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Insights by

Look, no
Ground Control Points!
High-precision GPS receivers on UAVs enable cm-level
ground survey precision using photogrammetry
without the need for Ground Control Poins
Your challenge should you Before the flight mode positions which typically have
choose to accept it ... UAVs have become more reliable, easier accuracies of between about 1 and 4
to work with and cheaper. From meters.
You’ve been asked to survey some programming flight paths to installing
points on the ground with cm-level additional equipment on board, UAV
accuracy. Feeling confident? How about applications are no longer the preserve
a few thousand points spread over 75 of specialists.
hectares and the job has to be done in
one afternoon. Throw in the fact that
The flight
the area you have to survey is in a For a survey flight, a UAV should be
quarry which has been closed off due equipped with a high-resolution camera
to a recent landslide. Still feeling and a high-end GNSS receiver module as
confident? You should and here’s why: in Figure 1. An autopilot flight controller
improvements in Unmanned Aerial can be useful for flying the UAV through
Vehicle (UAV) technology combined a pre-programmed flight path.
with more compact and low-power The flight path used in this test is
high-end GNSS receivers means that shown in Figure 2. It covered 75
you no longer have to compromise on hectares and was flown in 15 minutes.
precision to measure in those hard-to- The 143 photographs taken during the FIGURE 1: The payload bay of the
reach areas. flight were geotagged with standalone Smartplanes Freya drone with camera along
with the installed AsteRx-m UAS receiver
If the on-board receiver can get
correction information in real time from
a nearby GNSS base station, it can
calculate positions using the more
precise (cm-level) RTK mode. Otherwise,
the necessary data can be recorded on
the base station and RTK positioning can
then be calculated ‘offline’ using
GeoTagZ. Offline reprocessing using
GeoTagZ removes the need for a real-
time data connection between the UAV
and base station. This simplifies the
hardware setup on the UAV and reduces
the payload.

Offline RTK using GeoTagZ


The AsteRx-m UAS receiver recorded
the times the photographs were taken
FIGURE 2: The flight path of the UAV shown in Pix4D photogrammetry software. The blue
by time-stamping a pulse signal from crosses are the location of the ground check points and the red circles are the locations of
the camera shutter. It also recorded the onboard camera when photographs were taken. The inset shows a visual ground
dual-frequency GNSS measurements marker for one of the check points.

during the flight.


The GeoTagZ software uses the
GNSS measurement data recorded by Agisoft PhotoScan
the receiver and, by combining it with
data from a nearby base station
receiver, it is able to calculate cm-level
RTK positions to geo-reference the
photographs. The EXIF data embedded
in the photographs is updated by adding Pix4D
these more accurate RTK camera
positions.
With the photographs now stamped
with precise locations, they are ready to
be processed. The ground locations of
check points (the blue crosses shown in
Figure 2) are used to determine the final
FIGURE 3: the output from two of the most common photogrammetry processing software
precision and accuracy—they play no tools: Agisoft PhotoScan and Pix4D showing the calculated ground precision. The values
part in the processing. This example indicated are the 3D RMS values.
details the use of Pix4D and PhotoScan,
two of the most widely used processing sum of squared differences between the GeoTagZ provides the key to
tools, however other similar software surveyed position of each of the 20
tools are available. check points, and their positions as
cm-level ground mapping
calculated using the image processing The combination of high-resolution
Accuracy on the ground software. aerial photography with GeoTagZ, for
The photographs in this test were The 3D accuracies for both software geotagging with RTK positions from a
processed using two popular image tools are better than 3.5 cm, with the high-end receiver module, provides the
processing software tools Pix4D and height (Z) being the largest contributor complete input for cm-level mapping
PhotoScan from Agisoft. The values to the total error. This is the same precision on the ground. The same
highlighted in Figure 3 are the 3D-RMS accuracy that a human surveyor would precision as traditional survey can thus
values from their respective reports. typically reach when surveying each of be achieved in a fraction of the time and
These values are calculated from the the 20 points check points manually. cost.

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