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AEVEX Aerospace: Taming the Wild West

Lidar point clouds can reveal very fine features, such as electric power lines. Photo: AEVEX Aerospace

Lidar point clouds can reveal very fine features, such as electric power lines. Photo: AEVEX Aerospace

We discussed UAV lidar mapping with Bob Stadel, vice president of Geodetics, AEVEX Aerospace.

What are the key remaining technical challenges in UAV lidar mapping?

With continuing improvements in UAVs, lidars, GNSS receivers and other sensors, the key to unlocking more efficiency and profitability in this market will be improving and simplifying workflows and processing. The next frontier is integrating AI and machine learning with digital twin models to create forecasting tools.

UAVs are much cheaper to operate than manned aircraft per hour, but not necessarily per square mile. UAVs can cover ground that cannot be mapped from a land vehicle; however, the latter have a much greater range.

You are correct. Each type of vehicle has its area of best utilization. Once we know what the customer wants from the data being collected, we can determine the size, weight and power (SWAP) of the payload needed, and then it’s a matter of analyzing cost versus capability and working with the customer to pick the right payload for the right vehicle at the right price.

What positional accuracy do you achieve for your point clouds?

With our GNSS-receiver-based navigation unit, which also includes an IMU and key IP [intellectual property] from our company, and the right combination of tools, we achieve an accuracy of 2 cm to 3 cm.

What are your key markets for UAV lidar mapping?

I believe it is still the Wild West in this market space. Really smart people are figuring out new ways to use these systems every day. We sell systems to teams doing high-end inspections of infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, corridors and power lines, as well as for land surveying and mining.

What was a recent application of one of your mapping systems?

One of our most recent success stories has been the launch of our Geo-ECTO-1 system. It features dual lidar sensors combined with a 360-degree FOV [field of view] camera and high-end GNSS receiver. It is ruggedized from the ground up and is meant for high-end survey and infrastructure inspection work. The payload is designed to quickly transition to a UAV-based system. Our two launch customers/partners are California-based survey companies Guida Survey and LACO Survey. It has been a great experience getting these systems up and running with our partners.

Our next adventure will be to work with UC San Diego’s Scripps Oceanographic Institute. We are proposing and demonstrating one of these systems to be used for analyzing cliff erosion on the beaches here in California, where several collapses have led to the loss of life. We want to support figuring out how to use the analyses to create a system that would give early warning of trouble spots. With these tools we can make our beaches much safer.

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