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LiDar, which stands for Light Detection and Ranging, is a surveying method that measures distance to a target by illuminating that target with a pulsed laser and then measuring the reflected pulses with a sensor. Wavelengths can then be used to make digital 3D representations of the target. The target can be anything from buildings, vehicles and bridges, through to mountains and tree covered forests. In fact virtually anything.

Vistaworx was asked by one of our clients, who are involved with the nuclear build at Hinkley Point C, if we could survey a series of six structures 500mtrs offshore. The original brief was to undertake 3D Photogrammetry and supply photographic captured data to a specified accuracy. During the initial meeting, the brief was to provide a highly accurate dataset of six very large structures to within very small tolerances. Photogrammetry was the initial 'go to' technology that was being considered, but after a not so short discussion, it was suggested that we could combine both LiDar and 3D photogrammetry, both data being captured simultaneously, and by combining the two datasets, we could provide a higher standard of accuracy that was required.

Of course the project not only consisted of the actual recce and deployment time, safety and planning was paramount. Before the project commenced, we had to complete the necessary risk assessments, attend a one day marine survival course, an ENG 1 medical, induction course and the usual notification to local ATC prior to the task day. Oh, and the purchasing of a large packet of Kwells seasickness pills!

The task had many challenges, not least having to deploy the team during a specific time when the tide was at it's lowest level, thus exposing the particular areas of the structures that needed to be captured. Throw into the works that there were only two windows of opportunity, five days at the end of May and six days at the end of June. Combine this with the need for decent weather and the availability of the sea vessel to deploy the team up the Severn estuary to the task area, and it can be seen that the whole project was anything other than a 'walk in the park.'

We had included in the original schedule and quotation a recce/test day and two deployment days. Capturing data in an alien environment, in close proximity to large steel structures, with take offs and landings from a moving steel vessel, was an unknown factor and was a challenge the whole team were eager to accomplish. The test day proved useful and allowed us time to establish several technical aspects including the integrity of telemetry and GPS. We also used this day to capture 'land' data using a Leica P40 laser scanner on the platform adjacent to the six main structures. The aircraft for the project was the DJI S1000 octocopter, a beast of a heavy lift airframe capable of lifting the heavier than normal equipment that we were going to be using.

Our initial task day was always going to be somewhat of a challenge, mainly due to the fact that there was a question mark over the suitability of the weather a couple of days prior to the deployment. The day was in fact hampered, as the winds were in excess of 20mph with gusts upwards to 28mph on occasions. We also had technical issues with the RTK GPS unit on the aircraft. The two issues prevented us from capturing any data. However, later in the day, the wind had subsided a little and so this allowed us to deploy our standby aircraft and capture, what turned out to be, exceptionally high quality photogrammetry data. This high quality data was aided by the use of a set of Propellor Aeropoints that had been located at suitable points on the platform. Disappointed that we had failed to capture the LiDar data, we were nevertheless hopeful that a successful conclusion to the project would be forthcoming on the second backup task day.

Our final opportunity had arrived and the weather forecast was favourable. The team consisted of two personnel on shore in charge of a ground station, three of our clients on the ship and ourselves; Alex, my partner for the project, Marcin who was in sole charge of LiDar capture and myself. Flying this beast of a machine at distance, down to only a metre above sea level, was somewhat nerve wracking to say the least! The weather came 'up trumps' and with cloudy, but bright conditions, the light winds died down to a perfect calm and we managed to capture some highly excellent data. The combination of both LiDar capture and high quality photogrammetry allowed us to provide our client with incredibly accurate data, which far surpassed their original expectations.

LiDar can be used in many areas of construction, agriculture, property inspection work and also forestry management where capturing accurate positional and topographical data is important. Our LiDar
unit for example, is a multi-return system which is capable of penetrating tree canopies, thus allowing the surveying and rendering of 3D models of the terrain below, something that is impossible in any other way.

If you are interested in seeing how Vistaworx can help you with LiDar, photogrammetry, or with any other area of aerial data capture, then why not call for an informal chat.

Very busy here at Vistaworx, with an equal amount of drone survey work and aerial filming and photography. This morning we were facilitating a local developer by providing a set of marketing photographs . While enroute, we captured a quickie of the village of Churchill. It shows the terrain to the west and the island of Steep Holm which can clearly be seen on the horizon.


A last minute booking for Vistaworx ensured we had some work this weekend, shooting material for Fizz TV who are producing a series of programmes for Sky TV. It entailed working in a congested area at the Observatory on Bristol Downs, but with several personnel in attendance we were able to ensure a safe flying scenario. The big issue was the wind strength. With winds in excess of 20kts with gusts of 26kts, it proved a very challenging assignment!

An extremely long day yesterday, clocking up 16 flights in five hours! Flying the heavy lift DJI S1000, capturing both photogrammetric and Lidar data. It has been a long project, preparing and building the large Octocopter, with many hours testing and flying over the past couple of months. Yesterday's weather could not have been better for this type of task. With overcast, but bright light and calm winds, it proved to be the perfect conditions.

Earlier this week took found us at West Harptree in the Chew Valley. The brief was to capture a selection of aerial photographs of a new housing development and produce a short video prior to the commencement of building work.

Saturday saw our team involved in the most challenging project to date. Integrating both 3d photogrammetry and Lidar data capture to produce exceptionally accurate GSD data from a purpose built UAS. Our Lidar technician, Marcin, is seen here preparing for the first flight of the day.

Last month saw us shooting high profile video material for EDF at Hinkley Point C for use in all their current publicity material. This month we have secured a contract with one of HPC's biggest contractors. We will be utilising completely new Lidar technology integrated with 3D photogrammetry. We will be one of the first drone operators in the UK using this technology and capturing data with an incredibly high ground sampling resolution. It is an immensely challenging project due to the location and alien environment we will be all working. With weeks of meetings, induction courses, medical certiificates and marine survival training , this week we will be on a recce/test day to ascertain the practical logistics of the project. Fingers crossed for good weather!

Not exactly news, but thought I'd just post the result of a quick lens test we've just completed with our newly acquired Olympus Zuiko 25mm, f1.8 lens. It's a lovely bit of glass, offering a nice alternative in perspective to our wider 12mm lens that we often film with.


Drones, or remotely piloted aircraft, have been around for quite some time now, and have within the past couple of years, not only started to make an impact in TV and cinema but also in many areas of industry. From spectacular cinematic shots and real estate photography through to topographical data capture and thermal imaging, there are becoming fewer and fewer applications that cannot be successfully utilised by most businesses and industries.
So, what response should you expect from a drone operator when you make that initial enquiry. More importantly, what should you expect after having commissioned the operator to undertake work for you.

I believe at Vistaworx we operate in a concise and professional manner. Most of our enquiries are via emails, if that is the case we would follow up the enquiry with a phone call, as we always prefer to discuss a project directly with the client. While on the phone we can usually ascertain whether the job can be flown legally and within the relevent CAA regulations by referring to the task site with Google Earth and cross referencing it with our topographical air chart. By doing this we can usually get a pretty good idea as to the viability of the proposed task.

Once we have established the job as a 'goer' and following any further project details, we then submit a formal quotation. We always suggest a contingency date, as UAV operation is generally weather dependent, to a degree, and so having an alternative is extremely important. We conduct a pre-deployment survey from the office, where we research the task area and ensure any relevent permissions for flying are obtained, check any obstacles with the aid of an OS map and any local activity that may prove a concern. We cross reference the task area with our topographical air chart, ensuring we are not infringing into any airspace. This is normally not an issue, as we have found if we contact the relevent air traffic control, the response has always been very positive and helpful. Even in areas of high intensity military activity permissions have been granted.

Once basic research has been completed, we then cross reference the weather forecasts in preparation for the selected task date. Once we're happy with the weather, we usually arrive at the task area 30 minutes to an hour prior to flying and undertake a site safety survey. Once satisfied that safety to property and individuals in the immediate area is secure, we would then and only then undertake the set task.

It's important to remember that the operator in control, the UAV pilot, not only takes into consideration the safety of everyone in the area, but also the integrity of the aircraft and so the final decision on any flying rests with the pilot in charge. Except for the smallest of jobs, we always fly as a two man crew, either as a pilot + camera operator or as a pilot/cameraman + flight observer.

Vistaworx is proud of it's pedigree and believes strongly in safety at all times. With competition continuing to rise in this fascinating and exciting industry, it's important for those hiring a drone operator to consider only those who display a professional approach to flying. A commercial drone operator should be qualified with the relevent qualification, have Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) approval with Permissions for Commercial Operation (PfCO) and be fully insured to a minimum of £5000,000 public liability.

As in most industries, it's always tempting for those doing the hiring to cut costs, but when dealing with aviation, cutting costs should be an option which is given careful consideration.