The Business Case for Drone LIDAR

Author: Martin Flood
Published On: March 18, 2020

The Business Case for Drone LIDAR

We have talked a lot the past year about the technical capabilities of our True View 410 3D imaging sensor - and the soon to be available True View 615 - as it impacts accuracy, data quality and ease of use when conducting small site surveys and performing topographic mapping.  But we don't want to neglect discussing the business case for deploying drone LIDAR.  After all, most of our True View customers need to be profitable and want to see a good return on the investment in their equipment. Here are 5 important aspects to consider when building a business case for purchasing or subscribing/renting a True View sensor.

1. On-Demand Capability

When building a business case for drone LIDAR, often your analysis will show that deploying drone LIDAR on a project is clearly the most cost-effective, and hence profitable, option for that project.  But unless you have a large volume of such projects in your pipeline, it is hard to make the business case for a sensor purchase.  This is where True View's subscription option - Hardware-as-a-Service - comes in.  By allowing you to access a True View sensor on a monthly "as-needed" rental basis at very affordable rates, we work with you to build-up your market presence, customer portfolio, staff experience and project backlog.  You can build on this initial investment to prove out your business case for an eventual sensor purchase or continue to use our subscription option if it turns out this is the better financial choice for your business. 

2. Dealing with Forest Canopy

Drone LIDAR surveys differentiate themselves from standard imagery collects in several ways.  Most important, and most well-understood, is they enable you to map beneath canopy to get a bare earth ground surface.  If you are dealing with any type of forested area or any obstructing vegetation canopy, LIDAR is your best choice - perhaps only choice - for mapping a site.  From a business perspective, if you map forested areas, drone LIDAR is the best alternative to a traditional ground survey (time-consuming) or a fixed wing/helicopter LIDAR survey (expensive).  It will be faster than a ground survey and much cheaper than an aerial survey.

3. Reduced Field Costs

In addition to the cost-savings offered by drone surveys in general - faster data collection, smaller crews, lower mobilization costs, higher work rates - drone LIDAR's effectiveness on the most difficult sites, such as heavily forested, steep terrain, reduces these costs even further.  Put another way, drone LIDAR reduces costs the most on the most expensive sites to survey using other methods.  This creates significant value you can sell to your customers, while still improving your overall bottom line.

4. Time is Money 

Post-processing of True View data in True View EVO offers very rapid turnaround from data collection in the field to final bare earth product generation.  Processing times can be 1:1 or better compared to the collect time.  This is a significant improvement over photogrammetric processing of large image collects due to the time required to complete the image correlation (SfM).  This advantage applies even if you are mapping sites with little or no canopy cover.  Time is money and if your business captures this value for your customers, drone LIDAR offers you a clear competitive advantage.  This advantage can be a particularly valuable in rapid-response scenarios or when dealing with tough "on-demand" customers. 

5. Flexibility

In addition to the speed and cost-effectiveness of drone LIDAR surveys, both of which will improve your bottom line, offering drone-based LIDAR services significantly increases the types of projects you can compete for in the market.  We are seeing True View sensors being used across numerous vertical markets and for a widening array of applications from sea wall monitoring to slope stability studies to archeological work.  Since True View is a true 3D imaging sensor with integrated LIDAR and dual mapping cameras, it can be used effectively across a range of projects with a variety of end user requirements.  All using the same seamless integrated post-processing workflow in our True View EVO software.  This increased flexibility means you can go after and win more work and grow your revenue base by expanding into new accounts, not simply sell drone LIDAR services to your existing customers.

Everybody's business is different and your business case for drone LIDAR will be unique to your goals and your customer base, but we think it is clear the speed, flexibility, on-demand availability, reduced operating costs and ability to deal with forested sites that a True View 3D imaging sensor offers, make a very compelling business case for drone LIDAR for most survey and mapping firms.