finally, he highlights the importance of doing your research properly and to not underestimate the time that it takes to learn.

The future looks bright

So what about the future? Is UAV in forestry here to stay? Undoubtedly, if you ask Buck: “The interest in drones in forestry in New Zealand is huge. I’m sure it’s just scratching the surface at the moment, but eventually it will be an essential tool in terms of what it can do for the forestry industry”.

Watch this video where Buck Forestry used the Freya drone in action!

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White paper from Terrane Aerial (external link): Terrane Aerial Mapping System: White Paper (PDF)


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