Measuring stockpile volumes with a drone

By |  August 18, 2017

Aggregate producers, mining companies, landfill operators and others in various trades all have a need to accurately and safely measure their stockpile volumes on a regular basis – annually, quarterly, monthly and sometimes daily.

While there are a number of viable methods to capture these measurements, drones have become a preferred method to measure stockpile volumes. Drones provide enhanced accuracy, safety, timeliness and reduced costs.

Drones have reached a tipping point in the aggregate and mining industries. We have witnessed the widespread acceptance and adoption of drone image acquisition and photogrammetric processing for stockpile volume measurements, as well as for topographic mapping. Over the past several years, the conversation has evolved from one questioning the accuracy of drones to one on how to best deploy the technology throughout a company.

Accuracy matters

As a service provider focused on precision aerial mapping, DroneView Technologies is regularly asked questions about drones, cameras, sensors, photogrammetry software, ground control, accuracy, IT processing and storage, privacy, safety and regulation, among a number of other topics.

While the statement “accuracy matters” seems somewhat obvious, we have seen some claims that so greatly simplify the requisite image acquisition steps and photogrammetric processing processes such that the accuracy of outputted results is highly suspect.

The requisite skills to deliver these consistent, reliable, repeatable, accurate stockpile measurement and topographic mapping solutions extend far beyond the ability to safely fly a drone and capture pictures. A team of professionals that brings not only drone expertise but photogrammetrists, surveyors, AutoCAD, software engineers, IT data storage, security and networking professionals, among others, are all critical to this success.

Implementing a successful program

Keep in mind that weather variables can add complications to quality, timely image capture. Photos courtesy of DroneView Technologies

We regularly caution clients that the critical factors to successfully evaluate drones in a test or pilot project are often different than when incorporating drones into mainstream production workflow throughout an enterprise. Establishing consistency, reliability, accuracy and repeatability in the processes and the ensuing reported results across an enterprise are very challenging.

What has worked on a pilot project on a few sites is very different when attempting to scale to multiple sites. Some of the issues and factors to be mindful of include:

◾ Acquiring image data from multiple locations with a limited number of qualified, FAA (Federal Aviation Administration)-licensed drone operators and equipment – especially if attempting to capture month-end inventory levels – is very difficult. The “weather variables” (rain, snow, high winds) add further complications to quality and timely image capture.

◾ Drone equipment, like all technology, sometimes fails, necessitating equipment redundancy to maintain desired availability.

◾ The computer resources and trained personnel required to photogrammetrically process numerous drone image data files is significant, many times requiring powerful workstations and dedicated, specially trained staff devoted solely to image processing and reporting.

◾ Manual editing and additional software is required in post processing to take digital surface models to bare earth digital terrain models to effectively draw contours and use in AutoCAD and other applications.

◾ The coordination and integration of appropriate ground control is imperative to achieve the requisite and desired mapping accuracy.

A drone and the ability to fly it legally and safely is only a very small component of an effective enterprise drone program. It is imperative that many different skills and expertise come together to make a drone program effective and have it yield real and sustainable value to an organization.


Michael Singer is the CEO of DroneView Technologies, a company specializing in aerial data acquisition and processing.

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