Data, Not Distractions

The construction, agricultural, transportation and mining industries have welcomed the idea of using a drone for multiple business applications. Image of iPhone, drone, airplane data collection methods.

Stockpile Reports has been to several conferences and events during the recent months, and have noticed how many new drone exhibitors are appearing. In fact, it is very difficult for anyone NOT to notice how the interest in using drones is rapidly expanding.

We enjoy seeing technology change, and grow. During these conferences, we often ask attendees how their companies currently measure stockpile inventory, and if there is a drone strategy in place.

Some businesses already have a drone, or are in the process of purchasing one.

A few have already tried to utilize a drone, but decided that it was not a good return on their investment, in terms of both the cash spent, and the time needed to obtain accurate stockpile reporting. So they stopped using a drone.

Distractions

Some companies and managers have told us that they don’t wish to make an investment in a drone just yet. A few reasons include:

  • Avoiding the need for instructional training
  • Don’t wish to make an investment in accompanying software
  • Their site location is not conducive to drones; such as being near an airport or in a windy area
  • Their stockpiles are messy: vegetation covers the piles, the pile materials touch, there are stackers and obstructions
  • They have multiple sites, spread out so far away from the other so travel becomes a factor
  • Not a clear, compelling ‘need’ to either purchase or lease a drone yet
  • Don’t want to buy more than one drone in case one becomes damaged or flies away
  • Not certain they will get a good ROI on a drone purchase in terms of labor savings vs. other survey methods over a period of time
  • Wary about FAA regulations

Generally, Stockpile Reports has found that the construction, transportation and mining industries prefer to avoid new investments that require massive training. Companies are interested in results that are accurate, safe, simple, legal, and of course, cost-effective.

Data

To drone or not to drone? We aren’t able to answer that question. Every company has different needs and concerns. Drones can be a very good way to gather data for stockpile volumetric reporting!

We can, however, authoritatively state that our clients really want answers. They want accurate perpetual inventory, and want to avoid write-offs.

Stockpile Reports has a patented platform that processes data gathered from a drone, from an airplane or via iPhone. It also doesn’t matter what type of drone is flown. Clients have the choice to use one image collection method, or all three!

In other words, BYOD. Bring your own drone, we’ll process the data. Don’t want to do that? No problem, we’ll provide the most cost effective flight survey solution in the market— we’ll fly your site and process the data. Or you can use an iPhone and we’ll process the data from your smartphone.

As you can see, it doesn’t matter what solution you choose. If you want to invest in a drone in the future, we’re here for you. Your company won’t need to also invest in a system to process the data, or to warehouse it. Our subscribers already receive those benefits. And even better— our clients receive accurate reports in hours with minimal training, no extra hidden fees, and no other distractions.

 

 

 

Controlling Swings in Inventory with New Technologies

Monthly Physical Inventory Counts are the First Step to Controlling Swings in Inventory

Companies that achieve a more accurate perpetual inventory through monthly or quarterly physical inventory counts receive several positive business benefits:Image of New Technologies in Stockpile Inventory Measurement

  • Reduced financial write-offs
  • Reduced stock outs by ensuring there is adequate material on hand to support the business needs
  • Better business decisions (i.e. investment in resources or equipment) and the ability to set more realistic performance goals (i.e. incentives) based on productivity or cost-per-ton metrics
  • Meet and exceed audit requirements

Accelerate the Speed, and Reduce the Cost of Physical Inventory Counts Through New Technologies

Technological advances are now shrinking the time needed to perform company-wide physical inventory counts from 3-5 weeks down to 3-5 days. The costs to perform multiple quarterly, or monthly counts are now comparable to the historical price of one annual count. Significant advances in image processing, Software as a Service, drones, and phones make this possible.

Manual photogrammetric processes of the past are now fully automated thanks to advances in image processing and computer vision. High quality cameras embedded in drones, attached to planes, and built into cell phones are more highly available and easier to use than traditionally higher cost GPS and Laser based measurement technologies. The combination of high-quality low cost cameras, combined with advanced image processing enable rapid low-cost 3D modeling from imagery. Volumetric measurements generated from imagery are now an accepted form of aerial survey.

Software as a Service (or SaaS) is a way of delivering applications over the Internet, as a service. Instead of installing and maintaining software, companies simply access it via the Internet, freeing themselves from complex software and hardware management. SaaS companies leverage cloud computing to cost effectively scale operations to meet customer demand.

Leveraging SaaS, image processing, airplanes, drones, and phones makes it possible to accelerate the speed, and reduce the cost of physical inventory counts. The time to perform an inventory count is now only limited by how fast the imagery of stockpiles can be collected. Airplanes can be used to quickly take aerial imagery of hundreds of sites across geographically dispersed operations. Drones utilized by trained professionals – internal staff or external service providers – can be used to obtain aerial imagery at localized sites. And now even your phone can be used.

Using a combination of SaaS and image capture methods makes it possible to complete a company wide inventory in 3-5 days. Thousands of stockpile measurements can be generated from millions of images in just 24 hours. Finance and operations employees quickly review and approve data via a common website, with no need to manual enter or transfer data.

Visit us next week for the final post of this series about Inventory Management for companies with stockpiles: Putting it All Together.

(This blog is a continuation of last week’s post. Read: The Case for More Frequent Physical inventory Counts )

 

 

 

 

Photogrammetry and UAVs

Technology can sometimes seem too abstract to completely appreciate. Clients often don’t know what to expect after their first stockpile measurements, even after we explain it to them. That’s why the Stockpile Reports Sales and Support team often gives new clients a peek behind the scenes about what happens after their data is uploaded to our system. They are usually very delighted when they view their first 3D stockpile model online, and see the results of photogrammetry. As the saying goes: Seeing is believing!

What is Photogrammetry?

Photogrammetry is the art and science of obtaining precise mathematical measurements and three-dimensional (3D) data from two or more photographs. The term “photogrammetry” is derived from three Greek words: ‘photos’ meaning ‘light’, ‘gramma’ meaning ‘which is drawn’, and ‘metron’ meaning ‘to measure’. It is the science and technology of generating 3D information from 2D measurements.

It is astonishing to think that this science has existed since the 1860’s! Employing photogrammetry for commercial usage has become much more popular recently.

Current Usage

Who hasn’t heard or read about drones? It is difficult to avoid news about UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle), commonly referred to as ‘drones’. Although the use of drones in photogrammetry and lidar mapping is still in the very early stages, interest in utilizing drones for various applications has exploded.

An example of a site point cloud, images taken by UAV. The data was processed by Stockpile Reports, and resulting stockpile volume results provided the client with measurement details and corresponding contour line drawing.
An example of a reconstructed site point cloud, using images taken by UAV. The data was processed by Stockpile Reports, and resulting stockpile volume results (click for details) provided the client with measurement details and corresponding contour line drawing.

The broad definition of a UAV covers balloons, kites, gliders, airships, rotary and fixed wing types. These have the capability for photogrammetric data acquisition in manual, semi-automated and automated flight mode.

Aerial photogrammetry is achieved by drone and by plane. This is done by mounting a camera either to, or inside an aircraft and is usually pointed vertically towards the ground. Multiple overlapping photos of the ground are taken as the aircraft flies along a flight path.

However, it isn’t just the flight path that matters to obtain a good photogrammatic result. If the photo imagery isn’t sharp, then the quality of a rendered 3D model suffers. Small features would be blurry if you were to zoom in on an aerial photo.

There is also close-range photogrammetry, where the camera is close to the subject, with an object-to-camera distance of less than 300 meters. Traditionally, this has applied to photographs using hand-held cameras, on a tripod, or on a vehicle.

The maximum flying height by commercial drones with a Section 333 license above populated areas, as required by the FAA is below 300 meters, so measuring by UAV would also be an example of close-range photogrammetry as well.

The same basic principles apply to photographs taken from a camera mounted on a tripod (terrestrial) and also to UAVs and cameras suspended from light sport aircraft (low level aerial). The photo imagery must be sharp to provide the basis for a good 3D output.

As of October 22, 2015, there are currently 2020 petitions for Section 333 Exemptions that have been granted by the FAA.

Applications for UAV photogrammetry

The most common use is for mapping. Examples include:

  • Orthophoto’s (geospatially corrected aerial images)
  • 3D Building Models
  • Contour Maps
  • Planemetric features such as road edges and heights, signs, building footprints, etc.
  • 3D vegetation modelling
  • Volumetric Surveys

Industries that benefit from having 3D models include:

  • Forestry Management and Planning
  • Flood Modelling
  • Pollution Modelling
  • Mapping and Cartography
  • Urban Planning
  • Coastline Management
  • Transport Planning
  • Oil and Gas Exploration
  • Quarries and Minerals
  • Archaeology
  • Cellular Network Planning

Stockpile Reports is experienced at processing the data collected from flying an Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) or UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle).  We’ve been measuring stockpiles by UAV since 2013, in countries where this method is already accepted and regulated.

We are happy to assist clients with stockpile measurements taken via UAV, ensuring that the data captures optimal imagery, generating excellent results. We are also very experienced at piloting and operating various UAS models.

Contact us for more information about our reporting using UAVs. If you’d like to read more about photogrammetry in everyday life, check out another blog post.

 

Weather Your Seasonal Measurements

rainysite

This time of year is shoulder season, when temps and weather conditions are extremely changeable. Rain, wind, snow, sleet, storms, sunshine, dust, fog, heat and hail happen!

It doesn’t matter what is happening outside, though. Companies throughout the world still need to track inventory. Our clients in Europe, North America, South America, Australia and South Africa all share the same inventory challenges, despite how different the weather is at those locations.

Frequency, Safety, Efficiency

Make a measurement plan and be prepared for the weather.rainbow

Monthly: Utilize aerial measurements for site-wide inventory purposes each month.

Keep your boots off the ground. Measuring a site, or multiple sites, by plane is the fastest and safest method to gather data of all uncovered stockpiles. Here is how easy and fast the process is:

Step One: Client requests an aerial flight.
Step Two: Client tags the piles with material.
Step Three: Client view the results online.

Our customers typically spend 20 minutes of internal labor time per flight.

Online access to site and stockpile reports are available within hours after the flight. There is no action needed from clients other than tagging the outlined stockpiles online after the flight.

Daily: Go outside and make spot-checks onsite during operations. Simply use the iPhone in your measurement mix.

It only takes minutes for one of your team to measure an individual stockpile. You can also use the iPhone for inside and outside bunker measurements. If you’ve got a break in the weather, go outside and measure. There’s no need to wait for a third party to arrive and pay them to do the measurements.

Complement your ground-based imagery by drone. If you’ve got one and are certified to fly it, go for it! This might be a great solution if you have a few hours available to measure a smaller site, or very large stockpiles. Upload the data to us and we will process it and provide reporting.

The Best of Ground and Air

Whatever method you choose for measuring the piles on your site(s), the report results will be ready online in hours.

Your quarry will have the information needed to make operational business decisions on a weekly or monthly basis, and the CFO will have the numbers to manage inventory.

The Buzz about Drones in 2015

Who hasn’t noticed all the news coverage about drones in 2014? Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or ‘UAVs’ have not only been captivating the news media, but also garnering positive– and negative– reactions from companies, the public, and various government agencies, including the FAA.

There are high-flying expectations for the UAV market in 2015.

model-aircraft-infographic
Click on picture to view full-size.

The Consumer Electronics Association, which organizes the 2015 CES Show, recently stated the drone market should be worth about $130m in 2015 – 50% higher than 2014.

There is quite a bit of frustration on the ground in the US, due to the slow pace of the Federal Aviation Administration’s rules and regulations regarding commercial use, and the agency has been noncommittal about a timeline.

The Federal Aviation Administration missed its self-imposed deadline of Dec. 22 to propose rules for small commercial drones in the U.S.–regulations it began working on more than five years ago.

Currently, the commercial use of drones is banned in the United States, which has left professional photographers, filmmakers, real estates agents, farmers and others angling for space in a highly restricted, yet largely uncharted marketplace.

While some drone operators have already created websites and offer aerial photography for hire, the FAA has targeted people in nine states and issuing fines and a total of 17 cease and desist letters to those operating drones for a commercial purpose.

The FAA states that safety is their first mission. Unmanned Aircraft Systems operations are currently not authorized in Class B airspace (PDF), which exists over major urban areas and contains the highest density of manned aircraft in the National Airspace System.

Since June 1, pilots have reported 25 near-collisions with rogue drones and about 150 other incidents in which drones were spotted in forbidden airspace. In addition, safety incidents reported to the FAA have grown to more than 40 per month, according to data reported for the first time in November 2014.

However, hobby or recreational flying currently doesn’t require FAA approval.

Posted guidance from the FAA states that ‘model aircraft’ should not interfere with manned aircraft, be flown within sight of the operator and be operated only for hobby or recreational purposes. The agency also explains that model aircraft operators flying within five miles of an airport must notify the airport operator and air traffic control tower.

The FAA is obliged to integrate drones into the US air traffic by September 30, 2015, but it is highly unlikely that the deadline will be met.

The FAA is moving, but slowly.

The total number of companies currently allowed by the FAA to commercially operate drones in the U.S. is 13.

Recent news for 2015 includes that the FAA allowed the first real estate company to use drones for aerial photography.

The FAA also recently granted an exception to allow a drone for monitoring crops in Washington State.

The first exemptions were handed out in June 2014 — the first attempt by the FAA to legislate drone use in the United States. Oil and Gas company BP used its drone to survey Alaska’s North Slope to oversee maintenance activities taking place there.

UAVs  in Australia

Outside of the US, UAV usage is much more common. Google drones are already flying in Australia.

Stockpile Reports was in Australia several times in 2014. We’ve been able to measure volumes and map stockpiles safely there, using UAVs as well as an iPhone.

Unlike in the US, rules for commercial usage in Australia are clearly posted and enforced. Drone/UAV fliers must have an Unmanned Operator’s Certificate issued by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA). Here is the latest restrictions as of December 2014.

What’s Next?

The FAA on Dec. 22, 2014 began a drone-safety campaign entitled Know Before You Fly along with a group representing hobbyists and two trade groups. The Consumer Electronics Association endorsed the effort in a press conference at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

However, frustration has set in for the industry, and even Congress is now interested in the FAA’s plans for commercial drones and how the FAA will address the differences between using a drone for commercial purposes versus for recreation.

iPhones, Drones and Construction Cones

Is anyone else as excited about this week’s announcement of the Apple© iPhone© 6 shipment date as we are? It officially arrives on September 19th!

Our Engineering team has already updated our patent-pending Stockpiles App in preparation for the iPhone 6. iPhone and Australia imagesThe team is part of Apple’s Developer program, with exclusive access to resources for developing and designing for iOS 8, the iPhone’s new operating system. iOS 8 is scheduled for release September 17, and will be available for iPhone models 4S/5/5C/5S as well as the 6.

When you upgrade your Apple smartphone to iOS 8, we’ve made sure that the Stockpiles App continues working seamlessly. Apple has more details about the iPhone 6 and iOS 8 here.

iPhone 6 enhancements that you will appreciate when measuring stockpiles include:

  • Larger landscape mode on a 4.7 inch display screen with a new “Retina HD Display”
  • Camera brings low-light and focus improvements
  • Longer battery life
  • A new A8 processor with 25% faster processing speed

Drones in Australia

Solution Delivery Manager Galen Kovak-Lewis is in Australia training new clients on the best way to use the Stockpile Reports system. It may surprise you, but Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs or “drones”) are regularly used to map and survey stockpiles in Australia. We’ll be calculating stockpile volumes from the ground and from the air.

Galen will also be meeting with our Australian reseller UPG. UPG’s staff has grown this past year. Galen will be meeting the newest team members, coach and train them on the iPhone. Galen attended SITECH and UPG’s grand opening of their Townsville office last year and is excited to return.

We’ve been posting Australian images daily on our Facebook and Twitter feed. Follow us for updates.

Construction Cones

Is your cone clean and orange? Measurements should be made using a solid orange cone. Wipe it down and dust it off periodically, especially if you’ve been busy this Summer onsite. 

Stockpile Reports’ benefits add up to better decision-making, faster inventory turns and lower operating expenses. 

Commercial UAVs: Is the sky the limit?

You’ve probably read– or heard– quite a bit of news and rumors recently about UAVs. The term UAV means an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle. It is a pilotless, remotely-controlled aircraft and often referred to as a drone.

The word ‘drone’ has gained a negative connotation in the US, with a large amount of media hysteria surrounding it regarding to privacy and military applications.

UAV usage for stockpiles and other business applications is not a gimmick.
UAV usage is not a gimmick. The potential applications for commercial UAV usage in the near future are varied and quite interesting!

However, after removing the hysteria and paranoia surrounding UAVs, the future applications for commercial UAV usage are quite interesting!

What is a UAV

A UAV is simply an aircraft without a human pilot aboard. These machines are generally compact, relatively cheap, mechanically simple, fly below cloud cover and fairly easy to operate. A UAV is remotely controlled or can be autonomous, carry cameras and other sensors and are increasingly available to the general world population despite being initially developed by, and for, the military.

There are two main platforms available: fixed wing and multi-rotor. A fixed wing platform can cover large areas efficiently and a multi-rotor is useful as it can remain very stable in challenging conditions.

Beyond the military applications of UAVs with which “drones” became most associated, numerous civil aviation uses have been developed, including aerial surveying of crops, stockpiles, aerial footage in filmmaking, televised sporting events such as the Olympics, search and rescue operations, inspecting power lines and pipelines, counting wildlife, weather research, and also delivering medical supplies to remote regions.

UAVs can be considered as a low-cost alternative to manned aerial photogrammetry, and can also be advantageous to use for inspection, surveillance, mapping, and 3D modeling.

Restrictions on U.S. usage will be changing soon. The Federal Aviation Administration is expected to provide guidance for commercial use in 2015.

recent study by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) predicts that in a matter of years, the drone, or UAV, industry in the U.S. could produce up to 100,000 new jobs and add $82 billion in economic activity between 2015 and 2025.

Possibilities and Applications

Countries outside of the U.S. have been deploying UAVs for many commercial and non-commercial uses for years. Here are but a few examples you may not be aware of:

Protecting Wildlife

In 2012, the World Wildlife Fund supplied two FPV Raptor 1.6 UAVsto the Nepal National Parks. These UAVs were used to monitor rhinos, tigers and elephants and also deter poachers. The UAVs were equipped with time-lapse cameras and could fly for 18 miles at 650 feet. Similarly, Kruger National Park started using a Seeker II UAV against rhino poachers.

3-D Mapping

In 2013 the Matterhorn Mountain, located in the Swiss Alps, was mapped in 3D by a fleet of drones in just 6 hours. The mapping was unveiled at the Drones and Aerial Robotics Conference in New York City

Farming

Yamaha’s RMAX unmanned helicopter has been flown in Japan for 20 years. In 2010, 30 percent of Japan’s rice fields were sprayed with unmanned helicopters. Much of the farmland is on steep hillsides where it is impossible or extremely difficult to reach and monitor fields by tractor.

Search and Rescue

An injured victim of an automobile accident in Saskatchewan, Canada, in May 2013 may have been the first person to have his life saved by a search-and-rescue drone. A small Draganflyer X4-ES helicopter drone was used to locate and treat an injured man whose car had flipped over in a remote, wooded area in near-freezing temperatures.

Clearly there is a wide spectrum of UAV uses. These range far greater than recent media coverage about Amazon’s package delivery and Domino’s pizza delivery via the “Domicopter”.

From mapping mountains to mapping stockpiles, we at Stockpile Reports have been following discussions and development regarding UAV availability in the U.S. with great interest. We are excited about what the future will bring, and believe that the sky really is the limit for commercial UAV potential.

If you are also excited about technology and how it can benefit your business, please contact us and discover what our service can do for you.