Taking off with RPAS in construction


Bob Hick Earthmoving is a New Zealand construction company based in Silverdale, north of Auckland. Recently the firm invested in the latest Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) technology to increase productivity and improve safety for its surveying teams on large projects.

Survey Manager Chris Lübbe said the company did a great deal of research before settling on the DJI Phantom 4 Pro aircraft, complete with Propeller AeroPoints for ground control, along with Pix4D and Virtual Surveyor software for data analysis and visualisation tools.

“We were looking for the best solution for the company in the long term, with the right balance of value for money and return on investment,” Mr Lübbe said. “We needed a stable and reliable survey drone that would deliver accurate results, combined with software solutions that would be compatible with our other survey platforms and suitable for use in surveying applications.”

Local support critical to success

Mr Lübbe explained that local support from a New Zealand-based supplier was also central to the company’s decision-making process. “We could probably have got something cheap direct from a manufacturer somewhere around the world, but if you run into technical difficulties it is a lot harder to get support.”

“Purchasing from Aptella gave us peace of mind that we would have that after sales service that is so critical, especially with new technology that we have never used before. 

“And they have certainly been true to their word, as recently I managed to crash my drone and needed to fly the next day to complete a survey for a client. Aptella hired me out a drone straight away so I didn’t lose any time and was able to complete the job,” he added.

Safety and efficiency gains

The company finds RPAS technology comes into its own for surveying large or hazardous terrain. “We need to submit month-end claims of sites that are 12-16 hectares, so the drone is a great way to get accurate survey data of large areas quickly,” Mr Lübbe said. “It is also an invaluable safety tool when we need to access dangerous or inaccessible sites.”

For smaller surveys, Mr Lübbe explains that the company continues to use GPS technology as it is quicker and easier to complete these on foot and not have to capture and process large quantities of data.

Capturing and handling the large amount of data RPAS solutions collect brings its own challenges, Mr Lübbe said.

“You definitely need sufficient processing power if you are looking to get into drone surveying, our projects often have 5,000-6,000 photos to process so we needed a high powered computer to handle that,” he said.

Surveying from the office

Once processed, Mr Lübbe said the company uses Virtual Surveyor as a visualisation tool to give them the ability to survey from a 3D model. “Virtual Surveyor is extremely easy to use and can allow you to conduct survey work from the office as though you were out in the field,” he said. “It also works well with our other software, as we can export a DXF file to our CAD software, MAGNET Office.”

Whereas Virtual Surveyor uses ortho-mosaic processing to transform 2D pictures into 3D, Pix4D is able to produce more sophisticated 3D models that are accurate for surveying purposes. “Pix4D has an oblique view that enables you to survey with accurate height measurements, utilising images captured under tree canopy or the heights of retaining walls, for example,” Mr Lübbe explained.

“With Pix4D we can draw flow lines to assume levels and coordinates from the model itself, enabling us to complete as-builts and other calculations. In that sense it gives a truer 3D model of the site that enables you to see under things and negate the need for us to use a total station,” he added.

Overall, Mr Lübbe says he has been thoroughly pleased with the solution they invested in.  He added: “Adding drone technology to our capabilities has certainly saved us a lot of time for our end of month surveys and reduced the hazards to our survey crews on challenging sites. With the support of Aptella for any technical problems we’ve encountered, we’ve found it easy to adopt this new workflow into our business.” 

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