The Challenge: Creating UAV-mounted LiDAR That Can Fly AT 80 Meters Above Ground Level
If there’s one thing that defines the Nextcore team it’s their passion to continually improve the technology of UAV LiDAR in order to make cost-effective, reliable equipment that is easy to use. This led to the RN80 project, a UAV-mounted LiDAR payload that could be flown higher in the air and still deliver a survey-grade dataset.
Previously Nextcore’s UAV-mounted LiDAR could only fly at 50 metres above the ground, which ran the risk of colliding with vegetation. To avoid this, the team set the goal of increasing their altitude to 80 metres above the ground. Flying higher was a desirable feature for several of Nextcore’s clients who were navigating mountainous terrains, like Japan and Malaysia, so they needed the ability to fly higher with their drones.
Operation at this altitude not only reduces the risk of collisions with trees, it also enables surveyors to cover larger areas, greatly improving the solution’s efficiency. However, this ambition came with increasing risk.
“The problem with flying a UAV LiDAR payload higher off the ground is the higher you fly the more inaccuracies you build into the LiDAR dataset,” says Ashley Cox, COO, and Co-Founder at Nextcore.
Tom Simmons, Nextcore’s Technical Officer adds that the challenges of flying higher are attributed to the accuracy and reliability of the IMU (inertial measurement unit) in use. “You’re really relying on your IMU accuracy at that point and any inaccuracy you’ve got in your IMU will be reflected in your LiDAR” says Tom. “It will lead to a decrease in accuracy and it won’t be usable data in surveying metrics.”
”The challenge was finding hardware we could put into the system that would allow us to achieve a survey-grade outcome even though we were flying our drones higherAshley CoxChief Operating Officer, Nextcore
The Solution: MEMS GNSS/INS – Certus Evo
After reviewing the different inertial navigation systems available on the market, the Nextcore team selected Advanced Navigation’s Certus Evo to be used in the RN80 payload.
The Certus Evo was chosen because:
- It was highly accurate, reducing any angular errors from flying higher
- It was easy to integrate into Nextcore’s existing systems
- It was cost-effective, allowing Nextcore to pass their savings on to their customers
Nextcore had previously used Advanced Navigation’s Spatial Dual, and were excited to test how the Certus Evo would enable the success of their UAV-mounted LiDAR.
“After doing some test flights it met all of our requirements for the RN80 project” reflects Tom. “This allowed us to leverage off the Spatial Dual integration and apply the Certus Evo as a drop-in replacement for that system. It’s also a very cost-effective sensor and a competitively priced product”.
A closer look at the Certus Evo inside the UAV
The Outcome with Certus Evo: Soaring Above Expectations
“When we had done our calculations we expected we’d be able to fly 80 metres above ground level,” says Ashley. Instead, the Certus Evo performed so well it enabled Nexctore to produce a UAV-mounted LiDAR that operates at 100 metres above the ground, exceeding their initial goal.
This became the RN100 UAV LiDAR, which allows Nextcore’s customers to fly more safely, cover a larger area and still achieve a survey-grade outcome.
“Integrating the Certus Evo into our product line has allowed us to offer a higher-end solution to our clients at a very affordable price,” says Tom. “This has opened up new markets for us internationally and domestically”.
Certus Evo is a groundbreaking dual antenna GNSS aided Inertial Navigation System (INS) that provides extremely accurate position, velocity, acceleration, and orientation. It offers near FOG performance combined with the reliability of MEMS sensors. Low SWaP-C (Size, Weight, Power, and Cost) and multiple communication interfaces make for easy integration. It is available in both OEM and rugged packages.