It may seem like a fairly straightforward upgrade from UAS photogrammetry to UAS Lidar, but that is simply not the case. It’s really all about a higher level of systems integration and fail-safe, standard operating procedures that most firms are not ready for. Time for a reality check.
There’s no question that the introduction of relatively low cost UAVs and lightweight, high resolution, digital camera systems has forever changed the digital mapping industry. Add to this the availability of open source, structure from motion algorithms and it’s a game changing package for the traditional land surveying and environmental mapping firms – even the small ones.
In most cases the projects being mapped were not likely candidates for full – sized photogrammetric flights, but these small UAS are becoming more capable. Once beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) is permitted, the traditional photogrammetric mapping firms may have to respond, if that’s possible.
Purchasing a UAS with a professional camera system along with the related flight management and data processing software requires a commitment of resources, but the ROI is relatively short, as is the learning curve and the investment risk is manageable. Traditional land surveying and mapping firms are finding UAS photogrammetry to be a natural progression from their traditional, ground-based business model, even with the FAA safety regulation hurdles.
Taking the next step, to an integrated system and fail-safe, flight operations that supports lidar data collection should not be taken lightly. The overall risk of failure is orders of magnitude greater than with a camera system and the data processing requires much more education and training, as does the QA/QC. Crashing a lidar sensor and the UAV that supports it is a significant loss to any company’s flight operations. Producing high quality, ground-truthed point cloud data also carries greater liability.
Only a few UAS photogrammetry mapping firms are going to be capable of investing in and managing UAS lidar, unless they are going to modify their business model. The relatively higher lidar system cost will tend to modulate some of the desire, but not all.
Caveat Emptor – let the buyer beware.
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