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Flight fantastic: drones speed up condition survey

15th February 2021

Drone technology means the role of remote aerial inspection is growing. Nick Morgan reports. 

Before any significant works are carried out affecting land or just about anything else, it’s important to obtain a satisfactory record of conditions, in case of disagreement or problems later on.

We at Galbraith have been working collaboratively with an aerial and subsea services company to ensure that detailed ‘pre-records of condition’ are taken prior to work on some 3,700 acres of grazing land. The site has a myriad of features such as dykes, ditches, watercourses, sheep fanks, tracks, roads, peat banks, grazing paddocks, and football pitches, demonstrating the diversity of obstacle that any one project can present.

Each has its own intrinsic value to a landowner and the landscape, and , if they are disturbed, there can be financial consequences in terms of either reinstatement or compensation for loss. Galbraith is skilled at assessing these losses, with experienced land agents, agricultural and sporting specialists to call upon.

HebDrone, which provides unmanned aerial vehicles as well as remotely operated subsea vehicles, was commissioned because of the scale of the project and because the landscape to be crossed was relatively unchanging and in some instances boggy, making it difficult to obtain a full overview from ground level.

“The planning phase of any operation is key to the success of any project,” said Conal Ferguson, director of HebDrone. “This looks at several aspects including safety, access and choice of unmanned aerial vehicle. The UAV we selected for this operation was the DJI Matrice 210 RTK.

“This UAV is IP rated – a key benefit here in the western Isles, and has an integrated first-person-view camera, upward downward and forward vision sensors, dual gimbal and choice of payload. The ‘Matrice’ UAV continuously provides accurate positional data, allowing pinpoint geo-tagging of information.

“To allow the UAV to fly throughout the day we used a DJI TB50 battery charging station, so we could complete the project within the required timescales.”

Greater analysis will be made upon completion of the work, which involves installing miles of underground cabling in areas that potentially have been compacted and damaged by construction traffic and needs to be measured to assess reinstatement or financial losses.

Ordinarily this would be evaluated physically on site, but HebDrone can measure these areas quickly and accurately without the need to set foot on land. Galbraith sees this as a fantastic tool, supplemented by on-site review to ensure the locations are fully assessed.

HebDrone can supply data in completed digital source modelling maps, or with ‘point cloud data’ in several accepted formats, with accuracy down to millimetres. At Galbraith we import this information into our bespoke mapping software, allowing further review and mapped output that can be used during discussions and negotiations.

Conal Ferguson said: “As with all new technologies, it can be a challenge to integrate UAVs and their associated reporting and software programmes into existing working practices, but our work ties in with a wide range of applications showing the power of aerial and subsea inspection and surveys.

“The current pandemic we are all working through allows us to look closely at current methods and investigate where changes can be made. The collection of data by UAV will not negate the need for qualified personnel to analyse and make decisions but it allows data to be collected in a safer and more cost-effective manner.”

Combining advanced technology with traditional surveying practices can bring excellent data accuracy and also save time and cost. There remains a slight disconnect between the data that can be produced and what is a clear format for review by those unfamiliar with GIS, but the gap is getting smaller all the time.