At this year’s Intergeo exhibition in September, Waypoint caught up with a true Asian drone pioneer. Joel Ferrer Cruz heads up SRDP Consulting Inc., a leading provider of GIS, survey and mapping services, based in the Philippines, which carries out a myriad of manned and unmanned aircraft imaging projects across Asia and Africa.
Here, Joel discusses expanding his company’s services with UAVs, the challenges of mapping airports, and how his firm enjoys helping local organisations learn about the benefits drones can bring.
Hi Joel. Let’s start by exploring your own journey into the world of drones. When, how and why did you first start thinking about, and then using, UAV technology?
Of course. I was first introduced to drones by my former boss at an aerophoto company in the Philippines, in 2013. We realised the potential of using drones for mapping, in view of the many challenges of maintaining a flight crew and aircraft, and the limited number of cloud-free days for manned aerial photography in the Philippines.
After several discussions, we purchased a senseFly swinglet CAM to try out the technology. This drone turned out to be a real game-changer for us, as we saw that the drone increased the opportunities for us to do aerial mapping works compared to conventional aerial photography. We were not as much at the mercy of the weather as we can wait for favourable conditions right in the mapping area. We were impressed with the performance of the swinglet and the sophistication of its eMotion software.
We realised the potential of using drones for mapping, in view of the many challenges of maintaining a flight crew and aircraft
As a satisfied customer with a growing list of drone clientele, I later added another swinglet CAM, and later still two more eBees, as the demand for our services grew locally and overseas.
With the business growing and with regulations becoming more stringent, we also worked with the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) to apply for the proper licenses. This led, in 2015, to SRDP becoming the first company to be awarded an operator certificate for the operation of unmanned aircraft—our certificate number was UAV-2015-001! Our eBee was also the first drone to ever be approved by the CAAP for aerial works in the Philippines, with aircraft registration number RP-U001A.
Our eBee was also the first drone to ever be approved by the CAAP for aerial works in the Philippines
Currently, in our company of over 100 employees, we have five staff who are CAAP-certified UAV/RPAS controllers.
2. Could you tell us about one of your favourite, or most challenging, drone projects Joel? Where and what was this and what made it stand out? What did you learn?
We did a topographic survey for an airport improvement project at Honiara International Airport in Guadalcanal Island in The Solomon Islands. The main purpose of the survey was to design the expansion of the international terminal building, aircraft parking apron and taxiways. A ground survey was required for these areas. However, a special request was also made of SRDP by the drainage engineer for the project. He wanted us to give him information on the general topography of the perimeter area of the airport, to help understand water flow.
To accommodate this request, our team covered the perimeter area with an aerial survey, then merged this with the results of the ground survey. Other areas covered by the aerial survey, such as a World War II memorial park and fuel storage areas were just submitted as additional info by SRDP and were much appreciated by the client.
This was a memorable, and quite challenging, project for our team, as doing both detailed ground and aerial surveys at the same time, for a single project, and in a foreign country, required lots of preparation, research and coordination with the local offices concerned.
… we are always glad to be able to help raise the standards in the places we visit
Fortunately, the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Survey on the island was more than accommodating in helping us tie our survey with their established references. We also worked with local drone service providers to acquire aerial imagery there, sharing our knowledge and experience, and opening the doors to future cooperation. This project really showed us how different places have different levels of technological advancement, in terms of their drone usage, and we are always glad to be able to help raise the standards in the places we visit.
Watch the point cloud fly-through:
3. What impact would you say drone technology has had on your working life?
Drone technology has completed our lineup of mapping services. We can now offer our clients map data ranging from aerial photography down to topographic map outputs. For projects with areas greater than 100 square kilometres, we still use manned aircraft. But for projects with areas smaller than that, drones are ideal.
Before drones, we had to rely on others for imagery and had little control over the price and timeline of its delivery
Before drones, we had to rely on others for imagery and had little control over the price and timeline of its delivery. Now, we can be more flexible with our pricing and better schedule mapping and other surveying activities with our own fleet of drones. The orthophoto maps derived from drone photography, in particular are fine products. For us, they also serve as a very useful reconnaissance tool for other field activities, such as detailed ground topographic surveys.
The one downside is that, more recently, with more and more drone practitioners around—including fly-by-night operators—the pricing has been driven down too low. So, sometimes, we even offer our drone services for free as an add-on to our other mapping products.
4. What kind of role do you see drone technology playing in the future for companies such as yours? Can you imagine what your working life might look several years down the line?
We see drone technology becoming an integral part of infrastructure planning, design and construction supervision. For us, this means many of our projects will involve drone imagery and its derived outputs. And, as the technology continues to improve, drone outputs will keep improving too. Also, this means we will see many more of our colleagues becoming more drone adept.
5. If you could give three tips to a budding dronepreneur of the future, what would they be?
First, select the appropriate drone for your operation. Ease of use, reliability and safety were our primary considerations when we chose our drones.
Ease of use, reliability and safety were our primary considerations when we chose our drones
Second, acquire the necessary training and certifications in your country.
And finally, always keep safety in mind when you operate your drones—some projects are just not worth doing if the risks are too high.
SRDP Consulting Inc.
Industries served: GIS, mapping, surveying, manned & unmanned aerial photography
Drones: eBee, swinglet CAM, DJI Phantom 4
Software: eMotion (flight control), Pix4D (image processing), Skyline Photomesh, Autodesk Civil 3D, Global Mapper, ArcGIS, Quantum GIS, Skyline TerraExplorer Pro
Avg. flights per month: 26
Total flight hours: 452 (senseFly)
Dream robot: “A robot that can process imagery and produce mapping outputs on the fly, before coming back to land”