In this guest blog, Dustin Price, Operations Manager at Landpoint provides his insights about which types of surveys can be accomplished with UAV lidar.
In the survey field, LiDAR is best known for its use as a general site documentation tool, but there are many hidden applications for this technology. UAVs have opened up a number of avenues for different types of surveys and inspections, and LiDAR is only becoming more accessible and affordable. Here are a few types of surveys that best utilize LiDAR technology.
The Evolution of LiDAR: Pairing LiDAR With UAVs
When used with drones, LiDAR becomes instantly more versatile. UAVs can be flown close to the ground for high-resolution scans, and operators have complete control over where the UAVs go. While LiDAR has been used via both ground crews and traditional aircraft (such as planes and helicopters) in the past, UAVs can safely and quickly access places they cannot. If you need a LiDAR scan of, say, a narrow crevasse, it’s easy with a drone.
Scanning Equipment for Wear and Tear
Identifying wear-and-tear on equipment, such as large oil-field machines, is one of the best applications for LiDAR and UAVs. Traditionally, these machines have to be manually inspected, because other aircraft cannot fly close enough to the machines to identify problems. Thanks to the risk of things like fume and gas leaks, manual inspections aren’t just expensive; they can also be dangerous.
Using UAVs for this type of inspection means that these inspections can be done more frequently. Frequent inspections mean more reliable inspections, which in turn leads to better insurance rates and a lower percentage of incidents across a site.
Producing Agricultural Surveys
Through comprehensive terrain mapping, LiDAR can be used for the purposes of agricultural planning. Once terrain has been effectively mapped with high-resolution drone scanning surveys, farmers can then see where the land needs to be worked. In simulations, farmers will be able to see where the sun hits the land, and areas where water runoff may be a concern.
For improved efficiency, many farms need to be able to expose their crops to very specific amounts of light throughout the year, and it can’t always be easy to predict depending on the terrain. By scanning terrain in this way, multiple simulations can reveal the interactions of weather and sunlight upon the land. Since LiDAR can cut straight through brush, LiDAR can even be used on farmland that has not yet been cleared.
Looking for Structural Damage Over Large Distances
Drones and LiDAR technology can be used to scan for structural damage over large distances, such as over pipelines or in wind farms. In addition to being able to get very close to equipment, drones can cover large distances much more quickly than a human can. An entire fleet of drones can be used to survey extensive sites in a grid, which can replace human labor.
Structural damage can be uncovered and immediately reported, particularly since UAVs are able to report their geographical location along with their data. These GPS coordinates can be used to locate and resolve structural damage quite quickly.
Working with Sensors and the IoT
When integrated with sensors and the IoT, LiDAR technology can be used to create new, next-generation surveys. These surveys will not only include clouds of terrain data, but also information regarding equipment performance, heat, potential gas leaks, and more. When paired with these sensors, large volumes of data can be gathered and analyzed to determine if an equipment failure could arise.
Being able to predict an equipment failure in this way greatly reduces the chances that there could be a hazardous or expensive equipment shutdown, and helps companies save money through proactive maintenance. Over time, machine learning systems can grow in accuracy, and will be able to take all of this collected information and use it to identify potential risk factors.
LiDAR: Only One Tool in the Surveyor’s Belt
Of course, LiDAR isn’t the right technology for every solution, and there are other options besides UAVs. Photogrammetric scanning technology is fully colored and textured, so it’s often better for large projects because the data it captures is often more easily understood by the untrained eye. However, LiDAR and photogrammetry can be used in conjunction with each other, melding the best of both technologies.
Today, many surveys can be done faster and more safely with the combination of drone-mounted LiDAR, and new applications of these technologies are still being explored.
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