Blog Post by Diana Liska of Robota

Most people think of a multirotor when they hear of drones, but the capability of fixed wing drones should not be underestimated. Over the years of developing relationships with Robota’s customers in industries like mining, engineering and construction, I have come to understand and appreciate the benefits that fixed wing drones have offered businesses who are looking to increase profits.  For purposes of this article, I’ll compare our fixed wing mapping drone, Eclipse with the most common Phantom RTK enabled quadrotor.

Eclipse 2.0 RTK/PPK Fixed Wing Mapping Solution

Efficiency

Most of the benefits of fixed wing drones stem from their physical differences to multirotors, which really boils down to one thing: efficiency.  A fixed wing has a larger lifting surface area than the quadrotor, and only needs one motor to sustain itself. The result is that the Eclipse can out fly the quadrotor.  While most quad rotor flights are in the range of 30 minutes or less. The Eclipse can fly from 60 minutes to 100 minutes depending on the battery selected.

Flight Time

Pilots typically ask for more flight time out of our aerial mapping systems, and rightly so, flight time means getting more work done. While there are many benefits to long flight times, let’s consider two of them.

Firstly, longer flight times means that pilots will spend less time on site. Take a 350-acre project and some reasonable assumptions with respect to imaging overlap, flight altitudes and weather.  In order to map this area with a Phantom, a pilot would need at least 3 flights to cover this much terrain, whereas an Eclipse can cover it in a single flight with airtime to spare. This means less time on the ground swapping batteries or checking equipment and more time in the air capturing the area of interest.

Secondly, more time in the air means more range and therefore more capability.  A fixed wing can reach farther distances from the launch point, map an area of interest and return home much more efficiently than a multirotor can.  The travel time to an area of interest is what makes mapping with multirotors so time consuming.  As the multirotor progresses down the project, it gets progressively farther from the launch point.  If there are multiple flights required, the multirotor has to travel to and from the area just to get a fresh battery.

Operating Costs

It gets better, unless your operators are working for free and the project has no deadline, there is money to be saved in using a fixed wing drone over a multirotor for large area mapping and surveying.  Consider two field personnel, a pilot and an observer, together costing over $200 dollars per hour to be in the field.  Taking the 350-acre site into account, the Eclipse would fly it in an hour, equating to $200 in personnel expense. In this scenario a multirotor requires about 3 flights at half an hour each, in addition to preparation and charging times, then a fixed wing would save your business $100 to $200.  In this simple example I have not even taken into account wear and tear on vehicles and batteries, fatigue, safety, opportunity costs, meals and a wealth of other associated expenses that go into supporting personnel.

Get more business

Taking efficiency into account, here are two ways to leverage the Eclipse drone remote mapping capability.

If your employee’s time is optimized by using the right tools, they will be available to take on new projects. With the time savings mentioned in our simple 350-acre example, the operators would be able to take on 2 to 3 more similar sized projects per week, just by using the right tool for the job. Time is money!

Secondly, more flight efficiency equates to new opportunities since the added range of a fixed wing enables pilots to access areas that were unserviceable from remote points of operation using multirotors.  In addition to efficiency, the wingspan of a fixed wing naturally improves visibility, making it possible to operate at longer distances while satisfying FAA line of sight requirements.  Some examples of industrial projects that can benefit from long range flights include road construction, power line and pipeline development and maintenance.

Elevation Map of a Large Gold Mine for Stock Pile Measurement

Price

While a fixed wing drone can be two to three times more expensive than the common multirotor, the efficiency of the fixed wing flight translates to financial benefits for the surveying business.

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Diana Liska
Customer Relations Manager
Robota
Dallas, Texas

“Expert Insight” is the independent views and opinions of the submitting named author of this article.

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