Lyceum 2021 | Together Towards Tomorrow
As drones and survey instruments become lighter and batteries become stronger, innovative ways to apply drone technology is evolving rapidly.
This panel will discuss how drones are evolving the way we explore from resource exploration, to agriculture, to transportation asset monitoring, and a myriad of other applications.
UAS Program Analyst, Ohio UAS Center
Mobile Technology & Remote Sensing Manager, AECOM
Vice President, Geophysical Sales, Geometrics, Inc.
CEO, Skyfront Corp
Facilitator: Rina Hartmann
Strategic Account Executive, Seequent
On behalf of Seequent.
I’d like to welcome everyone to today’s panel discussion
on drones and how drones are evolving
the way we explore the earth.
My name is Rina Hartmann
and I’m the Strategic Account Executive
for Seequent North America.
As facilitator for today’s panel discussion.
I’m excited to welcome our panel experts.
We have Bart Hoekstra,
Vice President Geophysical Sales Geometrics Inc.
Helen McCreary, UAS Program Analyst,
Ohio UAS Center,
and Troy Mestler, CEO of Skyfront.
Thank you all for joining us
to share your expertise and insights.
Today, we will discuss how drones are evolving,
the way we collect information
and the different applications
for which they can be useful.
Originally developed in the 20th century
for military use,
today, drones are used for a variety of applications,
such as resource exploration, transportation,
asset monitoring, agriculture among others.
As drones and survey instruments become lighter
and batteries become stronger,
innovative ways to apply drone technology
is evolving rapidly.
Before we launch into the discussion,
I’d like to ask each of you to tell us
a little bit more about yourselves
and your experiences for these topic areas.
We’ll start with Bart.
<v ->Hi, I’m Bart Hoekstra.</v>
I’ve been a geophysical consultant for well over 20 years.
And I am now Vice President of Geometrics,
where we manufacture the MagArrow,
which is a technology designed
to do magnetic surveys from drones.
<v ->Thank you, Bart.</v>
And how about you Helen?
<v ->Hi everyone, I’m Helen.</v>
I got my master’s degree in near-surface geophysics
and I started flying drones about four or five years ago.
And I now work for the Ohio UAS center.
I am the UAS program analyst.
I deal with most of the geophysical sensors that we have.
<v ->Thanks, Helen.</v>
<v ->Hi everybody.</v>
My name is Troy Mestler and I’m the CEO of Skyfront.
We are a manufacturer of long endurance multi-rotor drones
that are hybrid electrics.
So we use gasoline and we convert it
into electricity in flight.
And our platforms which are called
the Perimeter series of UAVs
can fly for upwards of five hours
and carry all sorts of different payloads,
everything from LiDARS to magnetometers,
and a lot of the sensors
that are relevant to this discussion today.
A few months ago, we actually set the World Record
for drone flight time.
We actually flew the aircraft for about 13 hours
and we captured the sunrise and the sunset in one in one go
and that’s never been done before.
And that type of technology that we’re developing
can really be very useful in the geophysical sciences.
<v ->Thanks so much Troy.</v>
For those of you who are newer to drones
we will use the terms, drones and UAV,
unmanned aerial vehicles interchangeably.
These define an aircraft without any human pilot on board.
These can also be a part of UAS unmanned aircraft system,
including a system of communications with the UAV.
Drones have become an integral part
of so many different types of projects.
Today they carry a variety of sensors.
They are slowly replacing hard to reach ground surveys
or costly manned helicopter surveys.
What are the benefits and what are the challenges
we face today?
Let’s hear from our experts.
The first question I have is,
why are AVS becoming such a big part
of the way we explore our planet?
Bart, can you answer that one?
<v ->Well, I think you hit on a couple of points already.</v>
And one is traditionally, we like to do geophysics
in areas that are hard to reach by foot.
And so being able to fly over them
greatly increases our site access.
For instance, in a lot of areas
where you’re doing archeology or UXO surveys
you don’t have access to the fields
because of crops that are being planted
in drones allow you to fly over those
and not disturb the ground.
I think also just in general,
the costs of doing these types of surveys
is so much less than manned aircraft.
And additionally, it’s a lot safer
because we like to do geophysics low and slow.
And that’s not always the best way
that manned aircraft like to fly.
<v ->Helen, what are the benefits of drone surveys</v>
in your projects?
<v ->We wouldn’t be able to do our projects</v>
if we didn’t have drones.
I’m not a pilot.
None of, well, actually one of my colleagues
is a real pilot.
But I am, I fly drones.
I don’t fly helicopters or planes.
So as Bart said
we’re flying all the time.
Our primary drone right now is an M600
and we use the MagArrow and we’re flying really hilly areas
down in the south of Ohio.
Areas that it would be impossible,
it would actually be impossible to fly with a helicopter.
You can’t get down into the valley
and then back up the hill.
And so the only way you can do it is with a drone.
We’re looking for abandoned oil and gas,
well heads that are leaking stuff into the environment.
So they need to be found.
They need to be capped and they all need to be found.
Otherwise you cap some of them, and they,
the rest of them keep leaking
and burst into flame and stuff.
So there are just a lot of applications
where if you don’t have a drone,
it’s actually impossible to do it,
especially because we have to fly so low.
For archeology, sometimes as Bart said again,
it’s actually better to put the sensor on a drone
than it is a ground sensor
mostly to do with
if the ground is very, is variable.
If there’s like old corn stock or something,
and it would make a cart bounce around a whole bunch
and you don’t get that with a drone,
you can actually fly really steadily,
especially if you have an altimeter or something.
So we have a GPR
that, you know,
you lose penetration when you put it on a drone,
but you can actually get steadier data
than you could if it was on a cart
sometimes under certain conditions.
So yeah, lots of benefits to drones.
<v ->Thanks, Helen.</v>
Yeah, that definitely is a lot of benefits.
Another question I have was on the topic of regulations,
do you see the regulations around the use of drones
being relaxed or standardized
and how would this impact projects,
Troy, perhaps you can touch upon those?
<v ->Sure. I’d be glad to.</v>
So first let me define what the regulations
around drones are and what the main ones are.
So the main regulation
hampering, the use of drones is what people call
the BVLOS or beyond visual line of sight restriction,
which is a restriction or regulation imposed by the FAA
that says that the operator of the drone,
the pilot of the drone has to be within line of sight
of the drone at all time.
They have to be able to see it.
And, you know, the true promise of drone technology
is really being able to operate
outside of the vision
of a human being, right?
So being able to operate in areas that a human can’t access
and very far away.
So, you know, beyond visual line of sight
really restricts a drone.
Drones use to within about a mile of where it took off from.
So it kind of limits the amount of area
that can be covered during a flight.
And so, you know, to answer your question, yeah, absolutely.
You know, this we believe,
and we know that the FAA is working on ways
to relax this beyond visual line of sight restriction
so that, you know, and there’s a,
there’s a thing called the part 135 certification,
which is basically a way to certify a drone
as though it were a manned aircraft
so that it can operate safely,
you know, many miles away from the operator.
And when this restriction is relaxed,
it will allow operators to cover hundreds,
if not thousands of acres, you know, in a single flight.
And that’s when the true economic
and technological potential of drones will be realized.
And so we are big believers in that
and we see the FAA moving in that direction.
<v ->Thanks Troy, for that insight.</v>
We have some things to look forward to in the future.
In addition to magnetic and LiDAR surveys,
we see other types of sensors emerging,
such as radiometrics, electromagnetics,
and more recently, even gravity sensors.
In your opinion, are they commercially viable?
And if not, when do you foresee them
becoming commercially practical?
Helen, if you can answer that one, perhaps?
<v ->So I’ve never used a gravity sensor,</v>
so I can’t really speak to that,
but I have used EM before
I’ve used a ground-based EM,
I know that they’re testing it on drones.
I’d be interested to see the data
seeing as it’s an active method,
you’re literally inducing a current in the ground.
I don’t foresee it being that useful on a drone,
but you’d have to fly really, really low,
so low that you might as well just walk around with it.
But again, as I said, sometimes, you know,
you get benefits even if you are flying it super low.
So as for commercially viable.
So right now we have mag, we have GPR,
we have LiDAR,
we have a gamma radiation sensor,
a new gamma radiation sensor that we’re using
with the department of health.
All these have a lot of applications that we’re exploring,
especially the radiation sensor
that will keep people out of harm’s way.
We’ll be able to fly over a,
like a rubbish heap for example,
and find abandoned radiation sources,
which are surprisingly common apparently.
So, and be able to find things
where before a human being would have to walk around
this rubbish heap for hours, hours, and hours
looking for stuff.
So there is a lot of these sensors
are going to be commercially viable.
It’s just a question of getting them right.
And then learning how to use them
and learning how to deal with the data.
That’s a big one is like
sometimes the data comes out
and it looks like poop.
So you need to,
you need to figure out how to make it not look like poop,
which is a big, a big challenge.
<v ->Certainly some challenges. Bart,</v>
did you have any other insight on there?
That you want to add?
<v ->I just wanted to add some things about EM surveys</v>
that we’re starting to see
and that there may be room for things like
I guess, combined land
and drone-based measurements
by putting out large loops
to generate EM current
and then measuring them from drones.
And, you know, there may be some potential there
to do general exploration and things like that.
You know, some of the requirements really
are going to be things like
how well can you position your drone
and get the motion of that drone
because that can induce noise into the systems
and cause some of the situations
that Helen just discussed.
<v ->Yes. I think that there’s definitely some challenges</v>
and things to work towards.
My next question.
I’ll direct it, Troy,
if what are the challenges as we talk about challenges,
what are the challenges we still face with drone surveys
from your perspective?
And if you’d like, you can suggest improvements
if there are any.
<v ->Sure. Yes, so up until recently,</v>
I think the biggest challenge was endurance.
You know, so I don’t know if people are familiar,
but drones used to be able to fly for 20 to 30 minutes.
And that really limited the extent
the area to which that
an operator could cover
during a day. Right?
And you know, what our company
we set out to do
was to solve the endurance issue.
So we’ve been able to crack that
and, you know, provide aircraft
that can carry magnetic sensors
for upwards of three to four hours.
So the problems that still remain now
are more software-based
So I think the main challenge
is really is autonomy and making sure
that the object does not crash into people,
property, or even other aircraft
when it is operating autonomously
beyond visual line of sight.
And this is really a sensor and a software problem.
So, you know, what we’re doing here at Skyfront
is we’re equipping our UAVs
with forward-facing radars,
with collision avoidance
detect and avoid sensors,
things that detect aircraft in the area,
and then issue commands to the aircraft to avoid
We do things like terrain following, right?
So we’ll put a radar altimeter
on the bottom of the aircraft
and using the readings from that
from that radar, we were able to go up and down
steep terrain without hitting
the, you know, a mountain or without hitting the terrain.
And so, you know the, the kind of the,
all of these technologies together
are some of the remaining challenges
that they need to be put together well,
and they need to be packaged up
in a seamless solution for the end user
so that they can just send the drone out
and be in rest assured
that they’re not going to,
that it’s not going to hit anything.
It’s still relatively early days there
but you know, certainly our company,
as well as some other companies
are making a lot of inroads into that area.
<v ->That’s fantastic. Nice to see.</v>
And Bart, did you have any other comments there?
<v ->Yeah. Troy, I wanted to ask a little bit, you know,</v>
when we talk about other geophysical technologies
like EM or radar
we need a lot of power
in our transmitters, perhaps.
And do you see any advances in that
being for the drone to be able to supply
more power to our equipment?
<v ->Yes. So our aircraft is actually capable of generating</v>
what I would call a lot of power.
So up to about 150 Watts.
And if you make the power pulsed, right?
Which is what I think would happen
if you were doing an EM,
electromagnetic survey with an active sensor
you can generate a lot more power than that, right?
Because it’s only happening for,
the impulse of the power is only happening
for a short period of time.
And the peak power can be provided
using a battery
or an ultra capacitor.
So yes, our aircraft can certainly provide,
and there are ways
there are techniques too, that one can use
if that amount of power is not enough.
You know, for example, like I mentioned,
using something that’s pulsed.
<v ->Thanks so much, Troy.</v>
That’s a really, really great information.
Another question I have, perhaps I’ll ask Bart,
I’ll ask you that question.
With drone geophysics technology,
being a well-established, cost-effective survey method
in areas like mining and minerals
and other areas of use,
how do you see it being used in other sectors?
<v ->Yeah, I think one of the biggest growth sectors</v>
is going to be
the use in UXO,
because I think the, as Troy mentioned,
the ability to drape drain very closely,
I think is very important.
And, and so we’ll see that I think
as positioning gets better,
I’m sort of interested in the idea
of flying swarms of,
or one or more drones
and seeing if we can start getting
useful gradient measurements
from some of our systems
and EM sensors
and possibly flying
like a big EM loop or something like that.
So I would like,
I think those will be a lot of potential.
I think then
as regulations relax
or we have the ability
in more urban areas,
I think the whole use of drones
in more urban areas where we have congestion
and we’re trying to find more infrastructure,
I think could be a big growth industry as well,
and become a very standard practice.
Anytime there’s a say,
a commercial real estate transaction
that you fly a drone survey and make sure that
nothing is underground that you don’t expect there to be.
So I think those are all areas of a lot of potential growth.
And then, if we can fly beyond line of sight,
then I think the mineral exploration side of things
will grow tremendously.
<v ->Helen, did you have any other comments on there?</v>
<v ->I think to add to the infrastructure piece,</v>
we’ve had people who are very interested in drone GPR,
and I’m blanking on–
to look at the profile of riverbeds
which is I think going to be going to be a pretty big one
once we can figure it out
and we can, the FCC currently doesn’t let
any GPR that isn’t 500 megahertz be on a drone,
but hopefully that will change.
And we can start doing bathymetry for environmental
and for infrastructure purposes.
So there there’s a lot of growth there also, I believe,
I think another important thing to note
about drone survey
is it’s not just geophysics that you get,
it’s the layers of data.
So, you know, any geophysicist will tell you
that you want to, ideally you want to compare
a couple different types of data
so you can compare the mag
orthomosaic or something to see
if, oh, is this, a well,
or is this a giant pickup truck
that someone parked in the middle of nowhere?
So being able to collect multiple kinds of data
is also a big benefit of drones.
Often at the same time,
you can mount several sensors at the same time.
<v ->Thank you both.</v>
I really appreciate the feedback.
I know with unexploded ordinance and infrastructure,
there are so many areas that,
these projects can help with.
So I see a lot of growth potential in these areas, for sure.
And as we near the end of our session,
I want to ask, perhaps I’ll ask each of you
some feedback on the future.
Where does the future of drone geophysics lie in your eyes?
We can start with Bart.
<v ->Well, I think that there’s a huge amount of potential for,</v>
for the use of drones.
I think as we possibly improve positioning
to the point where even in remote areas,
you can get very accurate positioning,
enable new geophysical technologies that,
require ground-based type stuff now.
But yeah, I think,
we’re certainly seeing it in areas in heavy terrain
and mountainous terrain where it really, as Helen said,
it really is the only method that works.
And I think that will really drive
all kinds of new development in remote areas.
<v ->Definitely. Thanks, Bart.</v>
How about you, Helen?
What are your thoughts about the future?
<v ->There’s going to be more of it.</v>
I think that as people start learning
more about it, especially,
I mean the mineral
and oil side of things
I think is going to grow first,
but everything else is going to follow
environmental and all sorts of use cases.
I think that the growth
is going to be driven by development
of new drone technology, like Skyfront
and the opening of BVLOS.
BVLOS is a big one for us.
A lot of our project areas
we have to move around all over the place
because we can’t see the drone.
So it’s going to be a,
there’s going to be a party
when we can get BVLOS.
I’ll just put it that way.
So yeah, improving drone technology.
We’re just going to be flying.
<v ->I love that.</v>
We all want an invite to that party.
<v ->You’re all invited.</v>
<v ->And Troy, how about you?</v>
What do you think is in our future?
<v ->Well, I think drones are the future</v>
of aerial data collection altogether,
geophysics and otherwise.
And the reason for that,
are helicopters are
which are their primary carrier of these types of sensors,
they’re between one and $10 million to purchase
and $2,000 an hour to operate.
And not only that, but where they have to operate
is often low to the ground near obstacles.
And there are a lot of people
who lose their lives every year
by flying helicopters in this way.
And drones are, they’re cheaper
and they don’t kill people.
And that’s the future of aerial data collection.
And, it all hinges upon obviously
the beyond visual line of sight regulations
that I mentioned earlier
but certainly, I think that,
and I would also bring up the parallel.
That’s happened in the military over the last 30 years.
And really actually since World War Two, right?
There’s been an increasing reliance on things that fly
and that things that operate autonomously
without a pilot inside of them,
everything from missiles to jet fighters
to now, surveillance like the
like the Predator and the Reaper.
And so when you look at that
and what has happened in the military
over that time period,
the same thing is going to happen
in the commercial sector as well.
And we are eagerly awaiting that
and we’re prepared for it when that time comes.
<v ->Thanks, Troy.</v>
This has been and some pretty incredible insight
from all three of you.
And as we wrap up,
I want to open it up to any thoughts
that you’d like to share,
perhaps in closing remarks.
<v ->Well, to speak to Troy’s point about not risking lives,</v>
we’ve had two incidents with our 600 MagArrow combo
in the Backwoods of Ohio,
and nobody’s been hurt except for the 600,
which has been revived twice.
So, you know, I think it,
that’s a really, really big point is that we were able,
we’re able to, to do the work
and get the data that people need
without putting anyone in harm’s way.
And hopefully no more incidents, learning.
You got to learn from the crashes.
<v ->Yeah, yeah.</v>
<v ->Yeah. I think, I don’t know</v>
what all the regulations are in terms of the size of drones,
but I think when we talk about flying gravity sensors
or big EM loops, I think that,
it may be that we need to start working with
either bigger drones
or maybe being able to fly multiple drones
close together in a sort of swarm
that we can maybe have four drones
carrying a large EM loop around the
around, and maybe that could be also
a very interesting way to,
especially maybe the groundwater industry,
where we want to look a couple of hundred meters deep,
but still be able to fly around with drones
rather than the helicopters like we’re doing now.
<v ->All extremely valuable information.</v>
And I love all the futuristic thoughts
and visions that we have.
Bart, Helen, Troy,
we appreciate you taking your time today
to share your knowledge and experiences with us
and to help us better understand
both the current workflow challenges
and future capabilities of drones.
On behalf of myself and Seequent.
We thank you.
(dramatic instrumental music)