The sky's no limit: Remotely-Piloted Aircraft (RPA)

​In the last decade, the number of commercial applications for Remotely-Piloted Aircraft (RPA), or drones has increased exponentially. From remote asset monitoring, extractives exploration, logistics and transport to emergency management, the ability to capture and transmit aerial data in real-time, at a fraction of the former cost, is transforming business.

And, with the help of Cardno, you can add the Australian wine industry to that ever-expanding list.

Cardno’s RPA capabilities

With significant expertise in Geographical Information Systems (GIS), surveying, remote sensing and image analysis as well as cartography, Cardno recognised RPAs early on as a revolutionary business tool; providing fast, accurate and cost-effective aerial data.

More importantly, they reduce risk and improve safety, by replacing humans in precarious positions or at height.

“Traditionally, aerial mapping surveys would incur high costs, meaning that data capture programs were more viable only for larger projects,” Amy Steiger, GIS Manager in Cardno’s Wollongong office, south of Sydney, and one of five licensed Cardno drone pilots in Australia, explained.

“Remotely piloted aircraft are now a crucial business tool for us, not only for surveying and GIS work, but they also provide quick and accurate photogrammetric data to planners and engineers on major infrastructure and development projects.”

Cardno specialists utilise RPAs for multi-purpose aerial analysis across a diverse range of applications, from topographic surveying, slope stability assessment, coastal erosion monitoring to archaeological mapping.

And Amy is finding ever more innovative applications for RPAs.

With a decade’s experience in spatial and environmental sciences, Amy was instrumental in introducing the significant benefits of RPAs to the Australian wine industry.

Amy demonstrated how drones can significantly improve grape yields to some of Australia’s leading wine makers and viticulturists at the 2016 Spring Vine Health Field Days, on behalf of the New South Wales (NSW) Department of Primary Industries.

A very valuable bunch

The annual value of Australian wine exports, depending on climatic conditions and subsequent grape crop yields, is worth anywhere between AU$2 to AU$3 billion, with a domestic market to match. So they are very valuable grapes indeed.

“In developing our remote sensing capability, we reached out to some viticulture industry partners who were in the process of pulling together a number of technology workshops around NSW, particularly focused on the application of remotely piloted aircraft in the wine industry,” Amy said.

“They asked if we wanted to be involved and we jumped at the chance to partner with the NSW state government to teach leaders in the wine industry about the benefits of utilising drones for data capture across their vineyards.”

“Obtaining aerial data with a multi-spectral or a near infrared camera provides insight into grape-crop health well beyond what the eye, and even years of grape-growing experience, can detect,” Amy added.

“Using multispectral and thermal sensors on the remotely-piloted aircraft allows grape growers and wine producers to quickly and cost effectively check the health, and therefore more accurately predict potential yields, of their vines,” Amy said.

“Using cost effective remote sensing with RPAs means grape crop information, such as vine development, growth rates as well as water or heat stress analysis, can be captured and compared year-on-year and help determine optimum soil locations, harvesting and planting times as well as vine spacing.”

And the significant reduction in both time and cost collecting valuable grape crop datasets, over large areas quickly, which may be remote or rugged, really did catch the attention of Australian wine producers.

But for Amy, it is just another day out of the office.

“Yes, flying the remotely-piloted aircraft really is a lot of fun,” Amy laughed.

“It’s certainly not a toy, it is now a vital business tool for Cardno, but yes it is good fun and gets me out of the office, visiting the sites I normally would be mapping from my desk.”

Cardno contact:

Amy Steiger
GIS Manager
+61 2 4228 4133

Geoff Hewitt
Chief Pilot
+61 2 9597 9700