Drones deliver for environmental monitoring

Found in: News

Astron Environmental Services Pty Ltd (Astron) and Arvista Pty Ltd announced today that they have entered into a partnership agreement to apply drone or Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) technology to environmental management applications. 

The partnership brings together the two companies’ complementary technical capabilities in commercial operations of UAVs and image analysis, environmental monitoring and management.

Arvista was founded in 2012 by mining engineers Shane McLeay and Evan McKern and has since been flying commercial UAV missions in Australia and overseas, successfully completing over 60 projects involving more than 600 flights.

Astron has been providing environmental services in Western Australia for over 30 years and integrating remote sensing tools into traditional approaches since 2012.

“Working in mine planning, we saw the benefits of UAVs at an early stage. We can now easily produce photomosaics of whole mine sites and at the same time generate detailed terrain models for use by the mine’s survey and engineering departments,” says Evan McKern.

“UAV data is also used to produce regular volumetric assessments of stockpiles and excavations. These calculations used to be done by a site surveyor which took a long time and introduced additional safety considerations,” said Mr McKern.

The two companies came together after an introduction from a colleague and have been working together on commercial UAV surveys since 2013.

“Recent advances in UAV technology – particularly radiometric and positional accuracy – have made them suitable alternatives to satellite and airborne remote sensing platforms. Additionally, the ultrahigh spatial resolutions that are only available from UAV data enable highly detailed digital surface models and feature extraction approaches to object classification to be applied to a range of environmental management applications such as biological surveys, and rehabilitation and erosion monitoring,” Astron Geospatial Manager Sam Atkinson said.

“Astron has been working on a number of projects in Western Australia developing quantitative remote sensing tools that inform environmental management. The expansive, remote and sometimes inaccessible nature of our environment makes it a perfect candidate for remote sensing approaches, and the cost savings available when compared to traditional methods is driving demand for these services.

“Furthermore, there is a big desire in the industry to use technology such as UAVs to complement traditional approaches and drive down costs of business. Astron and Arvista intend to lead the way in this arena and we have invested heavily in people and technology to facilitate this,” said Mr Atkinson.

The companies are currently flying the hand-launched and self-landing eBee, which is constructed of EPP foam, with detachable wings. It can fly for 45 minutes to a radio-link range of 3 km driven by a LiPo battery-powered pusher propeller. The eBee can cover up to 100 hectares (1 km2) in a single flight and up to 700 ha (7 km2) in a day.

They are also currently trialling UAVs with longer endurance and higher payload capacity to increase survey coverage and reduce per hectare costs.

Australia is one of the frontrunners in the civilian use of UAVs largely thanks to the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) who has the primary responsibility for the maintenance, enhancement and promotion of the safety of civil aviation in Australia. The authority has been cautiously paving the way for civilian use of UAVs since 2002 when Australia became the first country in the world to regulate remotely piloted aircraft.

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