The Secret is Out

By Ashlee Hornbuckle

I have been tasked with keeping a secret over the past few months—which is sometimes difficult for me, as I have trouble remembering what has been told in confidence.  However, Lewis told me a secret so big, I almost blabbed for the mere fact of how utterly exciting it is.  Are you ready for it?

AirGon has developed a direct geopositioning Post-Process Kinematic (PPK) system for the DJI series Inspire 2 and Phantom 4 Pro drones!

Dubbed LOKI, this PPK system is a third generation AirGon design that uses the latest Septentrio GNSS engine, the AsteRx-m2.   The m2 is a triple band GNSS engine, supporting NAVSTAR GPS L1/L2/L5 and GLONASS L1/L2/L3 and sporting 448 hardware channels.  The GeoCue engineers tell me this is the most advanced UAS class receiver on the market today.

LOKI is self-contained and uses an internal battery (charged via a USB port).  It has been designed to survive most crashes and easily can be moved to a new, replacement drone.  LOKI interfaces to the DJI series drones by simply plugging a personality cable into the DJI drone SD card slot, making it a user installable “plug and play” system.  We use a patent-pending set of hardware and firmware algorithms to figure out when the camera is triggered.  Should users elect to use a higher end drone with a DSLR camera, the LOKI system can be moved by simply using a DLSR personality cable.

LOKI provides a huge advantage over using drones without RTK/PPK.  Without direct geopositioning, dense ground control is required to achieve the accuracy necessary to calculate differential earth works volumes and to create 2’ (60 cm) or closer contours. This can be extremely time consuming and sometimes a safety issue. In fact, on some sites ground control cannot be placed due to restrictions to site access. However, joined with the BYOD Mapping Kit and a base station, users can expect around ⅛ foot horizontal and ¼ foot vertical accuracies with no ground control placement.

The system is scheduled for release in late July/early August. Please contact us at info@airgon.com for more information on LOKI and the BYOD Mapping Kit.

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Drone Mapping – Business Models Revisited

I am currently attending the 2017 NSSGA/CONEXPO exposition.  One of the keynotes from the National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association (NSSGA) conference focused on the rate of change of technology in the mining industry and the scope of operations that are covered by these technologies.  Of course, one of the examples was the use of drones.  The gist of the discussion was that some of these technologies are in their formative stages; we do not yet fully appreciate the scope of operational affect they will have but to prosper, knowledge of these systems must be internalized.

One thing is very clear – frequent and repetitive mapping will be required to support the automated machinery that is now appearing on advanced sites.  You cannot program a haul truck for autonomous operations if you do not know the location of the road!  Complicating this issue is the fact that the road location changes nearly daily due to the operation itself.

This future trajectory says that mine site mapping will need to become an internal operation.  It will be impractical from both a logistics and cost perspective to outsource drone mapping services.  A second strong consideration is the rapidity with which drone technology is changing.  I think amortizing the cost of a drone over more than 12 months is just not realistic.

Drones are simply platforms for cameras and other sensors (for example, profilers, laser scanners and so forth).  A drone without a sensor is a fun toy to fly but it is not going to have much use in operations!  I am very excited about new platforms from commercial drone companies (mostly DJI).  These new drones include decent cameras in that they now incorporate larger sensors and hybrid shutters.  You can do a reasonable job of mapping with these yet still use them for inspection videos.

DJI Inspire

So I think what we are seeing is the beginning of the end of the purpose-built drone.  You will be able to purchase drones from DJI (and perhaps others) that are nearly a consumable.  You can use the same drone for inspections as you use for mapping.  This is a very important consideration since this greatly simplifies the training of users.

The bottom line here is this – we are seeing the beginning of drones as an everyday tool for mining, industry and construction.  The proper model is going to be internal control of not only flying the systems but also processing the data.  When you need a quick check of a pulley on a conveyor, you will want an internal staff member to quickly fly the inspection job and post the resultant video.  No need to have a third-party system or contractor involved.  It just complicates the flow and adds expense.  This is really the motivation behind our Bring Your Own Drone (BYOD) Mapping Kit.  It lets you use a low-cost drone such as the DJI Inspire to do serious mapping without a lot of complicated leasing or outsourced data processing arrangements.  It also allows you to use the same platform for inspection that you use for mapping.  Give us a call to see how well this solution will meet your specific needs.