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New drone technology enables year-round terrain mapping

Drone operator HexCam is pushing the boundaries of terrain mapping by investing in the latest technology.
01 - DJI-Zenmuse-L1-M300-RTK
The new ‘L1’ LiDAR sensor and M300 drone being used by HexCam to carry out year-round aerial surveying. Picture: DJI

On August 9, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published the first part of its long-awaited Sixth Assessment Report. 

It shows that, even if we drastically reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases to limit global temperature rise, we will need to adapt to changes that are already ‘locked-in’ for hundreds of years to come. 

This year has already seen extreme rainfall events in the UK and in mainland Europe, with surface water flooding from flash floods becoming more common.  

Andy Bodycombe, HexCam director, said: “HexCam is determined to help address the climate emergency we’re facing. Understanding topography and drainage at a highly local level is critical in assessing flood risk and drones can provide the data needed to plan mitigation and adaptation measures.”

HexCam was awarded 50% funding by ‘Keep+’ earlier this year to invest in the latest “DJI M300” drone and has been taking advantage of the new drone’s longer flight duration to extend its existing high accuracy survey and mapping services, including its cable corridor and landfall surveys for offshore wind projects. 

05 - Rowley Cory-Wright surveying at Happisburgh

“With its high resolution ‘P1’ camera, the M300 has allowed us to survey large areas more quickly but, until now, we’ve relied on visual imagery and so have been limited to flying when crop and vegetation cover is low to provide true terrain modelling,” said Andy.

The use of photography to build 3D models of surfaces (photogrammetry) is a well-established and incredibly powerful tool in most situations. Crop cover, tree canopies and hedges will mask features on the ground making it very hard to pick up and model ditches and other drainage features without additional survey data collected at ground level. 

Light Detection And Ranging (LiDAR) is a remote sensing method that uses light in the form of a pulsed laser to measure ranges (distances) to the earth and is able to penetrate through crops and leaf canopies to detect the ground below. 

HexCam has recently added DJI’s new ‘L1’ LiDAR sensor to its M300 platform and is now able to provide true terrainmapping and surveying all year round.

02 - Vattenfall Happisburgh Model CLOSE-IN rerosion

Rowley Cory-Wright, HexCam director, said: “The density of data available from our new drone-based LiDAR is much higher than freely available data from fixed-wing piloted LiDAR surveys. That’s crucial when trying to identify drainage features such as ditches and more subtle variations in ground level that can have a significant impact on water flow across the land.”HexCam also now has CAA permission to cover much larger areas without the need to relocate Take-Off and Landing Sites (TOLS). 

“The combination of extended flight times and distances, together with the new LiDAR sensor, means we can provide fast and accurate terrain mapping in all seasons for large infrastructure projects,” said Rowley. 

To find out more about HexCam email hello@hexcam.co.uk or call the team on 01603 327676.