UAVs map construction sites, protect NASCAR, even pollinate trees

April 18, 2018  - By

As the days tick down towards the coming AUVSI Xponential convention in Denver April 30 to May 3, new UAV/UAS developments and applications continue to appear, indicating that this industry could be moving from startup into the beginning of a growth phase.

Skycatch and DJI high-precision drones for Komatsu

The construction industry has always been one of the preeminent areas that require medium- to high-precision surveys. And Komatsu has become one of the world’s leaders in machine automation for the construction site.

Now Komatsu has committed to the automation of site surveys using drones, which ultimately appears to be packaged as a turnkey service for construction companies.

Komatsu aims to show up at a site with all the necessary automated construction machinery and a small staff of automation experts. The experts will survey the site using Skycatch drones and manage the construction for the contractor.

Skycatch drones will survey construction sites with existing RTK networks. (Photo: Skycatch)

Skycatch drones will survey construction sites with existing RTK networks. (Photo: Skycatch)

Skycatch, based in San Francisco, California, has teamed with Komatsu, who has apparently invested financially in the company and purchased around 1,000 Explore1 drones manufactured by DJI from Skycatch.

Explore1 is actually a modified Matrice 100 DJI drone with special additions. A Skycatch onboard computer links GPS real-time kinematic (RTK) high-precision positioning with a gimbal-mounted 20-megapixel high-resolution camera and the flight computer, resulting in centimeter-level geocoded data.

The big deal is that the system uses existing RTK networks.

Komatsu has been using Skycatch systems for more than three years. The Explore1 system is a combination of all the lessons learned on ease of use and time to collect usable data. Explore1 is used to digitize construction sites during planning, construction and completion.

NASCAR drone protection

It’s unfortunate, but nowadays there always seems to be heightened awareness that events where lots of people gather may present ideal opportunities for possible terrorist attacks. And there has been much made of the possibility that UAVs may be included in the next wave of offensive means for terrorists to inflict civilian casualties on the Western world.

So it’s comforting to hear that for the recent NASCAR race in Fort Worth, Texas, a number of security organizations decided to take the precaution of installing drone countermeasures for the event.

DroneGun, part of the DroneShield anti-UAV system. (Photo: DroneShield)

DroneGun, part of the DroneShield anti-UAV system. (Photo: DroneShield)

At the Fort Worth race, the Texas State Department of Public Safety, the Denton County Sheriff, the Fort Worth Police Department, the Texas Forest Service and the Texas Rangers used DroneShield anti-drone systems for the protection of the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series at the Texas Motor Speedway on April 8.

DroneSentinel for drone detection, DroneSentry used for integrated detection and defeat, and DroneGun drone interception were all deployed to determine where drones may be operating and to intercept them if required.

This appears to have been the first known live operational use of all three products by U.S. law enforcement to provide “peace of mind in the aerial domain,” as expressed by an officer about the event.

No bees? Just call for a drone

I’m always frustrated by the fruit tree in my backyard — it absolutely insists on flowering in March when there seems to be more high winds than at any other time of the year, so most of its blossoms are blown to the ground. It’s a mature tree, and you would imagine that it should have learned by now.

But when it is calm and warm, only a few butterflies and birds seem to show any interest. I hardly ever see any bees buzzing around and doing their pollinating thing, and so fruit is hard to come by later in the year.

I’ve thought of borrowing my wife’s make-up brush and dabbing my way round the flowers, but the neighbors, or my wife for that matter, might see me and call the cops to get me taken away…

So I was quite interested when I saw that an outfit called DropCopter, based in Corning, California, is setting about pollination using customized drones. DropCopter basically supplements lost bees by flying over flowering fruit trees and dropping pollen on their blossoms using a drone.

This UAS start-up has initiated a drone pollination service which uses automated multi-rotor drones to dust almonds, pistachios and cherries, boosting crops by up to 15 percent! It seems that fruit producers can rent bees when it comes to pollination time, but bee-rental costs have apparently soared recently. Growers may have been paying up to $180 for one hive to be relocated among their fruit trees. These costs have been cutting into margins and raising the price of fruit at the store.

Enter DropCopter to alleviate pollination problems and restore profit margins for the growers.

DropCopter is using some funding provided by GENIUS NY sponsorship to operate its patent-pending pollination system during nighttime over local New York orchards. Bees don’t like the colder night temperatures, so DropCopter can double the pollination time by operating at night while the bees work the day shift.

But where the heck does DropCopter find all the pollen necessary to fill its pollen distribution containers on its drones? The mystery of fruit pollination still puzzles me.

Range of novel UAV applications grows

So, it’s quite a range of interesting drone applications: automated site survey using drones and a suite of Skycatch processing and data-delivery software; anti-drone protection systems becoming commonplace at larger events; and nature getting a helping hand from pollinating drone systems… Who would have ever thought we’d be seeing these novel, innovative drone solutions?

But, then again, who would have ever expected in the pre-2000 timeframe all the applications that GNSS alone has managed to open up?

About the Author: Tony Murfin

Tony Murfin is managing consultant for GNSS Aerospace LLC, Florida. Murfin provides business development consulting services to companies involved in GNSS products and markets, and writes for GPS World as the OEM Professional contributing editor. Previously, Murfin worked for NovAtel Inc. in Calgary, Canada, as vice president of Business Development; for CMC Electronics in Montreal, Canada, as business development manager, product manager, software manger and software engineer; for CAE in Montreal as simulation software engineer; and for BAe in Warton, UK, as senior avionics engineer. Murfin has a B.Sc. from the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology in the UK, and is a UK Chartered Engineer (CEng MIET).