Since 2009, the DOI has employed drones to perform a number of functions, primarily related to fire response, terrain mapping, landscape monitoring and infrastructure inspection. While their initial fleet was mostly excess military equipment, these early drones were ill-equipped for the specific inspection and data collection requirements of the DOI.
“We operated those aircraft for several years, but their sensors didn’t give us the data we needed to do photogrammetry work and produce high-resolution maps,” said Brad Koeckeritz, UAS Division Chief at the DOI.
In early 2016, the DOI was looking to expand their drone program nationwide by adding more small, low-cost UAS to their fleet. It had to have the flexibility to incorporate different sensors and payloads for their wide variety of data collection requirements, such as topographic surveys, infrastructure inspections, thermal imaging, and capturing video.
The solution: fleet of 400+ 3DR drones
3DR met the specific hardware and software requirements for the DOI’s work and started working with the agency in 2016. 3DR continues to be the primary provider of sUAS solutions to the Interior. Security, scalability, and flexibility are key pillars of this partnership:
The DOI is able to rely on the security of 3DR technology, ensuring that their sensitive flight data is kept confidential and not uploaded to any remote servers, giving them complete ownership of their data. Going forward, the DOI and other federal, state, and municipal agencies can work directly with 3DR Government Services, a US-based entity that brings UAV products to market based on the open source Dronecode stack.
“We had searched and searched for a solution that met our cyber security requirements and met our data sharing requirements,” Brad said. “We eventually found it in 3DR.”
With over 400 3DR drones, the DOI has extensive requirements for managing their fleet, which not only includes drones but dozens of batteries and over 300 pilots across 32 states. Through effective training and by having an easy-to-fly sUAS, the DOI has been able to scale their drone program to better respond to fires, monitor dams and spillways, and map wildlife.
The DOI’s use of drones ranges from infrastructure inspections to thermal inspections for wildfire management. Thanks to the flexibility of the 3DR platform, the DOI is able to utilize different payloads, such as the 20MP Sony R10C for high resolution imagery and video recording, and FLIR thermal sensors to aid wildfire response efforts.
"Drones can instantly deliver high quality data for a fraction of the cost of traditional flights."Mark BathrickDirector of the Office of Aviation Services
Since beginning their partnership with 3DR in 2016, the DOI has grown their fleet to over 400 3DR drones, which, combined with an improved training process, has allowed them to increase the number of flights conducted from approximately 750 flights in 2016 to nearly 5,000 flights in 2017. In 2018, with a streamlined workflow and a nationwide team of pilots, they’re flying more than they ever have before and capturing critical aerial data to help preserve public land across the country.
To dive deeper into the Interior’s drone program, watch the webinar 3DR hosted with Brad Koeckeritz, UAS Division Chief at the DOI.