Surveying is a big opportunity for drone operators. But until now, development in the sector has been hampered by a lack of drones built specifically for that market. Enter the Matrice 210 RTK: the latest addition to the Matrice 200 Series. It’s built for surveying, construction and similar industries, with additional features that make it easier to operate in any conditions.
These features are significant because they’re combined. They exist on other drones but not all in one package and not at the Matrice’s price point of around £13,000. So this drone isn’t just a step change: it’s a game changer for those serious about specialising in remote aerial surveying.
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Why use drones for surveying?
Whenever a disruptive technology enters a market, there are always early adopters and those who choose to wait and see how it all plays out. When supermarket home deliveries were first introduced, forward-thinking retailers such as Tesco and Asda invested early and embedded the skills internally to exploit new technology and new market opportunities. Where Ocado’s business model evolved entirely from the online shopping phenomenon, Morrisons’ suffered catastrophic losses until they jumped on the home delivery bandwagon as late as last year.
Many different industries are benefitting from streamlined efficiencies by incorporating automated technologies, and land surveying is no different. Most companies will now be looking to embed innovative technologies and key future skills within their own organisations to be able to offer the most advanced surveying services to their customers. To do this, they’ll need talented people, great equipment and desire to collaborate with training providers, manufacturers and their clients – all for the betterment of the industry. So, now’s the time to get skilled up: the tools are now available to do the job better.
The advantages of using drones for surveying are obvious when considered. They can go to the top of the highest masts and look at vast expanses of land, while also being able to hone in on the smallest detail. Drone use results in faster, cheaper, and more accurate and reliable data which can be used and analysed repeatedly. UAVs can be used in confined spaces and harsh environments and can check for safety issues before a technician is sent in, meaning a safer environment for workers. In short, drones go where you can’t or don’t really want to!
The Matrice 210 RTK has been designed with surveying in mind. DJI asked the industry for feedback on the previous 200 model and responded by adding uprating the most important features.
So, what’s changed to make the Matrice 210 RTK so good for surveying? First up, the Matrice 210 RTK is more robust – it’s IP43-rated. That means it’s protected against dust and is now water resistant. In harsh environments, and harsh weather, the drone can actually get up in the sky. Many other commercial UAVs can’t be flown in the rain and small particles of dust interfere with their operation, meaning that use in an environment such as a construction site or quarry would be difficult, if not impossible unless the weather was still and perfectly clear.
Being able to operate in any weather means more utilisation potential – no more sitting around on site with a sensor and a UAV, waiting for it to stop raining. With the Matrice 210, you can get straight into the sky whatever the weather, meaning a quicker turnaround for the client and a better, more efficient result all round.
The new IP43 rating also makes this drone perfect for inhospitable environments created by natural disasters – it could be used, for example, after a building collapse following an earthquake, or a volcanic eruption, where dust and debris in the atmosphere might stop other drones flying. Coupled with a thermal camera, the Matrice 210 could also help to identify survivors or help emergency services to find safe passage when attempting rescue missions.
The upward camera feature is another bonus for surveying. You can now get images of the underside of tunnels or bridges simply by flying through them – before, the drone operator needed to fly down further and get images at a more oblique angle. This new camera feature means more accuracy and more reliable images, and the ability to spot the smallest cracks or faults.
Location, location, location
As UAVs become more commonplace, knowing what’s in the air and when is becoming increasingly important. The M200 series features DJI AirSense, a built-in ADS-B receiver which improves airspace safety by giving operators real-time data on the position, altitude, and velocity of nearby manned aircraft (equipped with ADS-B transmitters).
This feature will really come into its own where multiple UAVs are in the same airspace, and will be particularly important for drone operators flying around congested airspace near commercial airports – for example, surveying airport runways for defects, or airport infrastructure. It’s another step into a world where drones and commercial aircraft can operate safely together.
Accuracy is key when it comes to surveying, and that’s where the RTK in the Matrice 210 RTK (real-time kinematic) comes in. It includes D-RTK, a high precision navigation and positioning system. Drones position themselves in the sky using satellites, but there’s always a certain amount of atmospheric and ionospheric interference in those signals as they come down from the sky to the unit itself.
The D-RTK system minimises and cancels out those errors. Its accuracy is within one centimetre, rather than 30 cms to a metre which is common with other drones. This has great benefits to surveyors, particularly when the operator is flying within known co-ordinate systems, as it allows the operator to place themselves accurately within that system to within a centimetre.
This accuracy doesn’t just result in better data, it’s also safer. A drone operator can feel more confident when flying near power lines or masts in order to inspect them, and it cuts out the dangers associated with sending a field technician to inspect these facilities.
So how might these features, designed to improve accuracy and increase frequency of flying time, translate into real-world applications for surveyors?
Land stability in railways, roads and cuttings is a big issue. Land slips and rockfalls can cause huge disruption and vast expense, as well as, of course, their obvious danger to road and rail users. A drone such as the Matrice 210 RTK could support the collection of four-dimensional data – the fourth dimension being time.
The RTK feature means being able to collect data more frequently and with more accuracy. So, using this drone could enable better comparison of previous and current data to look for changes in places such as railway embankments. This is preventative maintenance – infinitely preferable to scrambling to mobilise as quickly as possible after a catastrophic event.
Using appropriate software, data can be coded; movement of less than 20cm would be green, 20 to 50 cm amber, and displacement of more than 50 cm over the period, red, enabling land managers to be aware of areas which are most at risk of failure. This method of monitoring allows planned, preventative maintenance to be scheduled at times when it would cause minimum disruption, rather than reactive, retrospective repairs being when operators can least afford it.
Drones make monitoring tasks much faster and much more affordable. Whether monitoring change on train lines, bridges or road surfaces, successful implementation requires the collection of regular information. Flying a UAV takes minutes to collect data across a large area, data which would take hours to collect by hand.
This could have applications in the mining industry, particularly at opencast mines, where the change of a few degrees of the side of the mine can make a significant difference in how deep a mine can go, and how stable its sides are. Knowing about a few degrees of movement in that situation could save a company millions in operational costs, not to mention lives.
This is currently a big market in the USA, specifically for loss adjustment. Currently, if an industrial, commercial or domestic property has problems such as tiles coming off the roof in adverse weather conditions, the first action of an insurance company will be to send a loss adjustor to assess the damage.
This will, at some point, involve going up to have a look. That’s an inherently dangerous thing to do on a damaged building and it also takes a significant amount of time. To be risk assessed, two people must attend the site and they must be trained in working at height. Usually two visits are needed: one to assess the site, the next to actually look at the damage.
Using a drone, which can operate in adverse weather conditions, such as the Matrice 210 RTK, is clearly a far quicker solution. The drone can collect the data immediately, process it and send it to the client. It’s better for the client, the insurance company and the loss adjustor as it’s all done in one visit.
There’s a host of other applications that the Matrice 210 RTK could be used for, by integrating other sensors such as pollution, odour or dust monitoring.
For example, the drone could fly around a water treatment plant and collate real-time data, which will then negate the need for placing a whole host of sensors around the periphery that are constantly monitored. The drone could also go from site to site rather than just having fixed sensors in different sites – a significant difference in cost, application and data collection.
Again, in a mining context, this can be invaluable. Using a UAV to monitor air quality in confined spaces can help to warn of high levels of dust and other particulates which can cause a wide range of damage to lungs in even a short space of time.
Additional sensor benefits such as thermal imaging can also be included to enable safe inspection of pipelines, or enable search and rescue missions to be carried out where survivors may not be able to be seen by search crews.
The Low Down: Why the Matrice 210 RTK matters
It’s easy to throw around big numbers when it comes to the potential drone market, but operators and companies are more interested in what’s being done right now to demonstrate their benefits.
Technology game-changers like the Matrice 210 RTK are serious kit for serious work: they are at the pinnacle of what drones can achieve for business users. For drone operators seeking to convince potential clients of the benefits of using drones for surveying, advances like this are key. Clients don’t necessarily want grand predictions, they want to know exactly how this technology is better than what’s gone before, whether the investment is worth it, and how it will make their service more efficient or their business more effective.
The Matrice 210 RTK demonstrates that drone technology is advancing to fit industry needs, and that manufacturers are listening and being responsive to what industry wants. It’s a real leap forward in terms of fulfilling the incredible potential that drone operators and early adopters know is possible – and that journey has only just begun.