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Real Life Thermography/NDVI Application Study Underway: A Bright Future For Better & Easier Soils Studies?

Introduction

This fall we had the opportunity to work with Ted Miller, advised by Bruce Harrison, Ph. D and other colleagues at New Mexico Institue of Mining and Technology, New Mexico’s State Geologist, Matt Zimmerer, Ph.D., and others to support an undergraduate study on the benefits of using today’s drones and sensor technologies to possibly enhance techniques and methods into current soil mapping methods. Although the study is not complete, as of this date, it is well underway and the drones’ work is done.  Now Ted must satisfy the close scrutiny of the well-qualified advisors and professors that will ensure his scientific case remains valid. I don’t envy his task, but the greater benefits in life come from hard diligent work and he is doing that.  Best Regards and Wishes Ted, it was a pleasure!

Also, our gratitude goes to Federal Wildlife Officers of The Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge a protected area of New Mexico managed by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service as part of the National Wildlife Refuge System.

Project Preliminary Summary by Ted Miller

Current soil mapping methods are time-consuming and expensive, especially at small scales and in remote areas. Traditional methods require substantial field work including soil pits, augers, and aerial photographs. Digital soil mapping can provide precise and accurate data on the soil surface and subsurface properties. Done using remote sensing algorithms that use spectral bands of data to calculate quantitative hydrological data, such as root zone soil moisture, that characterizes subsurface soil properties. In our study, the soil moisture is calculated using Surface Balance Algorithm for Land (SEBAL). The spectral data is collected using drone-based cameras; this increases both the spatial and temporal resolution of the product. The goal of this project is to use spectrally derived root zone soil moisture to create a soil map. No other study has used drone-based data for a SEBAL calculation.

We test the hypothesis that remotely sensed root zone moisture is directly related to soil properties. By stacking the soil moisture images from different days, we believe we can identify soil properties based on established soil drying curves. A single image informs us of the soil moisture on that day, but by stacking them, we can identify different soil moisture properties between soils. Field soil moisture measurements are taken to verify the precision of the method. The field site has been the subject of several other studies and is carefully mapped. We correlate the soil moisture properties we measure previous data such as silt, clay ratios, slope degree, organic matter content, and slope position to identify critical factors in soil moisture. We expect soil moisture controlled by slope aspect, clay content, and organic matter content. In this way, soil moisture can represent an approximation of soil properties.

Soil properties are used in many ways; by farmers and ranchers to optimize their agriculture and evaluate their land. Hydrologists use soil properties in computer modeling. Engineers use these properties for structural stability and planning. Unfortunately, the current soil maps are often inaccurate and outdated. Due to the traditional, labor-intensive method of making soil maps. Old methods require someone to dig holes and rely on coarse satellite imagery physically. However, times are changing. New digital methods are making data-driven maps that rely on multispectral imaging.

One method of obtaining soil moisture from spectral bands is the Surface Energy Balance Algorithm for Land (SEBAL), which uses remotely sensed TIR and NIR data in junction with meteoric data collected at weather stations to calculate Net Radiation, Soil Evaporative Flux, and the Evaporative fraction (Bastiaanssen, 1998). This method has been confirmed to be within 0.05 cm3/cm3 (by volume) in arid environments 90% of the time (Scull et al., 2003). Already, this method has been used to predict soil boundaries in New Mexico with success (Webster 1973, 1978; Engle, 2009). However, the current spatial resolution of this method is limited to 60m due to the satellite collection method. The temporal resolution is limited to the passing of the Landsat satellites, which is approximately every 6-8 days.

With the progress of technology, we now have the option of collecting spectral data using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), more commonly known as drones. UAVs can collect visible, NIR, and TIR spectral data over a large area in a short amount of time at a very high resolution (10-20 cm) Figure 1. UAVs have been used map plant health and moisture conditions for agricultural use with success (Kalantar, 2017; Hendrickson, 2000; Krishn

Figure 2. Taken from Bass et al. showing the location of the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge and study area

a, 2016). The proposed method uses drones and the SEBAL calculation to measure root depth soil moisture. These data correlate with existing soil property data.

 

Study Area

The study area is a first order drainage basin in the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge in central New Mexico (34˚24’ Lat 106˚59’ Lon) Figure 2. The basin is small with a total catchment of 0.034Km2. The soil parent material is Pleistocene age alluvial fan deposit sourced from the nearby Ladrones mountains. The alluvium comprised of sand, gravel, and boulders composed of schist and quartzite (McMahon, 1998). The climate in the area is semiarid with a mean annual temperature of ~15˚C and annual (mean)  precipitation of 255mm.

The Sevilleta Wildlife Refuge is currently housing the Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) program which provides free daily data of wind speed, temperature, solar radiation, and precipitation. Two such weather stations located near the study area, station 43 to the north and station 45 to the south. Station 43 is within 1 km of the drainage basin and provides the temperature and wind speed data necessary for the SEBAL calculation.

The drainage is oriented east-west producing one north facing slope, one south facing slope. The north-south slope orientations lead to distinct vegetation contrast due to different amounts of water, evaporation, and sunlight (Gutierrez, 2004; McMahon, 1998). The north-facing slope covered by juniper trees with a ~6m rooting depth, the south slope is covered mainly by creosote bushes with a ~3m rooting depth. SEBAL uses NDVI to estimate subsurface soil moisture, the rooting depths for these plants represent the maximum extent of our soil moisture measurements. These differences in vegetation, sunlight, water, and other factors have led to the development of different soil depths and textures.

The south-facing slopes are characterized by thin A horizons, with little or no Bw or Bt horizons present and random distributions of carbonate accumulations (McMahon, 1998). The average depth for these soils averaged 5 cm. These south-facing slopes show strong calcium carbonate accumulation in the Ck horizon. Silt content decreases downslope with little variation in the clay content (McMahon, 1998). The north-facing slope soils are much deeper (~75 cm) have higher organic content, clearer soil boundaries, and more carbonate development relative to the south-facing slope, Figures 3 & 4. The soil layers are typically A 0-4 cm, Bt 4-18 cm, Bk 26-75 cm, Ck 75+ cm. The amount of clay and silt is much more significant on the north facing slopes, Figure 5, and varies depending on the catenary position between 9-12 g/cm2(McMahon, 1998). The amount of solar radiation also varies significantly between the slopes with the north facing slope experiencing ~20% less per year. Soils on the south face have higher runoff than the north face (McMahon, 1998). The north facing slopes also receive less sunlight than the south facing slopes. As expected the soils on the north facing slope retain more water and have lower evaporation than the south-facing slope, Figure 6 (Gutierrez, 2011). Resulting in less evapotranspiration on the north facing slope than the south (McMahon, 1998; Gutierrez, 2011). We expect to see this in our final map.

Theodore Miller

New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology

Geology Masters Candidate

Figure 3. Taken from McMahon, 1998. Shows organic matter content by slope face

Figure 4. Taken from McMahon, 1998. Shows calcium carbonate content by slope face.

 

Figure 5. Taken from McMahon 1998. Shows silt and clay content by slope face.

Bibliography:

  1. Anderson, M. P., Woessner, W. W. & Hunt, R. J. Applied Groundwater Modeling: Simulation of Flow and Advective Transport. (Academic Press, 2015).
  2. Bass, B. Seasonal Shifts in Soil Moisture throughout a Semiarid Hillslope Ecotone during Drought: A Geoelectrical View. Soil Science Society of America Journal(2016).
  3. Carcione, J., Herman, G. & ten Kroode, A. Seismic modeling. GEOPHYSICS67,1304–1325 (2002).
  4. Cook, B. I., Bonan, G. B. & Levis, S. Soil Moisture Feedbacks to Precipitation in Southern Africa.J. Climate19,4198–4206 (2006).
  5. Dobos. Use of combined digital elevation model and satellite radiometric data for regional soil mapping. Available at:http://www.uni-miskolc.hu/~ecodobos/cikk.pdf.(Accessed: 26th October 2017)
  6. Engle, Emily. DIGITAL SOIL BOUNDARY DETECTION USING QUANTITATIVE HYDROLOGIC REMOTE SENSING. (2009).
  7. Hendrickson, L. L., Han, S. & Dickson, M. A. Method of determining and treating the health of a crop. (2003).
  8. Hengl, T. & Heuvelink, G. New challenges for predictive soil mapping. Global Workshop on Digital Soil Mapping. September 14-17, 2004(2004).
  9. Howell, D. et al.Chapter 34 Fitting Soil Property Spatial Distribution Models in the Mojave Desert for Digital Soil Mapping. n Developments in Soil Science(eds. Lagacherie, P., McBratney, A. B. & Voltz, M.) 31,465–624 (Elsevier, 2006).
  10. Kalantar, B., Mansor, S. B., Sameen, M. I., Pradhan, B. & Shafri, H. Z. M. Drone-based land-cover mapping using a fuzzy unordered rule induction algorithm integrated into object-based image analysis. International Journal of Remote Sensing38,2535–2556 (2017).
  11. Krishna, K. R. Push Button Agriculture : Robotics, Drones, Satellite-Guided Soil and Crop Management. (Apple Academic Press, 2016). oi:10.1201/b19940
  12. Lagacherie. An Introductory Perspective. Digital Soil Mapping31,1–620 (2007).
  13. Lagacherie, P. Digital Soil Mapping. 31,(El Sevier, 2006).
  14. McMahon, Dennis. Soil, Landscape and Vegetation Interactions in a Small Semi-arid Drainage Basin: Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico. (1998).
  15. Morgan & Bui. Spatial data mining for enhanced soil map modeling. International Journal of Geographical Information Science16,533–549 (2002).
  16. Scull, P., Franklin, J., Chadwick, O. A. & McArthur, D. Predictive soil mapping: a review. Progress in Physical Geography: Earth and Environment27,171–197 (2003).
  17. Seneviratne, S. I., Lüthi, D., Litschi, M. & Schär, C. Land-atmosphere coupling and climate change in Europe. Nature443,205–209 (2006).
  18. SMJ Baban & Yusof. Mapping land use/cover distribution on a mountainous tropical island using remote sensing and GIS. International Journal of Remote Sensing1909–1918 (2001).
  19. Vivoni, E. R., Entekhabi, D., Bras, R. L. & Ivanov, V. Y. Controls on runoff generation and scale-dependence in a distributed hydrologic model. Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci.11,1683–1701 (2007).
  20. Wierenga, Hendrickx & Nash. Variation of soil and vegetation with distance along a transect in the Chihuahuan desert. Journal of Arid Environments53–63 (1987).

 

 

Why Choose a Certified Thermographer?

Introduction: Thermography Sensors (Cameras)

The quantity, quality, and affordability of infrared (thermography) cameras are proliferating. A thermal (infrared) camera detects infrared energy and converts it into an electronic signal, which is then processed to produce a thermal image and perform temperature calculations.   There are variations of cameras dedicated to specific purposes such as near infrared cameras (NDVI) Normalized Difference Vegetation Index that quantifies vegetation by measuring the difference between near-infrared (which vegetation strongly reflects) and red light (which vegetation absorbs.)  ALL of which can be very useful to specific applications and situations.   If you did not pick up on it, these specialized sensors are expanding their capabilities and as well as their complexity.

What is a Certified Thermographer?

As defined to me: “Certification is formal recognition that an individual has demonstrated proficiency within and comprehension of a specified body of knowledge at a point in time. It is peer recognition and not registration or licensure.  Simply put:  Certification is a written testimony of qualification. ”  To take it down one more level, be qualified “comprises demonstrated skill, demonstrated knowledge, documented training, and documented experience.”  [1]

What are Certification Requirements?

Obtaining a “Certification” from a reputable company is not a natural process.  It takes a dedicated amount of classroom (4 days in my case,) registration expenses, and the not so insignificant travel expenses, depending on where you live.  Then you must pay attention to digest and understand the principals of the science and the nuances of the art of thermography.  You’re required to pass written tests, learn to use equipment (that can be very complex,) practice applications and then finally complete a full homework assignment, using your tools.  Fortunately for clients of a Certified Thermographer, it does not stop there.   To remain to be Certified, periodic re-certification is required. Re-certification requires continued employment as a Thermographer, meeting continuing education credits & courses, or advance Certification to a higher level.

What Equipment is required to operate a Certified Thermography Business?

There is an encyclopedia of information that could be provided to answer this question, so I am going to keep it simple and stick to what I have and its practical applications. First and most importantly, I am a Part 107 UAS Pilot that was Certified as a sUAS Level I Thermographer.  By the way, as a Level 1 Thermographer, I am qualified to operate my infrared cameras and software to identify and measure thermal anomalies based on thermal patterns, comparisons with similar equipment, and my own experiences. [2]

My infrared camera is attached to a DJI M100 Industrial Grade UAS.  While it is not the latest and greatest it is a proven and robust platform, minimal software upgrades (only 1 in the last two years.)  The drone can operate on one or two batteries depending on mission requirements, one or two controllers, giving an optional controller (or a functional spare) to a camera operator or a client to view the operation.  With adequate batteries and charging to operate for a full day in the field with minimal delays.

My current infrared cameras are two (2:) My UAS infrared camera is a Zenmuse XTR. The R (adds $000s to the cost) refers to radiometric that enables pixel temperatures to be defined within the each photo’s Metadata.  Also, its increased functionality and costs increase due to its industry-high sensor resolution of 640 X 512 @ 30 fps.   My camera lens is 19 mm that provides a better definition of images, but at a reduced field of view.  I have to fly higher, to get a field of view equal to a 13 mm lens or take more photos at higher overlaps for higher quality images.  My other infrared camera is a FLIR C2, fundamental yet functional, with some distinct capabilities such as overlaying a thermal image over a standard photograph for distinct, well defined, results.  This capability is now available in sUAS Thermal Cameras, but I can’t justify one of these, yet.

What Software Support is needed to Operate a Thermography Business?

More tools are required.  Now that you can gather images, and in many cases, lots of them, what can and should be the resulting products?  We have to generate useful information (reports) for the client.  We can start with a simple qualitative analysis that only shows the temperature anomalies, to more complicated quantitative analyses that gets deeper into the specific temperatures, ranges, and analyses to pinpoint potential problem areas, define additional inspections or corrective actions.  An excellent example: and a preferred product is using an airborne thermal camera to inspect solar panels.  Reports can show a small set of panels on a single family dwelling to a significant solar farm used to generate electricity for a large electric utility, a school, corporate headquarters or municipality.   My specific software is PC based FLIR Tools + for smaller jobs.  For large tasks, one of several companies can generate original reports that map solar farms to identify and depict a single faulty cell (as shown here: http://www.aerialvisionspro.com/inspections/utility-inspections/.) maps of solar farms that might show: major electrical issues (inverter, combiner box failure, reversed polarity,) tilt tracker issues, defect identification at the string and module level, detailed diode and cell-level issues, shattered and soiled modules and other site issues including: vegetation, flooding, security risks, and more. Some samples are shown here: https://raptormaps.com/technology.

Why work with a Certified Thermographer

An individual that has gone to the lengths required to become Certified in Thermography has invested significant amounts of time and money (equipment & training) to assure both him/herself and his/her clients of professional results. That would include:

  • A qualified operator of the required sensors (Thermal Cameras
  • A qualified FAA Part 107 licensed sUAS Pilot
  • A qualified Thermographer that understands the nuances of gathering meaningful and useful information/data to assure a high degree of client satisfaction and results.
  • A qualified Professional with demonstrated skill sets and tools to deliver results cost-effectively.
  • A qualified Professional with the confidence to guarantee results that meet or exceeds client expectations.

The final decision is up to the client that should expect to pay more to select a Certified Thermographer. As the saying goes: “Quality a direct correlation to Price.”

Stay Tuned.

 

[1]ITC Infrared Training Center; sUAS Level 1 Thermography Certification Program

[2]ITC Infrared Training Center definition of Certification Levels.

sUAS Programs; Many Critical Items to Consider and Evaluate Before Implementing a sUAS Program

sUAS (small Unmanned Aerial Systems/drone) Programs; Many Critical Items to Consider and Evaluate Before Implementing a sUAS Program.

Is it a replacement for human-crewed aircraft? NO! A UAS can complete only 30% of human-crewed helicopter missions.  (Source: http://dronecenter.bard.edu)

  • Routine Responsibilities: Crimes in Progress, Search & rescue (good and criminal people)
  • Accident Crime Scenes Investigations
  • Alarm Call Outs (fenced areas and rooftops)
Have not seen many ladders atop police cars.

Know a better way to see what’s happening on a rooftop.

Special Operations:

  • Crowd and traffic controls @ special events
  • Intelligence, reconnaissance,
  • Marijuana eradication (permit verifications,)
  • Disaster assessment,
  • Hazmat & radiological detection.

sUAS Program PUBLIC Approbation Programs:

Critical elements: Trust, (six (6) principles and priorities: 1) Act in public’s interest, 2) Acknowledge membership, 3) Embrace Safety, 4) mitigate risks, 5) Value public approbation, 6) Respect privacy, civil rights & civil liberties.

Public Policies must incorporate all the above items and include:  Transparency & Accountability, Documentation (Who, what, when, where, why) and Accessibility (by the public) Training (validation, applications, coordination)

Public’s Biggest Concerns & How to mitigate those issues:

Concerns: Justification for $$, Privacy, Constitution, NOT being armed (facial recognition) Public Trust, Not toys.

Counter-Narratives & Mitigation

  1. Why do you need additional tools; reduce costs & enhance capabilities, increase the safety of officers, increase time and distance to reduce officer-involved shootings, save money, noise abatement.
  2. Privacy, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Know and address Case Law, Publicize Policies, Make policies more robust, (eliminate vagueness) Annual Training Programs (4 hours of privacy, civil liberty training annually.)
  3. No weapons on drones: Aircraft Selection (make it visible your drones are not weapons) Policy Oversight (friendly civilian members.)
  4. Keep and Foster Public Trust: Methods of Transparency, Accountability, Involve the public in the process, Establish Civilian Oversight.

Seven (7) Habits of a SUCCESSFUL sUAS Unit

  • Stick with what you know, 2) Leverage the PIO (Public Information Officer,) 3) Find comfort in the familiar, 4) Paint a picture to frame the issues, 5) Remember the Peelian Principles (avoid any association with military capabilities) 6) Address the WIIFM (what in it for me (from the public perspective, 7) Publicize the Policies. (Website, Twitter, PIO, and other social media.)

Rules of finding and then defining BEST Practices:

  • APSA Standards, 2) ACLU, NTIA, IACP (international Chiefs of Police)

How to Organize & Operate a UAS UNIT

Thermal images can provide “real time” valuable information!

107, COA, Part 91, 101

Apply for COA (Certificate of Authorization.)  Best to operate using both: COA & 107.

sUAS Technologies Currently in Use by and for Local Governments

While currently “in use” by many local governments for many different applications from infrastructure inspections, flood control, mapping, even crime scene documentation, etc. the use in comparison to its capabilities and potential is tiny.  Those local governments that have an interest in using sUAS for enhancing its local capabilities and more cost-effective services for their people should start evaluating the options and costs of various programs that use sUAS technologies.  A fundamental and critical reason for my existence, “my why,” in this space is to help local governments through a comprehensive and logical process to define what, if anything, makes sense for their local jurisdiction and its current environment.  There are currently ten (10) local jurisdictions of various sizes and geography working with the FAA to evaluate drone innovation projects.  The goal is to help the FAA relax or minimize some of the regulatory restrictions that hamper the effectiveness of sUAS technologies for local governments and public safety.

Coming Soon:  We will explore some Real and Practical sUAS Applications in Local Government.

UAS Support Vehicle; Essential for Operations, Marketing or Both? An Update.

Aerial Visions Pro Support Vehicle Now Does Marketing!

I now have a 4-wheel drive billboard that lets everyone know what I do and how to get in touch with me.   Is it finished, yes, but only for now?  There may be some updates, changes or additions as time goes by.  We’ll see.  So far everyone that has seen it only had good things to say.  That is positive.  Does it provide the necessary visibility and clarity to get the message out quickly, as needed on a moving target?   I think so.

Is it a wrap? No. Why Not?

I did not choose to go with the wrap, primarily because of the economics. Granted a wrap can be much more eye-catching and complete.  I could not justify spending three (3) times more to get it done.  Yes, three times more.  We customized it to include some unique characteristics that make it stand out.  For example, The drones with an owl face, representing the “Wise Owls” of the company are on the hood and tailgate. The character behind the rear wheel “kinda” “sorta” resembles the real pilot.  A short, chubby guy with a gray beard and hair, what’s left of it, hair that is?   The red pinstripe, in my opinion, pulls it all together on the sides.  What do you think?

4-Wheel Drive Billboard

Advantages of discrete signage

One thing that quickly comes to mind is the flexibility to change.  Should something happen that necessitates a change to the signage, any part of it can be removed, modified and re-applied.  I don’t believe, and I could be wrong, that flexibility exists with a wrap.  A partial wrap, yes.   If I need to add some information such as QR code, website or anything else, it can be easily done.

The operational support vehicle is showing some of the extras needed.

Notice in the photo there is several drones, controllers, generator, fuel tanks, safety cones, as well as cases for additional batteries and safety gear.  Don’t sell these items short; they are essential to daily SAFE operations.  By the way, I don’t drive around with a drone and controllers on the hood.

Many extras needed for SAFE Operations

 

Best wishes for your marketing and on-going SAFE daily operations!

 

sUAS (drone) Technologies in Local Government

sUAS (drone) Technologies in Local Government:

Is it there yet? No.  Should it be there?  Yes.  If so, when? Soon.

History Shows Aerial Technologies Valued By Local Governments.

We all know that many, mostly larger, communities and governments commonly use helicopters and planes to support much public safety and other essential needs of the local government.  Airborne Law Enforcement Association (ALEA) formed in May of 1976 to support safe and cost-effective airborne operations.  The proliferation and effectiveness of aircraft for the public good is well known and widely supported as an essential tool.  But we also know these “typical” aircraft and their operational costs are not insignificant, hence the use in mostly larger jurisdictions. Nevertheless, as a pilot or a pedestrian, who would want these operations to skimp on costs that help ensure safe operations!

sUAS (small Unmanned Aircraft Systems/drone) Technologies Changes the Scope of Use.

sUAS equipment and the many types of sensors (cameras, thermal imaging, NDVI (something for you to look up,) etc.) available make the use of drones very attractive, from a strictly cost standpoint, when compared to manned aircraft.  Understand; the sUAS requires a pilot and possibly other crewmembers too.  He/she/they just stay on the ground and let the UAS and its sensor/s gather the needed information remotely.  However, it cannot be very remote, meaning the UAS must remain in visual site of the pilot/crew.  This along with other restrictions such as: not being able to fly over people or at night creates limitations on their overall effectiveness.  Yes, there are ways to obtain waivers/authorizations to conduct these and other types of operations, but that is way beyond the scope of this overview/introduction.  In keeping with a previous theme: ALEA, within the last year, changed its name and scope. Now known as Airborne Public Safety Association https://publicsafetyaviation.org and incorporates the use the sUAS (drone) technologies in its public sector safety programs.  By the way, as a corporate member of ASPA, and a firm believer in their programs, especially those developed to keep sUAS operations Certifiable, to strict standards, and Safe for local governments to use.  Therefore, yes sUAS operations have a place in local government and may be more practical & cost-effective in much smaller local jurisdictions, as well as the larger ones.

sUAS Technologies Currently in Use by and for Local Governments

While currently “in use” by many local governments for many different applications from infrastructure inspections, flood control, mapping, even crime scene documentation, etc. the use in comparison to its capabilities and potential is tiny.  Those local governments that have an interest in using sUAS for enhancing its local capabilities and more cost-effective services for their people should start evaluating the options and costs of various programs that use sUAS technologies.  A very important and critical reason for my existence, “my why,” in this space is to help local governments through a comprehensive and logical process to define what, if anything, makes sense for their local jurisdiction and its current environment. http://www.aerialvisionspro.com/inspections/consulting/  There are currently ten (10) local jurisdictions of various sizes and geography working with the FAA to evaluate drone innovation projects.  The goal is to help the FAA relax or minimize some of the regulatory restrictions that hamper the effectiveness of sUAS technologies for local governments and public safety.

Coming soon:  We will explore some Real and Practical sUAS Applications in Local Government.

UAS Support Vehicle; Essential for Operations, Marketing or Both?

Operations Support and Marketing are Essential

The wise guy answer is: Yes. But, a wise owl, with a different perspective might say: of course the answer is yes, but more importantly it depends on your business model and its priorities.

I think we all can agree taking “ABQ Ride,” Taxis, Uber, Lyft or for heaven’s sake the “Railrunner”Rail Runnerare not practical for transporting you and your sUAS (drone) equipment to various locations to gather the needed photographs, video or thermography shots for your clients. Agreed. So what type of vehicle is needed, what should it do and how should it be used. It depends:

 

Absolutely ESSENTIAL, regardless of all other criteria, it must be reliable and get you to your destinations and back every time. Without any unnecessary concern or anxiety on your part. What makes it reliable; you do. In recent years, vehicles and most all manufacturers developed into dependable transportation sources. We all have our favorites, even the best and most expensive won’t be dependable if you don’t take care of it. Many people are resourceful and are competent to do it themselves others depend on trusted, hard to find, mechanics. Of course this is your choice, but one you have to make. So, plan on it, budget for it, and just keep doing it and it won’t let you down or those valued clients.

SUV Most Popular; Trucks Work Too

What kind of vehicle is needed? An 18-wheeler, not likely, but we all can dream of having that need. Step van, maybe for some, with large demands and plans. Based on my observations, a SUV may be the most practical and most commonly used. SUVs can protect some of the more sensitive (to temperature) UAS equipment, batteries and maybe IPads, by everything being in a controlled environment. This is a really good thing here in New Mexico where it can be too hot or too cold to inspect a cell towers, for example, without using precautions regarding the weather. SUVs can provide a very reasonable amount of space for several drones, spare equipment, chargers; cameras and the like to meet most all UAS job requirements. Unfortunately, in my case, I have a pick up truck only because I already owned it, prior to my drone business, and it has proven to be very reliable and much more capable, than its driver, to get me to any location.

Even the Best Equipped can Get Stuck

Luckily, my truck is equipped to handle most any road, trail, or terrain to get to the more remote locations. In my fifteen years as a consultant on cell towers for many Cities and Counties throughout New Mexico I am glad to have it. Otherwise I might still be out in the desert. No worries. If things do go bad, your cell phone should work. Granted not all cell towers are remotely located, most are not, but it is not uncommon to be located on the highest hill where roads are bad, maybe washed out with large and sharp rocks that are tough on tires. Not to mention your back, neck and head, against the window or frame, as you proceed carefully with your seatbelt fastened very snug. I have gotten stuck on a relatively flat area, tower just off the interstate, in a washout, while in 4-wheel drive. A quick fix, just flip on the lockers and you’re out, can’t turn, but you’re out. Not everyone has lockers, but they are much more common than you think, especially in the Jeeps. By the way, I do have a winch, and what a great tool to have. It is great insurance, as I have never used it to get me out of trouble. Others have used theirs to get me out of trouble (snow too deep) but I have never used mine.

Be Prepared

What else might be needed in a successful UAS (drone) business support vehicle? Again, I may go a little overboard, but it is good to be prepared, just in case. Consider the following items: jumper battery (better than cables,) air compressor (runs my lockers and inflates tires,) fire extinguisher, shovel, axe, large jack, winch, off-road bumpers, complete protection underneath, rock sliders (under the doors, some think they are steps,) off-road tires (pain in the butt, noisy and ruins gas mileage, but essential,) emergency generator (re-charges batteries on those long days in the wilds, inspecting large solar farms, wind farms or many cell tower sites,) battery chargers (for all the different types of batteries you may use,) safety equipment (first aide kit, flashing lights, traffic cones, safety helmet, safety vests, and safety shoes, all of which are needed for most all utility inspection work,) spare fuel, and most important here in the New Mexico desert; WATER, sunscreen and snacks.

To Market or Not?

We established that a good vehicle, well equipped and reliable, is essential to the operational life of a drone pilot. So, should it be or become a marketing tool? This is a very difficult question that happens to be the primary motivator for writing this blog. I spent entirely too much time thinking and evaluating the options, that are way to numerous. Ponder this food for thought:

If you are well-established, successful drone pilot and have to fend off clients because of your reputation for quality work, that we all strive to achieve, then your answer is simple; definitely not required. But, it might be helpful in keeping your business on top. On the other hand, those just getting out of the gate and still having time to grow and expand their business might apply some serious thought and consideration to the potentially great marketing tool you drive daily. Consider that a vehicle can be seen by as many as 70,000 (used commonly & obviously in larger metro areas) times a day could prove useful and productive. So what should you do?

Budget, Plan & Decide

it is a budget thing. Given unlimited resources that my wife won’t give me, a well-designed full wrap is probably the most cost effective solution. Make certain that the designer, if not you, understands what your business is and the primary role that your drones, photography (hard to do video, which is probably illegal anyway) and graphics will attract the correct attention to your vehicle and its messages. Make certain regardless, that it can be read from a distance. A rule of thumb is 1” for every 10’ of distance from the lettering to keep it visible. 3” is visible from 30’. Hopefully, by the time your wrap wears out, and they will; plan on 5 years, you may not need it or may choose not to install it on your new vehicle. But, make your own decision there are many resources on this subject. Don’t forget your vehicle will be moving, assuming you’ve kept it well maintained.

The (Taco) Tacoma Evolution
Modified truck with one wheel in the air.

Fairly capable, I would say.

Very plain white truck.

Kinda vanilla!

Again, in my case, seems I am always a little different. Honestly, I had reservations for two reasons: 1) security and 2) some companies, if you sub-contract, may not want you to promote your own company. Security was my biggest concern. Not all cell towers, infrastructure, etc. are located in the nicest parts of town and specifically Albuquerque does not have the best reputation related to car thefts. So why advertise I may have something of value? Caution, alarms, surveillance, concealed carry and insurance can eliminate these concerns.

A few modifications: supercharger, 3" lifts, etc. will get me there. Quickly, if needed.

A few modifications: supercharger, 3″ lifts, etc. will get me there. Quickly, if needed.

But, I did know and understand, based on my uniquely designed vehicle from its outset, always received lots of attention and questions. I believe that my choice to do the same for my UAS business vehicle will have the same affect, if not greater. A quick funny story, after getting my white truck, common in New Mexico, I went to pick up my wife from work on a rare cold day here in Albuquerque. She exited her warm surroundings six (6) times to get in with other guys, before I showed up in my very common plain looking truck. For my next birthday, she said make your truck unique. Boy is it! My opinion; I have not seen another like it. Anyway, I am in the final stages of getting the signage and graphics designed for my truck. It should be completed in the next few weeks. I will keep you posted.

What’s Next; Stay Tuned

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