BVdrone Ltd. is a Finland-based drone service provider that specializes in long-range, Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) missions in the forestry and environmental industries. Waypoint sat down with the company’s CEO, Jonas Stjernberg, to learn more about how the company conducts BVLOS missions, tips for a successful workflow and why these missions are crucial to the future of drone operations.
Operating in Finland and Estonia
BVdrone operates most of its BVLOS missions in Finland and the rest in its neighboring country Estonia. These operations include studying individual plants, detecting invasive species, determining forestry inventory and more.
But what does that workflow look like with a drone?
Stjernberg says his projects always begin with customer collaboration to develop sets of KML or SHP files to import into a mission planner. The team completes this beforehand so they understands exactly what needs to be surveyed before they step foot on-site.
Once on-site, the BVdrone team assesses where they can safely launch, land and operate their drone.
“With several people on-site, and a drone that essentially flies itself for over an hour, you have to make sure that roles are clear and plan for crew rotation,” Stjernberg said. “Situational awareness is key. While the ADS-B IN on the ground station helps maintain the mission, no system will save you if the crew loses focus.”
Once the mission is complete and the crew is still on-site, they utilize Pix4D photogrammetry software to make sure they’ve collected all the necessary information, systematically storing and annotating the accepted data.
“The amount of data produced [from multispectral and RGB imagery] is staggering! If you don’t systematically manage it, you will pay for it later.” Stjernberg said.
After completing this task, the team returns to the office for post-processing, where they create deliverables based on the client’s request and the project’s application.
Why the eBee X
As a drone service provider, BVdrone does much more than operate UAVs; they process the drone-collected data to provide its customers with data-driven, actionable insights.
“Drone operation is not enough to be a valuable business partner,” Stjernberg said. “We built our capabilities to also design, collect and process data.”
BVdrone specializes in long-range, multi-hour missions that cover tens of square kilometers in one flight. They realized early on that these advanced missions required a specific type of drone. They also realized there were both price and performance gaps between large, long-range drones and smaller, short-range quadcopters. This prompted them to look for a small, yet capable, solution.
“From the start, we gravitated toward fixed-wing models because they were the most cost-effective solution to map large areas,” Stjernberg said. “We came across senseFly after reading the eBee platform was the most popular fixed-wing sold in the US in 2018. We learned about its swappable cameras, and we thought this might very well be the workhorse for us.”
In addition to the eBee X’s high endurance capabilities, Stjernberg says he was sold on its ability to support multiple cameras and “operate from fairly confined spaces”. Since then, Stjernberg and his team have flown missions using the senseFly S.O.D.A. 3D mapping camera and the MicaSense RedEdge-MX multispectral camera.
With their eBee X and MicaSense-MX payload, BVdrone captured multispectral data of seawater for the Finnish Environment Institute Älyvesi-project. The goal was to evaluate how well multispectral drone data could augment satellite data to measure chlorophyll and turbidity levels for large-area water quality analysis.
On the day of the mission, it was -3°C with 7 m/s winds in Emäsalonselkä, a bay along Finland’s southern coast. The eBee X needed to cover a 95-hectare area of the bay with a 10-centimeter ground sampling distance (GSD), 70% longitudinal overlap and 50% side overlap.
“We erred on the safe side,” Stjernberg said. “We selected these numbers to have a side overlap as low as possible to minimize flight time but also reliably cover the area, despite gusty winds.”
With a pilot’s eyes on the drone at all times, the eBee X completed two flights. The first flew nearly 35 kilometers in 45 minutes, while the second flew 30 kilometers in roughly 40 minutes. The images were then uploaded into Pix4Dfields for analysis.
“The initial results were promising, but there is more work to do,” Stjernberg said. “Photogrammetric methods do not work well over water.”
Challenges, Benefits and Beyond
Unclear or strict regulations can often hinder drone service providers, but that’s one challenge BVdrone has been able to avoid. Finland has taken a progressive view to enable advanced drone operations. This makes it easier to apply for BVLOS missions in Finland’s segregated airspace. With most of the firm’s jobs being in forestry, the sites they work are often far from controlled airspace, which allows for many Extended Visual Line of Sight (EVLOS) missions.
Despite overcoming issues related to restrictions and regulations, Stjernberg says his company is aware of another business-impacting challenge: public acceptance.
“Opposite of regulations, public acceptance is not predictable, structured or controlled,” Stjernberg said.
Depending on the mission and the drone, BVdrone may fly anywhere from five to 1000 meters above ground. Fully aware of home privacy and data protection laws, Stjernberg is more concerned about upsetting whom he may fly over.
“As an industry, we have to do our part by acting predictably, responsibly, and safely,” Stjernberg said. “The aviation industry, in general, keeps things safe and transparent about what they’re doing and where they’re doing it. It’s a good step in building trust with the public.”