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News & opinion

1 NOV 2018

Surveying on autopilot

At present, most UAV regulations stipulate that operators must keep their UAVs in a visual line of sight (VLOS) at all times. But, in some regions regulations are evolving to accept “beyond visual line of sight” (BVLOS), allowing operators to fully utilise the autonomous capabilities of drone technology. It could soon lead to the human element involved in piloting drones becoming redundant.

“When this does happen, we’ll be able to make complex industrial inspections at the push of a button with pre-programmed flight paths, all without the need for a pilot to physically control take-off and landing,” says Daniel Lam MRICS.

“This, coupled with software capable of machine learning, is where the future lies, saving huge amounts of time and resources.,” adds Lam.

How long before we see swarms of autonomous drones flying themselves around building sites? To some degree, this is already happening.

Previously, human surveyors would take days to map sites, now, drones scan a site in just 15 minutes to create a 3D map of the terrain. The data is then sent directly to on-site, semi-autonomous bulldozers and diggers.

Over the past three years, California firm Skycatch has supplied drones to construction equipment manufacturer Komatsu for use on more than 5,000 building sites in Japan. Previously, human surveyors would take days to map sites, now, drones scan a site in just 15 minutes to create a 3D map of the terrain. The data is then sent directly to the company’s fleet of on-site, semi-autonomous bulldozers and diggers, which set about digging and levelling the ground, all while staying in constant contact with the drones and positioning themselves via GPS.

Komatsu is even using machine learning to help drones identify different vehicles, and spot potential safety hazards. Eventually, the plan is for the machines to work entirely without human input.

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