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Maritime archaeologists use drone maps to survey shallow-water shipwrecks in marine sanctuary

Lake Huron’s Thunder Bay is known as shipwreck alley for a reason. Nearly two hundred ships met their end here, and at least half were never found.

If this sounds like a maritime archaeologist’s dream — it is. But there’s just one problem. It’s difficult, and in some cases impossible, to use traditional underwater survey tools in much of the bay’s shallow, rocky shoreline.

Researchers are now turning to drones and mapping software to locate wrecks in the shallow waters of inaccessible coastlines. Drone-focused nonprofit Oceans Unmanned recently set out to help marine archeologists leverage drone data to find the lost shipwrecks of Thunder Bay.

Oceans Unmanned Helps Researchers Crack the Code on UAV Technology

For those of us who fly drones on a daily basis, it’s easy to forget that UAVs are still a foreign technology to most people. Even maritime archeologists, who often work with complex tools, might not immediately feel comfortable around drones.

That’s where professionals like Matt Pickett and Brian Taggart come in. Through their nonprofit, Oceans Unmanned, the pair helps oceanic researchers and maritime archeologists learn how to leverage drone data in their everyday work.

As retired pilots with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), both men spent the majority of their careers working with scientists and flying research and mapping aircraft for the agency.

“Matt and I have been flying scientists around for twenty-five years, helping them get what they need for their research,” Brian says. “UAVs can be intimidating to researchers. We have the background to understand the science mentality, so we can roll in and help them crack the code.”

When a group of scientists came together to develop technology-centered solutions for locating shipwrecks in Thunder Bay, they called on Oceans Unmanned to lend its expertise. Earlier this year, the organization helped the scientists design a drone-based survey program for the bays’ shallow shorelines.

Drones Offer Alternative for Underwater Survey Along Shallow, Rocky Shorelines

Traditionally, maritime archeologists use underwater survey tools to locate shipwrecks. A sensor is mounted and operated from a manned research vessel, or an autonomous underwater vehicle is equipped with sensors. At Thunder Bay this becomes problematic.

The shallow-water shorelines — under twenty feet deep — house large, rocky reefs, making underwater survey tools impractical and unsafe. Even in sections where the bottom is sandy, these methods are difficult, because research vessels can’t operate in the shallowest depths.

This orthomosaic drone map shows two timbers from a historic shipwreck in Thunder Bay.

Archeologists need a way to locate shallow-water shipwrecks from overhead, but until drones entered the picture, this was difficult. Existing satellite imagery is spotty in the area, and images that do exists are low resolution. Researchers can sometimes detect the presence of an underwater object this way, but they can’t get much other information about it. Collecting images with an airplane is equally problematic due to regional weather patterns, not to mention expensive.

Over a two-week period, Matt and Brian mapped three small sections of the bay’s shoreline, gathering data, refining flight specs, and creating techniques that can be applied by researchers on a larger scale throughout the bay. The goal of this project was to demonstrate how drones can transform the daily work of maritime archeologists, and by all accounts, they did just that.

Geo-tagged maps pinpoint the exact location of shipwrecks, making the job of research divers safer and more expedient.

Launching their drone from a vessel parked in deeper waters, the Oceans Unmanned team was able to survey even the most rocky, inaccessible areas of the shoreline. DroneDeploy’s mapping software took this one step further by turning these drone-generated images into a powerful set of data that can be used to improve safety, reduce costs, and allow scientists to do more with limited research dollars.

“DroneDeploy turns any off-the-shelf drone into a professional mapping and survey tool. It’s the natural choice for our work.” — Brian Taggart, Oceans Unmanned [click-to-tweet]

Researchers can now take initial measurements of wreck debris from directly within DroneDeploy and then export that data into GIS software for further analysis. This doesn’t eliminate the need to send divers down to a site, but it does help prioritize wreckage, so divers only have to be sent to targeted areas. Reducing the time divers spend in the water cuts costs and reduces the chance of diving accidents.

Diving time is further eliminated with geotagged drone maps — giving researchers the precise GPS location of a shipwreck. Divers can now go right to a wreck, instead of spending time searching with only a rough idea of its whereabouts.

Scientists take measurements of shipwreck debris after importing DroneDeploy data into Quick Terrain (QT) Modeler software.

All of this data is made even more powerful by the fact that it can be gathered in real time, as needed. Weather in the bay changes minute-to-minute, and shifting sediments on the ocean floor regularly expose, then re-cover shipwrecks.

Now that Oceans Unmanned has turned drone mapping over to Thunder Bay researchers, those researchers don’t have to weigh the cost of hiring a manned aircraft pilot, or bringing in expensive survey equipment. Maritime archeologists are now empowered to gather the data they need, when they need it. Research needs now drive data collection, instead of the other way around.

Drones for Good: ECO-Drone and DroneDeploy’s FLYlanthropy Program

Matt and Brian recognize that as drones grow in popularity, so do the risks posed to marine resources. They know they are in a unique position to help educate the public about responsible drone use. To further this goal, they developed the ECO-Drone program. Partnering with marine professionals, drone manufacturers, and educational institutions, they are developing a standard set of best practices that minimizes the effects of drones on wildlife and marine environments.

At DroneDeploy, we see an increasing number of mission-driven organizations, like Oceans Unmanned and its ECO-Drone program, taking to the skies for the greater good. Oceans Unmanned recently became one of a growing group of mission driven organizations to join our new FLYlanthropy program.

Member organizations like Oceans Unmanned receive DroneDeploy mapping software free of charge. We want our product to enable organizations that are having a positive impact on the health of the world’s people, habitats, and history — providing them with the data they need to make informed decisions. Because at the end of the day, we believe the sky should be productive and accessible for everyone.

Where to Learn More

Want to keep up with the exciting work being done by Oceans Unmanned? Follow them on Twitter.

If you are a private nonprofit or mission-oriented organization and would like to learn more about joining our FLYlanthropy program, you can do so here.

Interested in hearing how other organizations are using drones for the greater good? You can read about how one research group uses drone maps to create a digital record of endangered archaeological sites. Or learn about a drone service provider in south Texas that helped environmental scientists monitor a nature conservation site.

Have a story about using drones for good that you’d like to share? Join the conversation with us on Twitter.

Get Started with DroneDeploy

Want to learn how DroneDeploy can help your business? Visit www.dronedeploy.com to start your free trial or request a consultation with one of our team members. The DroneDeploy mobile application is available for free download for both iOS and Android devices.

Drones Seek Out Lost Shipwrecks Below Lake Huron was originally published in DroneDeploy’s Blog on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Quickly tag ground control points and process maps with DroneDeploy

Many common uses of drone maps such as crop scouting and site documentation don’t require a high degree of accuracy. But accuracy is vital to professionals in the construction, surveying, and aggregates industries.

Project managers must compare site maps over time to detect changes, and architects visualize design plans in building information modeling (BIM) software on top of a drone-generated 3D model of actual site conditions. To effectively compare maps and 3D models to each other, they have to be precise — the data needs to line up perfectly.

“Because we are analyzing quantifiable work related to dollars, we need highly accurate maps,” — Michael Lambert, a Virtual Design and Construction Manager at Chasco Constructors

Processing a drone map with GCPs — ground truth data — solves this problem. GCPs are large visible targets spaced throughout the mapped area with precise known locations typically measured with highly-accurate ground-based GPS equipment. The GCPs and their coordinates are then used to help drone mapping software accurately position your map in relation to the real world around it.

GCPs are typically measured with highly-accurate ground-based GPS equipment. Photo courtesy of Trimble.

A New Way to Achieve Survey-Grade Accuracy

Including GCPs has long been the most complex and time consuming part of processing accurate drone maps. Users would either need to overcome the steep learning curve of traditional GCP processing or pay high per-map fees for manual processing solutions.

Now, instead of waiting hours for initial structure from motion processing, DroneDeploy customers can tie ground control data into a map using a workflow that takes 20 minutes or less with a user interface that is intuitive and largely automated. The workflow also makes accurate map processing in projected coordinate systems accessible to users with limited geographic information systems (GIS) knowledge. Simple prompts help these users understand what they need to do to deliver a map in the right spatial reference system.

“Assisting our users in tying in ground control data will save them time and make the process of generating maps with ground truth simple and faster than ever before. We’re excited to take this first step toward making survey grade accuracy achievable on any map, for any user.” — Dr. Nicholas Pilkinton, co-founder and CTO at DroneDeploy

Easily Upload and Tag Ground Control Points in DroneDeploy

Quickly review and tag GCP targets with DroneDeploy’s self-serve workflow.

The new self-serve GCP workflow in DroneDeploy makes uploading and tagging GCPs simple for any customer — no matter your level of expertise. When uploading images from the mapping flight, just specify the correct spatial reference system and upload a spreadsheet with the GCP coordinates. Then, fifteen minutes later, you can use the self-serve GCP tool to review photos of GCP targets and tag the center in each photo.

“The Self-Serve GCP processing tool allows us to turn around mission data in a much more timely manner” — Michael Lambert, Chasco Constructors

To learn more about the new DroneDeploy self-serve GCP workflow, watch our tutorial video below.


Self-serve GCP processing is available for $49 per map to customers on the Business plan of DroneDeploy and an unlimited GCP package is available for our Enterprise customers.

Where to Learn More

Learn more about the importance of GCPs and the new self-serve workflow by signing up for our upcoming webinar, Streamline Your Workflow with Automated Ground Control Points.

Need more background on GCPs? Read our two-part blog series on using GCPs:

Curious about drone mapping accuracy with and without the use of GCPs? Read our new whitepaper, Linear Measurement Accuracy of DJI Drone Platforms and Cloud-Based Photogrammetry.

To learn more about processing ground control points, consult our support documentation:

Get Started with DroneDeploy

Want to learn how DroneDeploy can help your business? Visit www.dronedeploy.com to start your free trial or request a consultation with one of our team members. The DroneDeploy mobile application is available for free download for both iOS and Android devices.

Create Survey-Grade Maps in Minutes with Self-Serve Ground Control Points was originally published in DroneDeploy’s Blog on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

The Evolution of UAV Technology on the Farm and in the Field

Here at DroneDeploy, we usually consider ourselves future-focused, but today we’re dialing the clock back a few years. It’s 2013. “Selfie” is the newest word in the Oxford dictionary, the pope just signed onto Twitter for the first time, and DroneDeploy is a newly launched startup. For the most part, the general public’s knowledge of commercial drones begins and ends with Jeff Bezos’ dreams of UAV-powered package delivery. As for drones in agriculture? At this point, most farmers would say it’s a nonstarter. But all of that is about to change.

Fast forward to August 2017. Today, agriculture is one of the fastest growing markets for the commercial drone industry. Thousands of DroneDeploy users create ag-focused drone maps and models on a regular basis. In just under five years, drones have gone from a toy for gadget junkies to an essential tool in any ag professional’s toolbox. So how did we get here? And what can we expect from drones in agriculture over the next five years?

Read on to learn about the evolution of drones in agriculture, and hear what you can expect from UAVs in the months and years to come.

The Early Days of Drones in Agriculture: High Price Tags and Low Usability

The early challenges of drones in agriculture can be boiled down to two things: cost and usability. For starters, five years ago a fixed wing drone with a high-definition camera, capable of flying midrange distances, cost between $10–30K. The computer hardware and stitching software required to process drone maps cost several thousand more. For all but a handful of major agronomist companies and co-ops, this was a tough price tag to stomach, especially for a technology that had done little to prove its worth to the average farmer.

But aside from the obvious cost barriers, why hadn’t drone technology proven its worth to the agriculture industry back in 2013? For starters, user-friendly mapping solutions like DroneDeploy weren’t yet on the market, so a farmer had to possess a good deal of technical knowledge just to stitch a map of his fields. All of this had to be done locally, as opposed to in the cloud — requiring a powerful desktop pc — and it took upwards of two days just to process a map. When you’re talking about a disease that’s killing your crops, two days might as well be a lifetime.

For those persistent few who pushed through to create drone maps of their fields, the resulting data was not as useful as people initially hoped it would be — growers had been promised big things. To be fair, this wasn’t for lack of trying on the part of the commercial drone industry. But for all intents and purposes, drone technology was in its infancy.

Five years ago, high-resolution sensors like Tetracam were already available and capable of capturing quality data. But the industry was just beginning to figure out what to do with all of that data. In short, the UAV industry needed to figure out how to take a 160-acre map of a cornfield and make it useful for a farmer standing at the edge of that field and worried about the upcoming harvest.

Drones Today: Cloud Computing and Advanced Analytics Bring Real Value to Growers and Agronomists

Over the past several years, advances in technology have made the price of drone hardware far more accessible to the average agriculture professional. Quadcopters are easier to produce, motors are more efficient, and battery life has increased. With DJI leading the way, a farmer can purchase a mapping drone for between one and three-thousand dollars, lowering the barrier of entry and making the risk of investing in drones far more palatable.

Once a farmer does take the plunge and purchase a drone, the mapping process is far more user-friendly than it once was. For starters, household internet speeds have increased considerably, making it possible for much of the world’s computing to move to the cloud. Drone mapping is no exception. Now, instead of gathering data, returning to a desktop computer and going through the laborious process of stitching a map locally, a farmer can take his tablet or smartphone, fly 160-acres on just one battery, and upload the imagery to the cloud for processing once it lands. Mapping software companies like DroneDeploy do the rest and a farmer doesn’t need to have any technical knowledge about photogrammetry to make this happen.

As an industry, we also have a far better idea about what to do with all of this drone data. Although we still have much to learn, companies like Agremo, Aglytix, and Skymatics have developed solutions that count plants, analyze stand counts, and calculate crop damage. Major players like John Deere, Case IH-New Holland (CNH), and Climate Precision have begun to recognize the value this level of analytics brings to the world of agriculture, and have thrown their hats in the ring to create field solutions for the DroneDeploy App Marketplace.

For our part, DroneDeploy users recently reached the milestone of 10-million acres mapped using our software. Our large base of users in the agriculture field consistently challenges us to improve and refine our software and analytics. Some of our most recent ag-related advances include:

  • Improved image stitching that removes 90% of holes in late-season crop maps.
  • Compatibility with Sentera and SLANTRANGE, advanced near-infrared and multispectral sensors designed specifically for agriculture.
  • Fieldscanner: Create real-time maps and use drone data to act quickly against crop threats before the drone even lands.

As an industry, we’ve come a long way over the past five years. But no one will deny that there is still so much to learn about drones and their possibilities for the world of agriculture. So the real question is: where do we go from here?

Looking Ahead: The Future of UAV Technology in Agriculture

There is a reason we’ve made DroneDeploy easy to use, affordable, and compatible on all devices. We want users to be able to collect the most data possible. As we look forward toward the next five years, it’s time to flex the computer vision and machine learning muscle — and put that data to the best use.

“We’re just seeing the beginning of what’s possible with drones. In the near future, I expect drones to be present in almost any industry, operating autonomously on schedules to produce highly accurate data in real time.” — Mike Winn, CEO and co-founder of DroneDeploy

As an industry, we’re working hard to better understand remote sensing and how we can fully integrate machine learning analytics with drone data to deliver insights that are meaningful to farmers. We will undoubtedly see advancements in sensor technology and new information about weed signatures that allow us to better analyze crops and differentiate specific types of weeds and pests.

Looking ahead a little further, we expect Internet of Things (IoT) technology to begin to make itself into the world of UAVs. In the next five to ten years, we hope drone technology can identify specific types of crop stress, complete financial calculations about the feasibility of treatment, and then send that data directly to equipment in the field.

Sound like science fiction? We don’t think so. After all, CNH recently released a fully-autonomous tractor that allows farmers to be far more efficient, only involved directly in the deployment of the machine. In the future, we hope human labor will be taken out of the equation for drones in much the same way. Autonomous, timed deployments and beyond line-of-sight flights are all within the realm of possibility. It may sound like an overstatement now, but we can imagine a day when owning a drone on the farm is no more cutting edge than owning a tractor or a combine. If drone data helps growers and agronomists gain better insights, make more informed decisions, and reduce losses in the field — the real question is: why not?

Where to Learn More

If you haven’t tried our Fieldscanner and it’s ability to create agriculture maps in real time, now might be the day to do it. Learn more about it here.

Our July product release wrap-up has more information about other recent ag-related advances.

Or, if you are a pro looking to advance your skills in crop scouting and field management, our agriculture drone clinic series is a useful tool.

Watch our recent webinar to learn how to use drones for more accurate identification of crop trends over time using multispectral imagery

Want to put your drone to work in the field today? Read our guide to crop scouting with drones.

Get Started with DroneDeploy

Want to learn how DroneDeploy can help your business? Visit www.dronedeploy.com to start your free trial or request a consultation with one of our team members. The DroneDeploy mobile application is available for free download for both iOS and Android devices.

Drones in Agriculture, Then and Now was originally published in DroneDeploy’s Blog on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

McCarthy Building Companies’ launches, tests, and expands an in-house UAV program from one drone to twenty in less than a year

Crawl. Walk. Run. It’s a proven method of business success, but does it hold up in today’s frenzied climate of commercial drones? After all, relaxed FAA Part 107 regulations opened up the proverbial floodgates for growth in the UAV industry. For a construction company looking to add drones to its operations toolbox, it’s easy to get caught up in an “act now or be left behind” mindset and move straight into “run” mode. But as the story of McCarthy Building Companies illustrates, taking the time upfront to plan, test and prove value is crucial to the success of any enterprise drone program.

Large construction companies like McCarthy are increasingly using drone maps and models to streamline and enhance workflows on complex projects, often saving thousands of dollars in man hours along the way. But building an enterprise drone program involves its own unique set of challenges. Standardizing training and protocols, overseeing safety and ensuring confidentiality all becomes more complex when working with drones on a larger scale.

In late 2016, McCarthy Building Companies rose to meet these challenges, implementing an enterprise drone program that grew from a single drone to a fleet of twenty in just shy of a year. They plan to expand even further in the coming months. This success is thanks in large part to their innovative Drone Champion Program — a company-wide taskforce that carefully thought through every aspect of integrating drones into the company’s jobsites. As they head into the fourth quarter, the construction giant continues to find new and innovative ways for using drones to improve efficiency, communications, and data analysis on complex building projects.

Ryan Moret discusses how McCarthy Building Companies developed a thriving enterprise drone program and the carefully planned approach that led to its success.

Ryan Moret is Field Solutions Manager at McCarthy Building Companies.

Ryan Moret is Field Solutions Manager at McCarthy Building Companies and has been with the organization since 2009. As one of the largest domestic builders in the US, with regional offices in sixteen cities, McCarthy specializes in large, complex construction projects for the healthcare and education sectors, renewable energy, and more. The company’s field solutions, BIM, survey, risk management, and solar teams all leverage drone maps and models in their work.

If you attended our Drones in Construction webinar series this past spring, you heard Ryan talk about the process he and other McCarthy staff underwent to launch the company’s enterprise drone program. We asked him to expand on that story here and discuss the role of drone data on McCarthy jobsites.

Laying the Foundation for a Successful Enterprise-Level Drone Program

When Ryan and his colleagues at McCarthy set out to develop a drone program, they knew it wasn’t as simple as purchasing a single UAV and getting started. Flying a single drone is one thing, but scaling that operation across the entire country is quite another. “We didn’t want individual jobsites to go out to the local hobby shop,” Ryan says, “pick up a phantom 4, and go fly it out there without the proper licensing, insurance and training.”

To avoid growing pains as the company’s drone fleet expands over time, they needed to be thoughtful and systematic, thinking through the logistics from all angles.

“Putting any new technology into place can be a lot of work, especially when it’s something like drones that often have safety concerns, privacy concerns…It was something we had to come at very tactfully.” — Ryan Moret, Field Solutions Manager at McCarthy Building Companies

They also understood the importance of relying on expertise from all levels of the company. To this end, they created the Drone Champion Program, a taskforce that intentionally involved at least one person from each of the company’s five divisions, as well as representatives from risk management, legal and operations. The task force spent four months laying the groundwork before the first drone ever took flight at a McCarthy jobsite.

The Drone Champion taskforce was charged with carefully thinking through all aspects of building an enterprise drone program. Initially, this involved deciding if it was even feasible to create an in-house program in the first place. According to Ryan, this wasn’t a forgone conclusion. The group explored the possibility of contracting out all drone services instead of flying in house. Ultimately, they decided an in-house program would be their best option and afford them the most flexibility and control.

But the group didn’t entirely close out the possibility of contracting out drone services on a case-by-case basis. To plan for this possibility, the Drone Champion taskforce created a contract template and a list of insurance requirements for drone service contractors. This thorough, plan-ahead approach allows McCarthy’s drone program to remain agile, able to meet the varied needs of each individual project. Today, the company occasionally hires third-party drone services when it isn’t feasible for onsite staff to gather drone data themselves.

Learn more about contracting out versus building an in-house drone team.

That being said, most McCarthy projects choose to fly their own drones. The ease of using drone software programs like DroneDeploy allows staff to gather drone data during the course of a normal workday and incorporate that data into existing workflows, using industry software like Autodesk, and Box and Skyward. DroneDeploy’s App Market allows them to do this with ease, connecting drone maps to many top industry solutions from directly within the DroneDeploy dashboard.

To help McCarthy staff mobilize drones on their jobsites, the Drone Champion taskforce developed a comprehensive set of operations policies and safety protocols, as well as an ongoing staff training program. The took a close look at Part 107 regulations, then consulted with their insurance representatives, legal team and risk management. By including representatives from across the company on the task force, they are able to draw on a wide range of expertise and help ensure all angles are considered before sending a drone onto a jobsite.

Even now, a year later, the taskforce continues to play a vital role in the company’s UAV program. When a new project comes online, a representative helps staff through the process of choosing a drone, evaluating any site-specific safety concerns and providing ongoing training around hardware and software. All of this behind-the-scenes work helps projects maximize the effectiveness of their drone data, all the while maintaining jobsite safety and the integrity of critical operations.

Drone maps and models, combined with DroneDeploy’s tools for analyzing and sharing data, improved efficiency, communications and data management on a $65M hospital project in north Dallas.

Tackling Complex Projects With the Help of Drone Data

So how does McCarthy staff use drone data to improve the day-to-day workflows on their jobsites? “We handle very complex projects,” Ryan says of McCarthy’s construction portfolio. “They are large and they have a lot of moving parts.” From start to finish, drone data streamlines these complex processes.

Standardized data capture

As routine practice, McCarthy projects map their jobsites each week through a series of three drone flights: a standard mapping flight; a manual flight to capture the additional orbitals needed for 3D models; and a fly through video, which is a favorite of the company’s marketing team. The entire process takes less than twenty minutes.

DroneDeploy’s automated, repeatable flight plans allow site staff to create a consistent set of data week over week. This automation is also useful from a risk management standpoint.

“We like using the automated systems because it opens up less opportunity for risk. I know the tower cranes aren’t going to get any taller. I know the buildings aren’t going to get any taller than the tower cranes. So with relative confidence I can walk out every week and do all three flights on the same SD card…send it to DroneDeploy for processing and have data back in a few hours.” -Ryan Moret, McCarthy Building Companies

Complex analysis

To help analyze their drone data on the fly, McCarthy staff uses DroneDeploy’s native analysis tools, like volume and area measurements. “For what we’re doing on a commercial site, the measurement tools are killer,” says Ryan. “I can tell how many square feet of roof we’ve put down, how much square footage of concrete is left to pour. We can measure the volume of a topsoil stockpile. If we’re trying to figure out truck access, we can measure the width of a road or gate or how much room we need to clear out for material to make the site clean and organized.”

For more complex analysis, staff integrates drone data into their existing workflows. “We can export any data we see in DroneDeploy into industry software,” Ryan points out. This includes exporting data into the Autodesk suite to manipulate and change images, conducting visualizations using obj. files for more robust workflows, and easily integrating everything into Box for improved project management.

Information sharing

Complex workflows aside, Ryan says one of the greatest benefits of drone software is the way it helps McCarthy’s large teams share information with ease. Drone maps and models, along with annotations and analysis, are easily shared with internal and external stakeholders.

“At the end of the day, we’re coordinators and communicators,” says Ryan. “We pull a lot of people together to try to build very complex jobs, and we can’t do it alone. We want the best product for our clients at the end of the day, so communication and collaboration are very important to us.”

McCarthy’s Map Wall Improves Communication and Coordination with Drone Imagery

From fly-through videos, to shareable maps and models, there are many ways drones improve communication on McCarthy projects. But if you really want to get a sense of the difference drones make on a construction jobsite, look no further than McCarthy’s “famous map wall.”

Despite the many high-tech ways McCarthy teams use drone data, “paper is still the common denominator for jobsites,” Ryan says. On every McCarthy site, the wall of the job trailer is covered with weekly drone maps posted in sequence, giving anyone who walks into the room a clear picture of the project’s progress over time, as well as a snapshot of any current issues on the site.

“The trades love it, being able to walk up to the wall and see nine weeks of construction photos. They pull these up in every sub meeting, every owner meeting. We have data from that week to show contractors, ‘Hey, the site’s a mess, you guys need to go clean it up.’ You can see rebar spread out all over the place, so there’s no arguing. They see it for what it’s worth.” — Ryan Moret of McCarthy Building Companies’ drone map wall.

When a higher-tech solution is in order, Ryan’s colleagues overlay design documents with a drone map using industry software like Bluebeam, creating a simple and effective way to explain production issues to owners.

“Not all of our owners speak construction,” Ryan points out. “So they walk out and they just see a mess of concrete and material and they’re not sure what we’re doing. So it helps to take the paper documents they’re used to seeing, the design documents they’re used to seeing, and show them what we’re working on and why we need what we need.”

“Drone maps and models,” says Ryan, “bring the planned world into the real world and make it easier for people to digest.”

Using Bluebeam, McCarthy staff overlay concrete structure drawings on an orthomosaic drone map of concrete pour framing during the Dallas hospital project.

The Future of McCarthy’s Enterprise Drone Program

So where does McCarthy’s drone program go from here? In short: they crawled, they walked and now it’s time to run. Given the success of their drone program so far, the company intends to expand to a fleet of thirty drones by the end of the year. They are also expanding the ways in which they use drone data.

Since we last spoke to Ryan at the March webinar, McCarthy’s Dallas team has begun using DroneDeploy for stockpile analysis, and the St. Louis team is using it for earthwork tracking. So far, the results are positive and the teams are pleased with the accuracy of the results. Their latest experimental project includes leveraging drone data on solar sites by using infrared imaging for testing building enclosures. This project is still in the early stages, but Ryan is confident it will produce a strong return on investment.

“Over the past year, we’ve demonstrated the difference drones make on complex construction sites,” Ryan says. “Now that we have a solid foundation, we’re excited to see what’s next. No doubt, we’ll continue to find new ways to use drones in the months and years to come.”

Where to Learn More

  • If you’d like to learn more about how drones can make a difference on your construction project, watch our Drones in Construction webinar, Part 1 and Part 2 (featuring Ryan), and Part 3.
  • Looking for an all-inclusive construction mapping package? DroneDeploy recently partnered with DJI to develop a turnkey drone mapping solution for the construction industry.
  • Learn more about comparing design plans and drone maps with our new overlay tool.
  • Find out how drones are improving safety on commercial jobsites in our recent blog post.
  • Once you’re ready to get started, our construction onboarding is a great place to begin.

Get Started with DroneDeploy

Want to learn how DroneDeploy can help your business? Visit www.dronedeploy.com to start your free trial or request a consultation with one of our team members. The DroneDeploy mobile application is available for free download for both iOS and Android devices.

Proving the Value of Enterprise Drone Programs in Construction was originally published in DroneDeploy’s Blog on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Webinar Recap: Drone Adoption Streamlines Inspection Workflows for Construction and Inspection Companies

In industries such as construction and inspection, it is not uncommon for workers to face serious injury — or even death — daily. Seeking better ways to inspect jobsites and identify potential hazards before they become dangerous, companies are increasingly turning to drones and drone mapping to improve efficiency and overall safety for workers.

Last week, panelists from DJI, Beck Group, and The Sequel Group discussed how field inspectors are making strides and improving workflows through the use of DroneDeploy during our webinar, Improving Commercial Inspections and Jobsite Safety with Drones.

Missed the webinar? Don’t worry. Watch the entire recording here.

An In-Depth Look at the New Matrice 200 Series from DJI

Joining the webinar from DJI Enterprise was David Benowitz. David introduced DJI’s new Matrice 200 series and compatible line of Zenmuse cameras. He shared the features that make this new line of drone hardware ideal for field inspectors, including the rugged IP43 rating, multiple gimbal mounts, and precision RTK GPS capabilities.

To get the full rundown, watch the recording of the webinar here.

Adopting and Scaling Drones Across Teams

During the webinar, we heard from Grant Hagen, a Virtual Design and Construction Manager at Beck Group. Grant shared his experience leading the charge to bring drones to Beck, and how he has expanded drone operations along the way. “Drone adoption at Beck has started in the last 2–3 years”, said Grant. “I get really excited when technology has a practical use, and I think this is exactly how we got into this space, from a practical side of things.”

Drones have proved their value for the company, and today Grant and his team are operating drones across major jobsites in the US to document and communicate progress, as well as perform aerial inspections.

“We’re using drones on about 10 projects right now, which is exciting”, said Grant. “But I don’t think the goal at the end of the day is the numbers. I think the goal at the end of the day is how the team is utilizing the technology to improve our process.” Drones have made his team more effective and allowed Beck to provide its clients with high-value deliverables including orthomosaic maps, 3D models, and infrared imagery.

“I think the goal at the end of the day is how the team is utilizing this technology to improve our process.” — Grant Hagen, Beck Group

The success Grant and his team has seen so far is just the beginning. He plans to continue scaling operations in the months and years to come, and expects that as drone technology continues to advance, so to will the opportunities for constructions pros. “It’s been a fun process so far and we’re excited to see where it takes off”, says Grant.

To hear more about how Grant has scaled drone ops at Beck, watch the full webinar.

Drone-Generated Imagery is a Game Changer for Site Inspection

The Beck Group has been using drones to conduct aerial inspections since 2014. In that time, drones have made it possible to gather data from areas previously inaccessible — all from the comfort and safety of the ground. From high-rises to hospitals, to college campuses, drones have given Beck the data it needs to accurately and efficiently inspect roofs, building enclosures, and other elevated structure under construction or in need of repair.

Grant shared a case study from a job Beck completed earlier this year using DroneDeploy and thermal imagery on the aging roof of a UT-Dallas campus building. He and his team gathered aerial images with a DJI Inspire 1 equipped with a Zenmuse XT 640 and a 13mm lens. By remotely identifying problem areas, inspectors were able to focus their work and limit on-the-roof time to only those areas of concern. “Rather than searching for a needle in a haystack,” says Grant, “you have a map to tell you right where to look.” This ultimately reduced inspection time, in some cases by as much four hours.

“The work input to value output with drone-based thermal imagery is game changing,” says Grant. “It’s unlike anything else in construction technology right now.”

Grant was then able to upload the thermal JPGs into DroneDeploy and produce a thermal map and 3D model of the building for his clients at UT-Dallas. This gave them a powerful visualization of the damage to the roof, and clearly identified where the repairs needed to be made. “We ran the thermal imaging data with almost every software,” says Grant. “DroneDeploy was the only one that worked.

Learn more by reading the complete case study here.

Improving Safety and Efficiency for Utility Inspections with the Use of Drones

Joining the webinar from The Sequel Group was Chris Bartlett. At Sequel, Chris helps deliver end-to-end data collection, drone services, and project dashboards to utility and municipal clients across the US.

Chris has successfully been inspecting water towers, cell phone towers, and other elevated structures with drones since 2016. “Drones just seemed like a natural extension of the inspections we were doing”, said Chris. Using drones, he can deliver low-altitude, high resolution imagery and maps to clients in a fast, safe, and effective manner.

Traditionally, tower inspections have been a time-intensive and dangerous job for field inspectors like Chris. Scaling hundreds of feet in the air to get a closer look at these structures is not an easy task. Drones bring greater efficiency and improved safety to his team.

“This is a pretty dangerous industry. Drones provide a cost-effective, safer way to perform these inspections on a more frequent basis.” — Chris Bartlett, The Sequel Group

By capturing drone imagery of elevated structures first, his team no longer has to climb every tower. Instead, they send up a drone to grab aerial photos and are only faced with climbing towers when it’s absolutely necessary.

“These are great tools for inspectors, engineering firms, and other industries” says Chris. “The challenge becomes creating actionable insights from all the data being captured. How do you perform an actionable workflow?” Chris explored some of his preferred tools for data collection. His go-to application, Fulcrum, is now available on the DroneDeploy App Market. During the webinar, Chris walked us through his workflow, provided best practices, and shared some of the capabilities of the Fulcrum app. Using DroneDeploy and Fulcrum, Chris is able to quickly collect data and create real-time reports and insights for his clients.

To learn more about the ways drones and data collection tools like Fulcrum are innovating utility inspections, watch the full webinar recording here.

Where to Learn More

Get Started with DroneDeploy

Want to learn how DroneDeploy can help your business? Visit www.dronedeploy.com to start your free trial or request a consultation with one of our team members. The DroneDeploy mobile application is available for free download for both iOS and Android devices.

Drones in Construction: Improving Commercial Inspections and Jobsite Safety with UAVs was originally published in DroneDeploy’s Blog on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Webinar Recap: Identifying Crop Trends Over Time Using Multispectral Imagery, SLANTRANGE, and DroneDeploy

Drone pilots mapping for agriculture can choose from a variety of hardware options. While most begin with the visible spectrum (RGB) cameras that come standard on drones like the DJI Phantom 4 Pro, many turn to sensors designed specifically for agriculture in order to perform more accurate, scientific analysis of plant health.

In July, we announced our support for SLANTRANGE multispectral sensors. DroneDeploy customers can now fly and capture imagery and process and interpret maps using sensors from SLANTRANGE — all compatible with the latest DJI drones.

Last week, we held a webinar with Matthew Barre from SLANTRANGE to dig deeper into what this means for our users. During the webinar, we discussed how you can use DroneDeploy along with SLANTRANGE sensors to collect Multispectral imagery of your fields and quantify crop trends with accurate NDVI field maps. There are many reasons to consider using multispectral imagery on the farm for crop scouting and analysis, which we dug into during the webinar.

If you missed the live webinar, no sweat. You can watch the entire recording here to learn how you can put SLANTRANGE and DroneDeploy to work in the field.

Understanding the Basics of Multispectral Imagery and the NDVI Plant Health Algorithm

There are some clear advantages to using near-infrared and multispectral imagery when flying your fields. For those who are new to this technology, we took a look at the basics and highlighted a few reasons you might want to consider upgrading your UAV system to a multispectral sensor, like the SLANTRANGE 3P.

Multispectral sensors provide increased accuracy when comparing plant health data over time, which is a major benefit over visible spectrum cameras. This is helpful when you’re trying to identify trends beyond a single point in time — such as throughout the course of a crop in season. These sensors typically capture some combination of visible and near-infrared light using narrow filters to increase the sensitivity and specificity of the measurements. This added capability allows you to select which bands of light you want to focus on to conduct your crop analysis. Learn more by watching the webinar recording.

New to crop scouting with drones? Learn the basics in our latest eBook.

Making Actionable Crop Data More Available to Growers

You hear a lot about ‘actionable data’ in the agriculture industry. From human scouting to satellite imagery, to drones, there are many ways of collecting crop data. But how available is that data? Drones and sensor technology from SLANTRANGE help growers and agronomists access multispectral crop imagery on demand, and make sense of that data through the application of computer vision and machine learning. Paired with the DroneDeploy platform, you can go out and fly your fields, view real-time results, and get to work addressing any issues you may find in minutes, not days or weeks.

“We want to make data more actionable and more available to our customers — which is our main focus of how we spend our time here at SLANTRANGE.”— Matthew Barre, SLANTRANGE

Watch the complete webinar recording to learn how you can make actionable crop data more available with the use of drone imagery.

Radiometric Accuracy Makes Accurate Crop Comparisons Possible Over Time

Using aerial imagery to measure plant health over time comes down to measuring the reflectance of light bouncing off crops. To do this effectively, you need to know how much sunlight is shining down at a given time. Otherwise, you can’t accurately determine the cause of changes in a field map from week to week, or month to month. Sunlight, cloud cover, and other weather conditions affect your drone imagery, making accurate comparisons over time challenging without the use of a solar spectrometer to ensure radiometric accuracy.

“If you see any changes in your map you don’t know if it’s due to changes in your crop, or if it’s just a different time of day, it’s cloudy, or it’s hazy…”—Matthew Barre, SLANTRANGE

The SLANTRANGE 3P system comes with a vegetation spectrometer built into the sensor and a solar spectrometer to measure sunlight before flight. This provides calibration and normalizes the data for accurate comparison between two data sets. This enables accurate, scientific analysis of plant health over time.

Identifying Field Conditions Previously Undetectable

Multispectral imagery collects 4 bands of light across the light spectrum. This means you can move beyond standard NDVI and uncover crop conditions previously undetectable with modified RGB cameras for near-infrared, or factory-made near-infrared cameras. The collection of these extra bands of light, coupled with SLANTRANGE’s vegetation analyses, provide insight into nutrient deficiencies and biomass variability unseen to other types of observation. Taking it a step further, SLANTRANGE has developed a proprietary Yield Potential analysis that combines data across the bands to calculate yield of a crop based on the data at hand.

To learn more about the capabilities of SLANTRANGE’s analytics, watch the full webinar recording here.

Using SLANTRANGE and DroneDeploy

The new DroneDeploy integration with SLANTRANGE gives you access to calibrated multispectral imagery within the DroneDeploy ecosystem. This combines instant, in-field results with powerful cloud-based analytics, storage, and sharing.

The integration includes support for:

  • GeoTIFF Map Uploads
  • SLANTRANGE Image Processing

To create a map with SLANTRANGE sensors, just install the free SLANTRANGE application within DroneDeploy, fly using the DroneDeploy mobile app, and upload imagery to DroneDeploy for processing. Once the map is complete, you’ll be able to view, analyze and share plant health data specific to the sensor used.

Get the full walkthrough of the SLANTRANGE app by watching the complete webinar recording here.

Where to Learn More

Read more about our our product update and support for SLANTRANGE sensors in our recent blog post. You can also check out our support documentation to learn more about how to capture and process imagery from SLANTRANGE sensors.

New to crop scouting with drones? Download our new eBook to learn the basics about NDVI and VARI plant health formulas and become more familiar with your options for putting drones to work in the field.

Interested in watching more webinars? Tune into our ongoing Agriculture webinar series and learn tips and best practices from ag experts.

Start Mapping with DroneDeploy

Want to learn how DroneDeploy can help your business? Visit www.dronedeploy.com to start your free trial or request a consultation with one of our team members. The DroneDeploy mobile application is available for free download for both iOS and Android devices.

Quantifying Crop Trends with Drones and Accurate NDVI Mapping was originally published in DroneDeploy’s Blog on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

SunPower leverages DroneDeploy to map solar farms and manage a growing team of UAV operators around the world

When it comes to designing the layout for a utility-scale solar farm, the possibilities are endless. This is not an overstatement: a typical site has 10 to the 60th power potential plant configurations. (If you’re not sure how many this is, let’s just say it’s quite a bit more than a quadrillion.) The challenge for a project of this magnitude is to develop a land prospecting and design workflow that is efficient, and ultimately maximizes energy production with the best possible solar tracking array.

Solar industry giant SunPower combines drone maps with their proprietary software to streamline prospecting and design cycles. DroneDeploy helps the company’s growing drone program mobilize its international fleet of operators and deploy solar farms on a global scale.

Building a Drone Program to Support the Future of Solar Energy

Headquartered in Silicon Valley, SunPower is a global solar technology and innovation company and a leading provider of solar solutions for the residential, commercial, and power plant markets. The company provides high efficiency solar panels and power plant technology for large-scale solar developers around the world. As part of this process, SunPower offers site evaluation and layout design services.

Kingsley Chen, SunPower

To hear more about how SunPower leverages drone maps and 3D models, we spoke to Kingsley Chen, who is the chief drone operator for the company’s UAV program. Before taking his current position at SunPower, Kingsley focused on utility power plant performance optimization. He currently coordinates the company’s international drone program. He discussed the Gala Solar Power Plant, currently under construction on a 130-acre site outside of Bend, Oregon.

Kingsley Chen, UAV Operations Coordinator at SunPower, gathering topographical information in the field.

SunPower Streamlines Its Prospecting and Design Cycle with the Help of Drones

Location is paramount when planning a new solar farm, but finding the right property can prove challenging. With competitors vying for prime land, prospecting in the solar industry is fast paced. In many cases, solar design engineers have a relatively short time frame for gathering up-to-date topographical information on a property and designing specs for a solar farm.

To gather topographical information for a prospective site, solar design companies traditionally have two options: rely on publicly available data or conduct a new ground survey. Neither of these options is ideal for a large-scale solar project. Existing information is often out of date and only accurate within 10–20 feet. Conducting a new topographical survey is equally troublesome, because in the time it takes to survey a property of this size, a potential land opportunity can be lost.

By using drone maps instead, SunPower is able to gather real-time, accurate topographical data in a fraction of the time it would take to conduct a land survey. This change alone has made their prospecting and design cycle far more efficient and allowed the company to remain competitive in this fast-paced industry.

SunPower’s Land Prospecting Workflow with Drones

  • SunPower is asked by a customer to perform a site evaluation.
  • One of the company’s global fleet of drone operators is deployed.
  • The drone operator collects images and reviews data to ensure consistent quality.
  • Once the drone operator is back within range, images are uploaded into DroneDeploy.
  • Maps and models are processed. Each map consists of 5–80GB of data.

SunPower maintains an international team of drone operators.

SunPower Scales Drone Operation, Manages Remote International Team of Drone Operators

In order to make its rapid prospecting timeline work on a global scale, SunPower efficiently deploys a worldwide team of drone operators, which Kingsley trains and maintains.

“When working with an international team of drone pilots, it’s paramount that we have a software solution that is able to scale with us as we grow.” — Kingsley Chen, UAV Operations Coordinator, SunPower

DroneDeploy’s cloud-based platform allows Kingsley and his international team to manage their drone mapping workflow efficiently, remain agile and collaborative, and reduce the program’s need for in-house tech support.

Drone Data Pairs with Industry Software to Streamline the Design Process

After gathering initial site survey data, it’s time for SunPower’s engineers to get to work on design specs. This involves uploading the 3D point cloud generated in DroneDeploy to SunPower’s Oasis GEO software. Using this software, the engineering team integrates the drone data with potential solar farm layouts and compares energy production estimates for each layout.

SunPower is able to quickly compare thousands of potential solar farm layouts and ultimately recommend the best possible layout to meet a site owner’s goals. Site owners can screen a large number of potential sites quickly, and in the end are assured that their project will be designed for maximum profitability.

Drone maps and models have revolutionized the way SunPower evaluates land and designs large-scale solar farms. The company not only incorporated drones into their everyday workflows, but they did so on a global scale.

“Having a workflow to get your data out in a timely manner is key to success” — Kingsley Chen, UAV Operations Coordinator, SunPower

We asked Kingsley what advice he can give to other companies who want to build or scale their drone programs. “Having a workflow to get your data out in a timely manner is key to success,” he said. And as Kingsley and his colleagues at SunPower learned, the right drone mapping software can make all the difference.

Where to Learn More

Drones are enhancing the solar industry in a variety of ways. Read our case study from earlier this year to learn how Ottowa-based solar installation company iSolara uses drone maps and 3D models.

If you are ready to get started, but unsure which mapping drone is best suited to your business needs, our 2017 Drone Buyer’s Guide can point you in the right direction.

Get Started with DroneDeploy

Want to learn how DroneDeploy can help your business? Visit www.dronedeploy.com to start your free trial or request a consultation with one of our team members. The DroneDeploy mobile application is available for free download for both iOS and Android devices.

Building a Global Drone Program to Design the Solar Farms of the Future was originally published in DroneDeploy’s Blog on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

A Minnesota Corn Farmer Replaces Ground-Based Stand Counts with Data-Driven Insights from DroneDeploy and Agremo

That sick feeling in the pit of your stomach when one of your crops doesn’t emerge as expected? For many growers, there’s nothing worse. Except maybe the feeling you get from having to make, at best, an educated guess about the right course of corrective action.

Ground-based stand count methods provide relatively little information about the health of a compromised field. With this small amount of information, a grower must make big decisions — to treat or not treat, to replant or not replant — that can significantly affect the farm’s bottom line. DroneDeploy’s drone maps and models, combined with Agremo’s ag-focused analytics tools, give growers a comprehensive look at stand loss, weed pressure and sowing quality. With drones, growers can make data-driven decisions that take the guesswork out of late-season course corrections.

Corey Nohl, Above All Aerial

Agremo, formerly AgriSens, is an ag-focused technology company whose research and development team includes PhDs in Agriculture, Bio-technical Science and Data Science. As we’ve written about before, they leverage their expertise to develop new technologies that improve agriculture production through remote sensing solutions. Agremo Insights, available on the DroneDeploy App Market, offers growers 8 different analysis types on plant counting and plant health, such as stand counts or weed and plant stress analyses.

If anyone knows the difference a tool like Agremo Insights can make in the fields, it’s Minnesota-based farmer and drone service provider Corey Nohl. A corn and soybean grower, and a recent graduate from South Dakota State University’s agriculture program, it isn’t difficult for Corey to make the connection between drones and farming.

“As a farmer myself, I can see the benefit of flying my crops versus walking them, and making decisions based on computer analytics, rather than just opinions…Drones take the human error out of it.� —Corey Nohl, Above All Aerial

Above All Aerial was Launched in March 2017

Corey began using drones in his own fields four years ago. In March of 2017, shortly after receiving his Part 107 certification, he launched Above All Aerial, where he uses his drone, combined with tools like DroneDeploy and Agremo, to help agricultural customers gain actionable data. To say he is busy is an understatement. In fact, Corey flies fields so often — covering an estimated 8,000 acres with his drone just this year — that the folks at Agremo began to take notice, recently tapping him to help beta test new products.

He shares the story of how he helped one corn grower gain an accurate picture of stand loss after an unseasonably cold spring affected germination across his field.

Drone Data Gives Grower Detailed Picture of Crop Loss After Late Frost

In parts of Minnesota, this year’s cool spring temperatures kept the last frost in the fields longer than expected, which had a negative effect on corn germination. So when a local grower began to notice poor crop emergence across his eighty-acre field, he hired Corey to scout the area with his drone, hoping drone data could help him effectively assess the loss.

Before calling Corey, the farmer completed an initial, ground-based stand count by walking sample portions of his field and extrapolating the information across the entire eighty acres. Based on this information, he estimated that the stand loss was fairly mild. With this level of mild stand loss, it isn’t worth the time and cost to replant. Better to simply let the corn emerge as-is.

But he couldn’t shake a nagging feeling of doubt. After all, ground scouting is an imperfect science with a high margin of error. What if the losses were unevenly distributed and he by chance skipped over the worst areas during his scouting. If this was the case, and he didn’t replant, he might see crippling losses come harvest time. On the flip side, what if he decided to replant when it wasn’t in fact necessary? With seed costing around $120 per acre, multiplied across an eighty-acre field, this is hardly a decision to take lightly.

Herein lies the dilemma of ground-based stand counts: Experience and intuition tell a grower not to replant. But without a full picture of the entire field, he can never be sure he’s making the right choice. It was for this reason that the corn farmer hired Corey to complete a drone-based stand count, as well as an assessment of weed pressure.

Drone Data Delivers Timely, Accurate Insights about Stand Count

This Agremo Insights report, submitted by Corey, reflects a field similar to the one discussed in this case study. (The 82.6-acre field shown in this report has a 7% stand loss. The 80-acre field Corey discusses in the case study had a 12% loss.)

Corey flew the eighty-acre corn field with his DJI Phantom 4 Pro at an altitude of 200 feet, using 65/75 overlap. His total flight time was just under 17 minutes. Back at the office, he uploaded the 300 images into DroneDeploy. By the next day, DroneDeploy had stitched the images into an orthomosaic map, which he forwarded to Agremo. Twenty-four hours later, Agremo sent Corey a full report outlining the total stand count, stand loss percentage, and weed pressure percentage.

Less than forty-eight hours from the time his drone took off, Corey was able to return to the farmer, this time with a powerful set of data in hand. Armed with this information, the farmer made an educated decision right there at the edge of the field.

“I printed off the report and met him at edge of field. We walked out and ground-truthed the map and he was very impressed. I handed him the map and he was making a decision right from there.� — Corey Nohl, on pairing DroneDeploy and Agremo

The report showed a 12% total stand loss. Weed pressure was minimal, only about 3%. To put this stand loss in perspective, Corey says a 2% loss is considered a perfect stand count, while an average field sees about a 5% total stand loss.

The 12% loss that the corn grower experienced, although noticeable from the road, was still not too far outside the normal range. In the end, using the information he gained from the Agremo report, the grower decided not to replant. The potential loss in harvest revenue simply didn’t justify the time and money it would take to replant his field.

Without drones, the corn farmer would have had far less information on which to base his important replanting decision. Thanks to DroneDeploy and Agremo, he not only had a complete stand count, but he also had a detailed map showing the exact areas of crop loss. Had he needed to replant, this map would be an invaluable resource, allowing him to save time and money by targeting his efforts.

Corey has tried competitor’s products, but he always comes back to Agremo for the company’s high-quality maps. “Agremo’s map is more specific,� says Corey. “Competitors break their maps into half-acre grids, but Agremo colors the whole thing exactly how it is. Visually, it’s night and day, and a lot of farmers are visual.�

Drones Take the Guesswork Out of Crop Scouting

Map showing areas of stand loss in red. This map, also submitted by Corey, is related to the sample Agremo report shown above, but is similar to the case of the corn grower discussed here.

So what does all of this mean to the grower? After all, the information he gathered via drone only served to confirm what he originally suspected: the losses were not great enough to justify replanting. Was it worth it to hire a drone, only to confirm what he suspected all along?

According to both Corey and the farmer? Absolutely. Because without a complete set of data on a field, you can never really be sure. According to Corey, it’s this uncertainty that keeps growers up at night.

“It’s an awful feeling when you plant something and it doesn’t germinate. The farmer knew in the back of his mind that unless he was way off, he probably didn’t need to replant. But he wanted to be sure…What does it cost you not to know? It pays to know. Drones take the human error out of it. Now, it’s computer analytics making the decision.� — Corey Nohl

The greatest payoff for this corn grower was the peace of mind that came from being able to base an important crop management decision on a solid set of data. Sure, it’s impossible to quantify peace of mind. But talk to any farmer who has ever worried about his yields, and he’ll tell you: even though you can’t quantify it, peace of mind is worth every penny.

Where to Learn More

Interested in learning how you begin crop scouting with drones? Download our free eBook, Crop Scouting with Drones: Identifying Crop Variability with UAVs.

Ready to get started using drones on your farm? Watch our webinar: Drones in Agriculture: Putting Your Drone to Work in the Field This Season.

If you already use a UAV on the farm, you might find our advanced webinar useful: Getting the Most Out of Your UAV This Growing Season

Get Started with Drone Deploy

Want to learn how DroneDeploy can help your business? Visit www.dronedeploy.com to start your free trial or request a consultation with one of our team members. The DroneDeploy mobile application is available for free download for both iOS and Android devices.

Drones Help Growers Take the Guesswork Out of Late-Season Course Corrections was originally published in DroneDeploy’s Blog on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Photo by Jonas Weckschmied (Pilot and Operator) CC by 2.0 via Flickr

UAV Insurance, Regulations and Licensing for New Drone Service Providers

Give your commercial drone business a catchy name. Design a memorable logo. Network to find a solid base of customers. These are the fun parts of starting a drone service business. But along with this comes a few other tasks related to operations, like obtaining a business license, following regulations and purchasing drone insurance.

As a new DSP, it’s important to take a break from marketing to follow through with these nuts and bolts. After all, building a solid foundation will help set your business up for long-term success.

So how do you start a new commercial drone business? In an earlier post, we outlined tips for marketing, pricing and finding customers. Now it’s time to dive into the nitty gritty. Here are the basics to get you started with UAV insurance, commercial drone regulations, Part 107 Certification and more.

Get Legit: Certifications, Licenses and Forming Your Drone Business

If you are going to do this, and do it right, you first need to get legit. In almost any country, before you fly a drone commercially you must first get permission from the government. While jurisdictions like Canada and the EU are currently grappling with how to regulate the UAV industry within their borders, in the US it’s relatively straightforward to get certified and licensed as a commercial drone operator.

To remain above board, there are three essential actions you must take: obtain Part 107 Certifications for you and all pilots you employ, decide on your business structure and file for a business license.

FAA Part 107 Certification

Unless you spent the past year living under a log, you’ve probably heard about Part 107. This rule, passed in August 2016, made a clear path of certification for anyone in the US to operate a drone commercially. Unlike the old, cumbersome process, drone operators now need only to follow these steps:

Not sure if you will be flying commercially? Consider the advice of commercial helicopter pilot and UAV specialist Ian Smith. He points out that, in the eyes of the law, compensation is compensation is compensation. If you accept anything — no matter how small — in return for your drone services, you are considered to be operating commercially.

“By accepting that beer, or bus ticket, or few bucks of gas — you’ve been given compensation for operating your drone,� cautions Ian. “And if you accept compensation, then you’re operating commercially.� Likewise, anyone who uses a drone for their own commercial purposes, like a farmer who flies a drone as part of his agricultural operation, is considered a commercial drone pilot and as such, needs a Part 107 Certified to remain on the right side of the law. So if you are even thinking about operating your drone for commercial purposes, getting Part 107 certified is well worth your time.

DARTdrones offers a comprehensive online test prep course for the Part 107 knowledge exam

Ready to study for the Part 107 knowledge test? DARTdrones offers a comprehensive online prep course.

Business Structure

If you’ve done any research into starting your own business, you’ve probably heard of the various business structures that exist. As a new business, you’ll need to spend some time deciding on your legal structure. Each country has its own regulations and series of business structures to choose from. As a starting point, Global Business Culture offers a straightforward explanation of each country’s business structure.

If you decide to operate as a sole proprietor in the US, you don’t need to take any special action other than filing for state and local business licences (and of course, your Part 107.) Although this may be the simplest route to take, it does have its drawbacks. As a sole proprietor, there is no legal distinction between you and your business. As such, your drone business’ liabilities are your liabilities, and its debts are your debts.

As a way to shield yourself and your family from financial and civil liabilities, you may want to form an LLC or a Corporation instead. This requires additional paperwork and filing fees, but it is well worth the extra legwork. Many drone businesses chose this option because of the extra protection it affords them.

You can form an LLC or Corporation on your own by contacting your Secretary of State, but most people choose to get a little help. Speaking during a recent webinar about building a drone business, Ed Schmalfeld of Dragonfly AeroSolutions recommends starting with a concierge legal service.

“Are you going to be a partnership, an LLC, a corporation? Are you going to need funding?� Ed asks. “There’s a lot to figure out, but there’s help and online resources out there.� For his part, Ed started with Legal Zoom, which provides affordable, online legal services for everything from formation documents to trademark registrations.

Register Your Business

Once you’ve settled on a legal structure for your drone business, it’s time to register your business. This starts at the state level, so the website for your Secretary of State will have instructions, and most likely an option to file online. Filing fees tend to be nominal, usually less than a hundred dollars, and all told the process is pretty simple.

Depending on where you operate, you might also need to register your business with the city or county. Your Secretary of State’s website can probably point you in the right direction. If not, contact your city or county clerk’s office for help.

Educate Yourself About Regulations and Compliance

Odds are you’ll go your entire career without anyone taking notice of how and where you fly your drone. But why take that chance? As Justin Moore of Airborne Aerial Photography told a group of DSPs during our recent drone business webinar, your business’ reputation — and the reputation of the industry as a whole — depends on everyone doing their part to remain safe and compliant. “All it takes is someone in the local area flying into a building…and your business model is threatened,� says Justin. With so much at stake, it pays to stay in the know about local, state and federal regulations surrounding UAVs.

In its Part 107 rules, the FAA lists a number of circumstances under which drones can’t be flown, including at night, directly over people, from a moving vehicle and in controlled airspace. The good news is that it’s possible to apply for a waiver to operate your drone under special conditions. This can be done through the FAA’s website.

Likewise, make sure to research any local and state regulations that apply to your area. And never be afraid to ask pilot networks and communities for advice on practicing safely and legally. There is a wealth of knowledge out there, and many veteran drone operators are happy to help newcomers.

January 31, 2017 FAA Drone Advisory Committee Update — Drone Waiver Requests

Not sure where to turn for advice? Check out DroneLife’s guide to the top drone forums.

All of this being said, never assume local law enforcement knows the rules about drones as well as you do. Chris Courtney, VP of Flight Operations at Measure, suggests carrying documentation along to every jobsite.

“Our guys show up with a binder that shows their certification requirements, insurance and any other necessary documentation so that they can show any law enforcement that they are legally authorized to be there.� — Chris Courtney, VP Flight Operations at Measure

Obtain Drone Hull and Liability Insurance

Insurance is another aspect of drone business not to be ignored. Having too little, or none at all, leaves you open to risk and can be enough to tank your business should an accident occur. There are two basic types of insurance that apply to drone service businesses:

Hull insurance: Hull insurance covers damage to the drone itself. It’s generally separate from liability policies. The cost to replace many standard drones doesn’t justify buying hull insurance, but it’s not a bad idea if you plan to operate an expensive system, like an I2 with an X5s or Z30, or a pricey XT camera.

Liability insurance: Liability insurance covers damage caused to a third party by your drone operations, including bodily injury and property damage. Most clients, especially larger businesses, require proof of liability insurance before ever letting a drone take off at their site.

So how much liability insurance should you carry? This is going to depend largely on the types of jobs you take on. Based on data from the DroneDeploy Mapping Directory, the average drone service provider carries a $1M liability insurance policy.

The typical insurance coverage for a drone service provider. Read more in our recent post.

Learn more in our recent post, where we discuss pricing and insurance trends for the typical drone service provider.

If this sounds like a lot of insurance to carry, especially as you are just starting out, you might consider Verifly’s on-demand drone liability insurance, which is now available directly through the DroneDeploy App Market.

Level Up Your Drone Business with Additional Training

Training is an important aspect for any drone business, new or old. A well-trained fleet (or a fleet of one, in many cases) is less likely to make costly mistakes that can open up a whole host of liability concerns. This is especially important as you scale your operations and bring additional pilots on board. You will want a standard way to make sure everyone on your team is as well-trained as you.

Building your skill set will also help set your services apart from the growing crowd of commercial drone businesses. Take your services the next level up by regularly engaging in training and consultation services through companies like DARTdrones.

Remote pilots participating in a DARTdrones training course

We are also excited to announce the launch of a national training program, made possible by a partnership with DroneDeploy and DARTdrones. This program aims to create a community of professionally trained drone pilots to meet the growing demand for quality drone mapping services. It launches in the fall with the first workshop, Aerial Mapping and Modeling with DroneDeploy.

Where to Learn More

Now that you’ve tackled the nuts and bolts, it’s time to start marketing your services. Read our blog post for pro tips on surviving and thriving as a commercial drone business. If you missed our webinar on building a drone business, you can watch it here.

If you are new to drones, and especially drone mapping, our Zero to Hero video series is a good place to start. Here, you’ll get advice on everything from unboxing your drone, to engaging in advanced flight planning.

For information on obtaining your Part 107 certification, check out commercial helicopter and drone pilot Ian Smith’s post outlining the process.

Get Started with DroneDeploy

Want to learn how DroneDeploy can help your business? Visit www.dronedeploy.com to start your free trial or request a consultation with one of our team members. The DroneDeploy mobile application is available for free download for both iOS and Android devices.

The Nuts and Bolts of Starting a Commercial Drone Business was originally published in DroneDeploy’s Blog on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Improved sharing, 90% reduction in crop maps with holes, support for SLANTRANGE and Sentera sensors and more

The summer is heating up, and we’re thrilled to share a few exciting product updates we’ve been working on here at DroneDeploy — including an important processing improvement ready just in time to address the challenge of mapping late-stage crops. But that’s not all — read on to learn about a commonly-requested change to sharing, support for near-infrared and multi-spectral sensors and much more.

Stitching Improvements Remove 90% of Holes in Crop Maps

If you’ve used drones for mapping late-stage crops in seasons past, you might have received maps with holes, warped areas, or you may have had maps fail to process at all. This happens because photogrammetry — the technology used to process photos into a map — relies upon identifying unique points that appear in several different images. And when you’re mapping a large field of mature crops where everything looks the same, that’s a tall order.

“It’s an issue we’ve been having in the last couple of years, especially in corn crops,� said Robbie Weathers, an agronomist in South Carolina. “Trying to stitch together a corn field late in the season is like trying to stitch the ocean — it’s really hard.�

After analyzing data from over 10 million acres mapped and hearing feedback from hundreds of users, we’re thrilled to share that we’ve successfully improved our proprietary processing algorithm to render better late-stage field maps. We tested the new algorithm by reprocessing thousands of incomplete maps and found that the new approach generated a complete map 90% of the time and often improved the accuracy and sharpness of the map.

Before and after images of just a few of the maps reprocessed using the new method.

One of the reprocessed maps belongs to Kevin Wright, a corn and soybean grower and commercial drone pilot in Illinois.

“Being able to close a hole as big as that,� said Kevin, referring to the difference between his original map, and the reprocessed complete map, “it’s very impressive — especially for a map flown in windy conditions. It just proves that DroneDeploy is headed in the right direction to solve these particular problems.�

The processing improvement is available for all DroneDeploy users in agriculture and will run automatically for at-risk crop maps. Have questions or suggestions? Let us know on the forum.

To learn more about how to successfully map late-stage crops, check out our Best Practices for Flying and Stitching Crop Imagery or check out our Guide to Crop Scouting with Drones.

Give Map Feedback to Help Improve Map Quality

Your feedback is vital to us, especially as we roll out processing changes like the one to reduce holes in crop maps. It helps us understand the problems you’re trying to solve using DroneDeploy, and it also shows whether the changes we make actually improve your experience. Now it’s easier than ever to give feedback on any map.

If you’re happy with your map or 3D model quality, give it a thumbs up or “good� rating. If the map has issues our you aren’t satisfied with the quality, give it a thumbs up or “bad� rating and briefly describe what’s wrong. Your quick feedback will help us diagnose your issue and provide helpful tips, and it will also help us continue to improve the overall quality of our map processing.

Have questions or suggestions about the new map rating feature? Join the discussion on our forum.

Give Clients View-only Map Access to Clients That Don’t Have a DroneDeploy Account

You’ve asked for it, and now it’s here. Now you can share a complete view-only map with a client or someone else who does not have a DroneDeploy account. Simply click the “Share� button, copy the link and share it with whomever you choose.

Before, a client that clicked a link to view a shared map would see only the specific map layer shared with them. To see the complete map, the client would need to create and login to a DroneDeploy account.

Now sharing a map via link will give the viewer complete view-only access to the map, including the ability to:

  • See the satellite base layer
  • Explore all layers of the map, including the 2D orthomosaic, 3D model, elevation map, and plant health
  • View any annotations or measurements on the map
  • View and toggle any overlays attached to the map
  • View and export any existing exports that the map owner has already generated

Please note: Map share links generated previously will still show only the individual layer shared, so don’t worry — there won’t be any surprises when your client clicks a link you already shared with them.

Did you know that you can include your company’s logo on any map you share with a client? Check out our support center to learn more about this and other sharing options or give us feedback on the forum.

Use DroneDeploy with SLANTRANGE or Sentera Sensors

Drone pilots mapping for agriculture have many different hardware options to choose from — and now they have more freedom than ever to use the camera or sensor of their choice with DroneDeploy. While most begin with the visible spectrum cameras that come standard on drones like the DJI Phantom 4 Pro, many turn to sensors designed specifically for agriculture in order to perform more accurate, scientific analysis of plant health.

Now DroneDeploy customers can fly and capture imagery and process and interpret maps using sensors from Sentera and SLANTRANGE, all compatible with the latest DJI drones. To create a DroneDeploy map with these sensors, just install the free SLANTRANGE or Sentera application within DroneDeploy, fly using the DroneDeploy mobile app, and upload imagery to DroneDeploy for processing. Once the map is complete, you’ll be able to view, analyze and share plant health data specific to the sensor used.

Sentera Double 4K, one of three Sentera sensors now supported by DroneDeploy

The supported near-infrared sensors from Sentera, including the High-Precision NDVI Single sensor and the Sentera Double 4K, allow growers to create NDVI (normalized difference vegetation index) maps to accurately detect crop stress.

“Sentera is excited to bring our most popular and most affordable high-precision NDVI sensor to the DroneDeploy platform. We’re committed to supporting our customers’ preferred workflows and enabling an open and accessible set of downstream analytics based on genuine NDVI and other index products,â€� said Eric Taipale, Sentera’s CEO. “Our partnership with DroneDeploy does just that, providing DroneDeploy users a seamless integration with Sentera’s high-quality sensors.â€�

NDVI map from Sentera imagery, processed on DroneDeploy. Click to explore.

The SLANTRANGE 3p sensor captures high-resolution, calibrated, multi-spectral imagery data using patented sunlight calibration algorithms so that growers and agronomists can accurately compare crop data over time.

SLANTRANGE 3p calibrated multispectral sensor

“SLANTRANGE is committed to promoting an open ecosystem that allows customers to collect and process their data using a combination of tools that work best for their business,� said Matthew Barre, Director of Strategic Development at SLANTRANGE. “This partnership gives DroneDeploy customers access to the accuracy and specificity of SLANTRANGE’s true multi-spectral imagery.�

NDVI map from SLANTRANGE imagery, processed on DroneDeploy. Click to explore.

Check out our support documentation to learn more about how to capture and process imagery from Sentera or SLANTRANGE sensors.

To learn more about how to use drone mapping to monitor plant health, join our upcoming webinar with SLANTRANGE, Quantifying Crop Trends with NDVI. To learn more about different drone and camera options for agriculture, read DroneDeploy’s recent Drone Buyer’s Guide.

Discover New Apps in the App Market

Now it’s easier than ever to see what’s new in the App Market and get help with an app if you need it. When there are new apps in the App Market, there will be a blue dot on the App Market icon.

Within the App Market itself, new apps will appear at the top of the list, labeled as “New�. And of course, you can still filter apps by category.

Recently added apps include an integration with MapTasks to manage your map projects, an app to apply correct flight settings for Sentera sensors, a tool to export annotations and one to optimize overlap settings for hilly terrain.

If you need support using an app or have suggestions, you can contact the developer directly from the App Market.

Have any suggestions or an idea for a new app? Let us know on our forum.

Start Mapping with DroneDeploy

Want to learn how DroneDeploy can help your business? Visit www.dronedeploy.com to start your free trial or request a consultation with one of our team members. The DroneDeploy mobile application is available for free download for both iOS and Android devices.

Product Release Wrap-up July 2017 was originally published in DroneDeploy’s Blog on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.