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Fast And Furious… Attack Of The Angry Birds

Performing topographical surveying in the high-altitude, low-density air of the Andes is certainly challenging; but when AOC Ingeniería, an engineering consultancy firm in Ecuador was tasked with doing it for the construction of a new wastewater treatment plant, they encountered an unexpected problem…

Redacción de NUMBERS
2016-10-07

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Based on the article “Angry Birds at Altitude”,
Geoconnexion Magazine, January 2015

Performing topographical surveying in the high-altitude, low-density air of the Andes is certainly challenging; but when AOC Ingeniería, an engineering consultancy firm in Ecuador was tasked with doing it for the construction of a new wastewater treatment plant, they encountered an unexpected problem…

Topographic surveying could be considered both an art and a science, since time, dedication, and patience are required in equal measure as expertise, precision and knowhow, in order to produce a detailed cartography.

Topographic mapping shows the natural and cultural features of the terrain. Hydrography, vegetation and uneven terrain are natural features. A detailed knowledge of topography is indeed paramount when performing land surveys with a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle).

Cultural features include roads, bridges, dams and political boundaries. The total area to survey for this particular project —situated between 1.600 and 2.000 metres above sea level— came to 40 km2 at the larger end of the spectrum for mapping drone projects. Juan Pablo Solórzano, the Director of Transportation for AOC Ingeniería’s Geomatics division, states: “The project area was huge, and the slightest change in location of one component, such as a tunnel, immediately affected the rest”.

Less than a decade ago, the use of drones was limited to military operations. Today, however, they are an excellent option for performing topographical studies, land mapping, and mine and quarry surveying. There are three reasons why drones are the future when considering the best choice for large scale engineering projects: safety, higher productivity, and lower cost.

For anyone actively working on topographical surveys and even mining projects, it is clear that safety is paramount. The use of UAV’s minimises the risk to in-field staff by reducing the time they spend on site. In fact, fewer specialists are required to man the devices.

Productivity is also further enhanced, since besides reducing the amount of time required to collect accurate data, the device is able to gather millions of data points in one short flight. In this particular case, the UAV approach saved the client significant sums and the results were processed much more quickly than they would have been in the past. In fact, surveying the area using total stations for example —as might have been done a year previously— “would have taken at least four months, Solórzano says, and used four times as many staff to come close to the amount of raster data generated by one drone. The amount we charged the client was approximately one-fifth of what we would have charged using conventional surveying, plus in some areas, such as gullies, our data was considerably more precise”, he confirms.

In areas of complex topography, with the presence of high winds, dips and gullies, the terrain must be carefully considered. But, while Solórzano was aware of the geographical challenges, he wasn’t expecting animal interventions. “Our drone was attacked several times by hawks”, recalls Solórzano. “It was the first time we’ve experienced this, although we now understand these attacks are fairly common. We think they attacked because it was breeding season and we were flying close to their nesting areas”.

The first attack came as a surprise. The suspected aggressor was a roadside hawk. The bird swooped down on the body, causing damage to it. Then he returned and grabbed the drone’s wings, causing it to plummet to the ground. Although we are blissfully unaware, the skies are fiercely monitored and defended by hawks –this was a clear case of Bird = 1, Drone = 0.

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The team selected a senseFly eBee UAV, an automated drone system that carries a 16 MP IXUS still camera for this job

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Read and share this article in Spanish here.

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