Few surveyors can be unaware of Sensefly’s Swinglet CAM. This UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) has recently seen heavy coverage in the industry’s press including a recent showing as one of RICS’s Mark Harris’ top ten gadgets for surveyors. It’s also up for several awards following its successful trial by Costain on the M1 improvement project. But what’s the reality behind the hype, who is buying the Swinglet CAM and how is it being used?
Our Swinglet CAM expert, Brock Ryder, fills in the gaps.
“We’ve long had a gap between the traditional surveying and mapping methods used on site and the option to use aerial imagery instead. The latter was only really an alternative on very large projects where the costs accrued through the hire of an aeroplane or helicopter were not an issue. On smaller sites, up to and around the 1 km squared, the option of aerial imagery was simply not viable. However, with the Swinglet CAM, we now have a solution that allows for any project, no matter how small, to benefit from the fast and efficient acquisition of aerial imagery.
Launched in February 2010, the Swinglet CAM is a safe, easy to use flying camera which takes high resolution images based on user defined GPS waypoints. It weighs less than 500g, has a wingspan of just 80cm and can be launched by hand and land autonomously on any surface.
But how does this work in practice? The Northern Ireland Forest Service is a perfect example. Recently a fire swept through a 95 hectare area of one of their forests and the Service urgently needed to determine the percentage of forest lost to the blaze. Traditionally this survey would have been undertaken in the field with GPS units. Each line of the forest would have been surveyed manually to determine where the burn line was and estimates then based on this information – a process which would have taken up to 2 weeks in total. Instead, the Service decided to utilise the Swinglet CAM and consequently completed the aerial mission in just 28 minutes cutting site time down to roughly an hour. All the imagery taken by the Swinglet CAM was then uploaded to the automated image processing system and, within hours, the imagery was stitched together and outputted for GIS. This was put into their GIS system and calculations were done and handed to management within 24 hours showing that 25% of the forest had been destroyed.
This is a great example of the efficiency that can be achieved through the adoption of this technology. Additionally, the affordable unit cost of the Swinglet CAM ensured that it was a viable purchase for the Service and also eliminated the inconvenience of contracting third party operators. As owners of a Swinglet CAM, the Service can now resurvey any of its sites, at any time, without incurring additional charges. The cost savings on this job alone covered the purchase of the unit and they have since purchased a second one.
The other major advantage of this system is that it also produces DEM (digital elevation model) modelling to 10cm simply by flying the site. So not only do we get accurate aerial imagery, but also a level survey. With regards to surveying quarries, landfills and other challenging sites, the benefits are massive. A quarry, for example, is a very dangerous location to survey with active machinery, cliff faces etc. all posing dangers. Using the Swinglet CAM, we can now complete a full survey of a quarry without setting a foot onsite! The potential for this technology is considerable as health and safety is a critical issue and the Swinglet CAM ensures that the surveyor is remote from any hazards. One Swinglet CAM users is also assessing its viability for surveying busy road junctions.
Surveyors now have a tool that can deliver aerial imagery for any sector at a cost effective price. The benefits are huge. Anyone can now create their own aerial imagery without the technical know-how or costs that photogrammetry traditionally demanded. It is this accessibility that makes the Swinglet CAM an option for so many different sectors; farmers, journalists, emergency services, real estates….. the list is endless.”
Don’t forget to view our Swinglet CAM video made in conjunction with Costain