Drones – Mapping the Future

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The clip at which Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) are maturing is rapid. Drones are the most important, most disruptive new technology in many decades especially for remote sensing and mapping. The FAA estimated just last year that there could be 30,000 Drones in the skies by 2020. But many estimate there are already that many in the skies … and they are not yet allowed for commercial use! One retailer in New York city sells 200 DJI Phantom quadcopters each day.

Drones will make the National Airspace accessible to everyone. They will be inexpensive. They will be safely operated with ease. This is their great disruptive influence.

UAS will drive down the cost and complexity of sophisticated remote sensing and mapping. Some sUAS now come equipped with built-in maps that prevent the drone from flying within “no fly zones” like airports. The first-generation “Model-T” systems have already accomplished this.

The FAA will limit their contributions in remote sensing and mapping to small areas within sight of the operator for now. But yet, their application in this context will remain important.

Transportation Engineering and Construction

Transportation Engineering and Construction will find many uses for UAS. Engineers will produce DEMs and orthophotography for small areas from the backseat of their car as needed. The mechanical / technological trappings needed today will fall away. Drone operators will not need experienced pilots, sensor operators, mapping specialists, and large planes. Small crews will conduct dangerous infrastructure inspection without ropes and out of harm’s way. Engineers will get detailed photos and point clouds of structures in a matter of hours wherever needed.

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Remote Sensing and Aerial Mapping

Remote sensing and aerial mapping will also benefit, especially for projects covering small areas. Engineers will perform construction faster because 3D models of the earth will be available in hours not weeks. Today, sUAS make accurate, high resolution point clouds representing the “surface” of things. LiDAR sensors will become common in the next 1-3 years, and will produce high resolution point clouds of the earth, not only the surface of things.

Public Utilities

Public utilities will find enormous applications for UAS. Drones augment the response to emergency situations. Transportation to the scene and operation are easy. They will provide an immediate bird’s eye view of the incident to all responders. Responders will perform aerial inspections at will to locate the cause of power outages. Drones will enhance the reliability of the energy network and promote public safety. Inspections will be much easier in dangerous areas. Inspectors will not need the cumbersome safety procedures and gear when sending personnel.

The possible applications of drones to transportation, surveying, mapping, and public utilities are tremendous. After American entrepreneurs begin using these new mapping platforms daily rapid innovation will ensue. Many new applications to improve the life, health, and the economy will impact our daily lives.

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