The Disjointed Drone Workflow Marketplace

Drone technology has the ability to drastically improve business operations. Innumerable applications for drones are possible, with businesses dreaming up more applications every day. Business owners see potential for drones to speed up their business, save time on tasks, and even develop entirely new business models.

Yet these ideas are met with a disjointed marketplace that offers incomplete pieces of the puzzle. To acquire, assemble, and get these puzzle pieces working together is frequently met with frustration and eventual abandonment of ideas. Why? Often the effort required far exceeds any savings of the drone flight itself.

The Promise of Drone Technology

People see fancy ads and marketing and often think drone solutions can happen in the push of a button. We in the drone industry need to set expectations so that we meet business expectations, and that means tempering expectations. Yes, it will be far, far better than what you have today. No, it will not all happen with the push of a button. Yet.

Drone Inspection Workflow

To illustrate this problem, let’s look at drone inspections, a promising opportunity. Inspections rely on technology which captures, stores and analyzes images. When business owners first view an inspection video taken from a drone, they are captivated by images that shows them something which previously would have taken far more effort to acquire via other means. However, once the novelty has worn off, obvious questions will begin to form: “How can you tell me where the problems are instead of requiring me to view the entire video and find them myself?” This inspection data needs another step of automation.

Everyone enjoys looking at “before” and “after” pictures. It’s quite easy to spot differences or changes from one to the next. This is because the framing, lighting and positioning of the object is usually nearly identical between pictures. In the world of inspections, this concept is exciting when we consider the possibilities of drone imagery collected over long periods of time. When using drones, however, environmental elements including wind, lighting, and temperature combined with a lack of precision between pilots and camera angles, creates differences between images which makes image comparison difficult if not impossible.

Lighting, flight angle and camera angle can make image comparison difficult.

Lighting, flight angle and camera angle can make image comparison difficult.

To achieve the promise of automation—and to have software that compares the photographs between images and highlight differences—requires precision. Precise flight paths combined with precise camera angles and similar lighting are required to automate image comparison.

3D Drone Flight Planning Software 

Examining flight paths, we see a marketplace today that touts “flight planning” software which is rudimentary at best. Horizontal patterns above a target area will not work for vertically and amorphous shaped objects such as buildings, bridges, and wind turbines etc.

What we need is the ability to model the 3D environment to such accuracy that we can easily plot flight points, and then simulate the flight with world lighting, and precisely repeat it every week/month/year.

Real Time Kinematic (RTK) satellite navigation provides one piece of this modeling puzzle: it gives the drone the ability to plot and measure its precise location. Modeling could be provided by doing a pre-flight using Lidar and importing the subsequent 3D representation. The missing puzzle piece is route planning software to integrate with these models and generate plot points for the drone to follow.

Lidar Map converted to 3D model

Lidar Map converted to 3D model

The advantages of this type of system would be fully automated flight & image acquisition and subsequent image analysis. The pieces are there today, but it takes considerable effort to put all of this together.

Drone Software Integration Will Take Time

While drone software continues to improve and integrate more and more with other software packages to work seamlessly, it will be up to drone pilots and camera operators to get the pictures, and highly skilled image and video enthusiasts to stitch these pictures together.  

Embrace drones, temper your expectations, and give your business an advantage now. Let us help put this puzzle together and improve your operations. Before you know it, the technology will catch up with your lofty expectations. In fact, before too long it will be able to do what you want with a push of a button!