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Real World Case Study: Choosing senseFly eBees to Quickly Build up a Drone Fleet

senseFly recently published a real world case study of Aerial Applications, a company based in Pennsylvania, who had been awarded a large, time-sensitive post-hurricane contract and needed to ensure data consistency across its network of independent drone pilots.

The Challenge

They wanted to ensure that the drone technology platform they chose was simple enough for several staff to operate, rather than having a single specialized technical manager. The company also realized that they couldn’t implement what they call a “bring your own drone approach” due to the need for standardized output. What the company required was a standard platform in-house “that could cover a large area, at high resolution, and that was easy to automate”.

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The Solution

The solution was to create a fleet of easy-to-operate senseFly eBees.

Prior to the contract, the Aerial Applications team had already begun the research for a standardized drone platform. They had already investigated the pros and cons and specs for “ten or fifteen different air-frames”. They looked at factors such as how much area could be covered per mission; the cost of the air-frame; and the extras that came with each system, such as whether a drone included flight planning software or whether they’d need to use third-party software, which was not something they wanted to do, saying “in an emergency situation everything has to just work. So anything we could do to shorten that loop—one fewer thing that could break— that was crucial for us.”

Weight was a key selling point of the eBee, Jeff Brooks, the Director of Policy for Aerial Applications says. “The problem we had with other systems, especially in a disaster response capacity, was being able to easily move the drone around. If you have to lug around a seventy-pound platform, that’s a big ask, and it drastically changes the kind of people I can send into the field.”

“We needed data consistency, reliability and ease of use, and those factors are where the senseFly eBee system really shines,” Brooks explains. “It also has good endurance and intuitive eMotion flight planning software, which we needed to be able to easily train our pilots on.” This quick training ability was crucial for the damage assessment project, which required a rapid deployment. “We had to be faster than people going out in cars. That was the big benchmark,” Brooks says.

A testament to the eBee’s short learning curve was the fact that most of the project’s pilots had never used senseFly equipment before. Brooks explains: “Being able to train them on the eBee in just a couple of days was mission critical. I just don’t think we could have done it without training the people as fast as we did.”

The Result

The company purchased ten eBee units, and the project team’s pilots were all trained and operational within 72 hours.

“On-site, we used quadcopters to scope out each area, looking for easy-access areas where we could take off and land the eBees. After that, all the deliverables we supplied were produced using fixed-wing data,” Brooks says.

The team supplied its first orthomosaics, alongside tagged photos featuring the coordinates of each instance of asset damage (such as downed cables), to its client within 48 hours of arriving on the scene. This handover of deliverables then continued daily on a rolling basis as staff processed the images on-site. “During our ten days we covered 160 square miles, flying 150 flights over six days and taking 75,000 images.” Brooks says. “In total we identified the precise coordinates of 117 sites where infrastructure assets had been damaged.”

As for the platform’s wind resistance, a prior concern due to the eBee’s lightweight, “out in the field,” says Brooks, “it didn’t end up being a big deal. The eBees were pretty robust in the air, which was impressive considering these really weren’t calm skies.” T

Summarizing the company’s senseFly adoption, Brooks claims the net effect has been simple: the team can spend more time improving its client offer. Having everything streamlined with the eBees allows us to focus on what we do best — bring value to our clients. “Non-eBee systems are maybe more customization,” Brooks concludes, “but building the backbone of a business with such systems can be tough and a huge diversion of resources in a small company. Having everything streamlined with the eBees allows us to focus on what we do best—bring value to our clients. What’s funny is that, despite being easy to use, it’s not a simple system—it’s really pretty powerful. But for what we need it to be able to do, it is super reliable and easy to train people on right off the bat.” The company’s eBees are now being used across a growing range of projects: “We’ve got clients in energy, where we are doing wind turbine and solar panel inspections. We’ve got clients in water management, so the surveying ability of the eBees is going to be helpful there as we map entire cities for them in record time. All kinds of areas.

**Originally published on senseFly.com**