Sam Billingsley Named “UAV Visionary” by Commercial UAV News

Commercial UAV News just named Sam Billingsley one of the “Top 7 Drone Visionaries” in the Surveying & Mapping Market. As the Director of the Reality Capture Group at Ragan-Smith, Sam is responsible for managing all Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) projects and the implementation of UAV collections within our Survey Department.

It’s always nice when others recognize you for your work. However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t recognize the fact that it took a team effort to get to where we are today. I owe more people thanks than I could possibly mention here; from UAV manufacturers, Re-sellers, other UAV operators, and of course, many in-house at Ragan-Smith. I’m just glad it’s paid off with production ready results. That’s more than I can say for most of my R&D projects!         -Sam Billingsley

For a full listing of all of UAV News’ 2018 Visionaries can be found here.

UAV Program Update – 2017 (End of Year)

Ragan-Smith began 2017 with the goal of determining whether or not Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or drones in most peoples vocabulary, were ready for production work. We performed extensive tests in late Winter that were detailed in a post on UAV Accuracy and another on UAV Volumetric Surveying. To sum those tests up, we were not very happy with the results. To be sure, they demonstrated that there were some limited applications for which UAVs were well suited. However, we weren’t ready to take those services to market given the accuracy level that most clients expect when they come to Ragan-Smith for services.

However, technology is ever developing. While it’s been less than a year since those initial tests we felt compelled to revisit the subject. Despite the earlier results, we never quit testing UAV systems in-house. Between hard learned lessons in best-practices for data collection and improvements in the associated hardware and software systems Ragan-Smith is now using UAVs for data collection on an almost weekly basis. The point of launching a Reality Capture Group at Ragan-Smith was to be able to bring the most up to date technology to bear on every project so that we were always using the most efficient system available to capture the needed data to serve our client’s needs. Adding UAVs to our existing lineup of traditional survey technologies, laser scanning, and mobile LiDAR has made for an exciting 2017. I can’t wait to see what 2018 has in store for us!

For a full review of our current UAV program’s accuracy and methodology check out this article on

Field Test Part Two: Comparing UAV Volumetric Data to Lidar

Let’s start with the product pile that was on site. As you may recall, I captured it with both a Leica C10 and with a DJI Phantom 3 Professional. At first, both data sets looked great. In order to eliminate as many variables as possible, I exported a point cloud from Pix4D and brought it into Leica Geosystems Cyclone for comparison with the C10 data. Since you can choose the density of point cloud when creating it in Pix4D, density issues would seem to be a moot point. However, I am of the opinion that point sampling from a mesh is like choosing the number of digits after zero when measuring: You should not sample at an interval that is greater than your per-pixel resolution as it gives the impression of higher accuracy than actually exists.

That being said, our Ground Sampling Distance was 1.2 in/pixel (3.05 cm/pixel) so we set our point cloud sampling spacing to match. The first thing that jumps out is how much denser the C10 data is. However, this has a much smaller effect on the overall accuracy then our next discovery.

Read the Full Article

Field Test: How Accurate is UAV Survey?

The buzz (sorry couldn’t resist) around UAVs is undeniable, but if I learned anything from laser scanning it’s that you shouldn’t use the manufacturer’s tech sheet to quote your capabilities.

With UAVs, this is even more of an issue as there are so many more variables to contend with. While I often think of the UAV as little more than a flying tripod, the fact is that flight control and geo-referencing options can greatly affect the outcome of projects. Then, you have issues of what type of camera to use, and that’s all before you even consider the software you intend to use for processing. However, none of this seems to deter the plethora of UAV-based service providers that call and email me each and every week looking for work.

What it comes down to is this: I don’t believe most of their claims. I simply do not understand how they can achieve the accuracies that they claim to attain. So, I decided to start running a few tests to see what was not just possible, but predictably achievable in a project setting, outside of a lab.

Read the Full Article