The Path to Leading Technology in Drone Surveying, Software, and Digitalization

Published On: August 26, 2022

mdGroup builds on reliable history, addresses growing demand for digitalization

Watch this video below to catch a brief history of Microdrones and GeoCue and learn how these pioneering companies are coming together to help lead the digitalization of geospatial industries with powerful software, equipment, workflow and support that helps make drone LiDAR and photogrammetry easier to adopt.

mdGroup builds on reliable history

Becoming a leader in the commercial drone industry means always being ready to adapt and prepare for the future.

It has been a hallmark of Microdrone’s philosophy going back to the company’s roots in the 2000s. It’s what has made the name a trusted source for drone surveying for hundreds of clients in the public and private sector, from the federal government to small engineering firms.

“We focus on what we’re good at – designing professional tools, working with companies to meet their needs and, of course, building high-quality, end-to-end drone surveying equipment,” said Vivien Heriard Dubreuil, CEO of mdGroup.

The vision started in 2005 with the founding of Microdrones, the unmanned aerial surveying and mapping technology company that delivers industrial-grade survey equipment with a fully integrated geospatial workflow.

MdGroup acquired Schübeler Technologies in 2018 to reinforce research and development capabilities and to add the sterling reputation of a globally recognized expert in electric propulsion systems.

And mdGroup continues to grow and innovate. It acquired U.S.-based pioneer GeoCue at the start of 2022 to broaden its expertise in aerial LiDAR surveying technologies.

The move also allows mdGroup to have a bigger presence in the United States, which is the company’s biggest market.

 “We are focused on becoming a leader in drone surveying, meaning that we develop the tools for our customer to duplicate their natural and built environment,” Heriard Dubreuil said.

A look back at looking ahead

A better understanding of where the company is positioned today requires a look back for some perspective about why the company keeps an eye on what’s ahead.

In 2001, Udo Juerss, one of the founders of Microdrones, invented the first quadcopter in Siegen, Germany, where Microdrones still has a main office.

“It was really the beginning of the whole industry,” Heriard Dubreuil said. Four years later, he, Daniel Schübeler and Jan Wendel founded Microdrones.

The goal was to design the best quadcopter in the world, Heriard Dubreuil said. At the time, he also working a separate project focused on drones for surveying applications.

“And what I learned from there is that a drone is a remote sensor,” he added. “So what matters is the data that you can get from it.”

Heriard Dubreuil also was thinking about the emerging market of North America. In 2012, he and Schübeler co-founded ProDrones in order to be ready when the market opened.

The goal, Heriard Dubreuil said, was to start providing services and get an understanding of the kinds of deliverables needed.

“So, I started by providing services in Canada, where I could fly,” Heriard Dubreuil said. Over time, ProDrones started developing payloads and software to process data.

This proved to be a pivot point. In 2016, ProDrones merged with Microdrones and shifted its strategic focus from being a UAV manufacturer to a fully integrated professional solutions provider, with a goal on becoming a leader in surveying and mapping.

A year later, Microdrones released its first LiDAR payload.

“I think that was also the beginning on what we are building today, seeing that LiDAR technology will be the future of this industry,” Heriard Dubreuil said.

Another move with an eye toward the future occurred two years later. Heriard Dubreuil renewed his partnership with Schübeler after mdGroup acquired Schübeler Technologies in 2018.

“He was designing high-end motors and electric ducted fans,” Heriard Dubreuil said. “I wanted to bring together this expertise because, at the end of the day, it's an ideal combination of technology and people.”

The acquisition added a new component to the company’s portfolio by offering Schübeler Technologies’ off-the-shelf electric ducted fans and custom-made propulsion solutions popular with a wide variety of customers, ranging from hobbyists to innovative companies in sectors like aeronautics and mobility fields.

The use of LiDAR was also growing, while LiDAR sensors were also becoming more affordable, in part because of investments into autonomous driving research. The drawback, though, was that LiDAR sensors were also becoming noisier and less accurate, Heriard Dubreuil said.

“So, we needed to add processing steps at the end to get the right level of accuracy,” he said.

Strengthening the portfolio

Enter the acquisition of GeoCue Group in January 2022 to strengthen mdGroup’s portfolio.

Founded in 2003, GeoCue had an established foothold for more than a decade in the LiDAR community. GeoCue acquired the QCoherent acquired point cloud and data imaging software LP360 in 2009. The LP360 line offers a complete range of professional LIDAR mapping software, training and support to help clients get the most out of their data.

“We want LP360 to become the first processing software for everything we do,” Heriard Dubreuil said. “It's a huge step forward.”

He described the LP360 line as “real desktop software for surveyors” to conduct quality control and quality assurance, and provide a tool to process, geocode, colorize, align different strips, calibrate, smooth and conduct ground classification.

The LP360 software will be merged with the mdInfinity software processing platform. Acquiring GeoCue also brought the company’s TrueView line of drone LiDAR and imaging sensors into the mdGroup fold.

Introduced by GeoCue in 2019, the TrueView sensor line offers a full range of advanced level systems for collecting photogrammetry and LiDAR.

“TrueView is the high-end payload in North America. If you have a drone and you’re looking for LiDAR, TrueView has the right product for your project,” Heriard Dubreuil said.

The addition means mdGroup now includes four respected brands in the market: LP360, TrueView, Schübeler Technologies and the original Microdrones lines. GeoCue products also are now in Europe, an added benefit for Microdrones customers overseas.

Heriard Dubreuil described mdGroup as assembling building blocks to keep with an underlying global trend.

“We are part of the overall digitalization of the industry, which includes the need for 3D modeling or reality capture,” Heriard Dubreuil said. “The goal is to add more value to customers’ data and to add intelligence, as well as extracting the maximum.”

The acquisition of GeoCue also positions mdGroup to respond to increasing demand for drone-enabled precision deliverables, Heriard Dubreuil has said. This includes classified and colorized point clouds, volume calculation and contour maps.

“And the goal is to be more and more efficient and safe in the process,” Heriard Dubreuil said.

“We still need to grow but we’ve have made some really good progress, especially in the United States.”

A look at logistics

The GeoCue move also contributed to some important logistical adjustments to mdGroup’s operations, too, with mdGroup having moved its base of North American operations from Canada to GeoCue’s headquarters in Huntsville, Alabama.

“It was a big change in our organization, so we decided to be closer to our main markets and to move our operation from Canada to the United States,” Heriard Dubreuil said.

The Huntsville facility focuses on payloads and includes production and service, research and development, sales, and a support center. MdGroup also has a support center in Atlanta.

Microdrones continues its operations in Germany, producing drones, with the Siegen location also including production and service, research and development, sales, and support. Microdrones also has production, service and research and development center in Paderborn, Germany, as well as an R&D center in Toulouse, France.

Mastering the whole workflow

In total, mdGroup has 170 employees over two continents with three production sites, three sales offices and four research and development centers. They serve customers in a whole host of fields, including government entities, transportation departments, civil engineering firms, land surveyors, construction, mining, and seed producers.

MdGroup’s goal is to help clients master the whole workflow, from mission preparation to data collection to analysis, Heriard Dubreuil said.

“The whole concept is really providing an all-in-one solution. When you are looking at building your drone program in your organization, we think we have the tools to help every step of the way.”

All while keeping up with trends in order to ensure that customers have the most comprehensive set up of options available to accomplish their goals.

"MdGroup is positioned to unlock the power of aerial surveying for a wide range of industry segments around the world,” Heriard Dubreuil said. “We bring decades of industrial experience in pioneering the growing field of aerial surveying and digitalization, with the spirit and ingenuity of a start-up."