The Year of LiDAR

2022 is clearly the year of LiDAR. 

At all of the UAS shows in the USA, Mexico, Canada, and EU, the hot topic is LiDAR in 2022, and 2023 is ramping up to be more of the same, with significant growth.

LiDAR is a “LIght Detection And Ranging” sensor, utilizing a laser, position-controlled mirror, an IMU (Inertial Measurement Unit) and internal processing to record geolocation data. 

A LiDAR sensor emits a pulse of light towards the target (ground) The light is reflected from the surface/earth (a point) and returned to the sensor. The receiver detects the returning signal and calculates the distance the light has traveled. Using the position of the sensor, mirror, IMU, the direction in which the light was sent and the distance calculated. Following this return and calculations, the 3D position where the signal was returned may be determined. With millions of reflections striking a terrestrial surface and returning to the LiDAR sensor, these contact “points” are used to generate the 3D model or ortho re-creating the target area in a digital environment.

Because LiDAR sensors generate their own signal pulse, illumination from other sources  (for example, the sun), many LiDAR operator/pilots capture data at night. As long as there is nothing interfering between sensor and surface it is therefore possible to collect data below cloud cover (or in the dark). LiDAR can offer extremely flexible access to areas requiring scans, given the ability to fly at night, or when cloud cover has a negative impact on a site where photogrammetry may not be possible due to lighting conditions. 

LiDAR sensors were previously relegated to fixed wing or rotary aircraft due to weight and cost, now accessible by any mid or heavy-lift UAS. 

The profile seen here, demonstrates the penetration capabilities of the Microdrones HR VLP16 payload. Note the greater resolution of data below trees, both broadleaf and palm. 
The above image is the author’s first experience with LiDAR; a Velodyne VLP16 with Geodetics IMU, mounted to a Yuneec H920 hexcopter.

With ever-increasing flight efficiency coupled with reduced weight and cost of LiDAR sensors, there are several aircraft and LiDAR systems available at affordable price points to suit virtually any budget. While LiDAR may not yet be for casual pilots, commercial pilots report near-immediate full ROI with LiDAR due to the current scarcity of complete systems. 

Sensors may be purchased as a complete/total solution with aircraft, support software, and payload, or owners of medium lift systems may purchase LiDAR sensors separately to mount on whatever aircraft they’re familiar and comfortable with.   For example, there are many LiDAR payloads available for the DJI Matrice 300 platform, Inspired Flight, Freefly, Yuneec, Maptek, Microdrones, and other systems.

LiDAR packages may be stand-alone, combined with separate RGB cameras for photogrammetry, or assembled with both in one housing. For example, the highly popular GeoCue 515 package not only offers a Hesai XT32 LiDAR sensor, it also includes two 20MP RGB cameras for colorizing the pointcloud, or for photogrammetry deliverables. Additionally, the system is designed for properly and precisely scaling RGB data on to the 3D pointcloud, providing not only a very accurate and precise model, but colorized, photo-realistic data for engineers, surveyors, construction teams, graphic designers, game designers, etc. 

Pilots, engineers, program managers, surveyors will want to consider several factors when choosing a LiDAR payload for purchase or rent.

  • Cost
  • Penetration
  • Resolution
  • Software cost/flexibility
  • Difficulty of operation

Different sensors will yield different results. Below are examples from the DJI L1, the Velodyne VLP16 (Microdrones HR), Hesai Pandar XT32 , and the Reigl Vux1 sensors. Profiles/cross sections captured from LP360 illustrate the surface data from the various sensors, and is a confident method of displaying vegetation penetration. 


Pictured above, the DJI L1 is incapable of any effective penetration through vegetation or other porous areas. Additionally, strip alignment may be challenging in some scenarios. This data was captured, initially processed in DJI Terra, and finish processed in GeoCue LP360

Microdrones MD1000HR (VLP16)

The profile seen here, demonstrates the penetration capabilities of the Microdrones HR VLP16 payload. Note the greater resolution of data below trees, both broadleaf and palm.

GeoCue 515

In this image, there are no gaps beneath the trees. In the center, a uniform depression is visible. The Hesai Pandar XT32 was able to “see” below shallow water surface. In this case, approximately 12” of water depth, yet the creek bottom is solid (visible). While the below-water data is not viable for measurement, it does provide greater data for engineering considerations. 


These two illustrations are sourced from the Riegl Vux1 sensor. This sensor provides the highest resolution of all four images compared here, with a much higher price tag to match the image quality. Note in the zoomed in profile, train rails/tracks are not only visible, but accurately measurable. There are no holes in the surface beneath any of the trees, and the tree detail is enough to classify tree types.

“Penetrating vegetation is a key function of LiDAR sensors; this is why tree profiles/slices have been used to illustrate these challenging scenarios.”


It is worth noting that solid state LiDAR systems are on the rise, and very much in development for longer-range with high density. Technology hasn’t improved to a point where solid state LiDAR might be broadly applicable for UAS work, while the technology has proved promising due to lighter weight, less power consumption, and speed. However, development is heavily focused on autonomous vehicles at present, yet it is fully anticipated we’ll soon see solid state LiDAR available for aerial applications.


Photogrammetry uses multiple images with embedded geodata, matching pixels, and data information to create an orthomosiac. Pointclouds can be derived from images with slightly less accuracy, but a significant time commitment.  A 50 acre field processed as a pointcloud derived from photos may take up to 12 hours on an average computer, while the same computer will process the LiDAR-sourced pointcloud in under 30 minutes.  LiDAR is significantly faster to fly than UAS designed for photogrammetry, as the need for deep overlap is lessened in LiDAR workflow. 

Additionally, LiDAR may be flown at night (unless colorization is needed) while photogrammetry requires daylight hours. 

On the other hand, photogrammetry missions may be flown while there is water on the ground after a flood or heavy precipitation. LiDAR works best in dry, non-reflective environments.  Mirrored windows, water reflecting on leaves, ponds, creeks, etc will display as blacked-out areas in a LiDAR scan.

In this scan of the Colorado River, areas containing water display as black.

Not all software applications are compatible with all the different LiDAR sensors. The way trajectories are read/displayed, how data is managed/handled, even basic features are very different between the various software tools available today. For example, until recently, the data from DJI’s L1 LiDAR system could only be initially processed in DJI Terra software, which is quite limited, and many feel is “kludgy and slow.”  It’s also not a platform known for being stable. 

Recently, GeoCue has added the DJI L1 to it’s compatibility platform, enabling DJI users to use the LP360 software with L1 data, with great stability, flexibility, and speed.


When choosing a LiDAR system, there are many considerations, the greatest of which is how important high resolution and precision at ground will be to projects/workflows. Budget frequently makes this determination. However, bottom line vs long-term needs are often at odds with each other; it’s wise to spend “up” to a higher grade LiDAR sensor when customer satisfaction is at the top of the list.  Research often requires higher grade sensors as well.

When choosing a LiDAR system, consider the aircraft carrying the payload, the software required to process the data, and consider flight times as well. Two hours flying a narrow beam sensor vs 30 minutes of a wider throw may make all the difference, particularly when the company has a deep backlog and is focused on efficiency.

Whether LiDAR an organization is ready for LiDAR now, or down the road, there has never been a better time to learn more about LiDAR, pointclouds, and the differences of data processing from photogrammetry workflows. 

Special thanks to Brady Reisch of KukerRanken for the profile slices of data.

Viva Las Vegas (LiDAR Excitement)

Commercial UAV Expo effervesces in LiDAR and Face to Face gathering

DR. A. STEWART WALKER 09.22.2021

Diversified Communications is the very model of a modern conference company, but even its most experienced managers must have harbored slivers of doubt as they prepared the Commercial UAV Expo Americas, in the Mirage, Las Vegas, on 7-9 September. If we make it, will they come? Will they be so desirous of renewed face-to-face contact that the conference is a sell-out, or will they be unsure, unvaccinated or unmasked, therefore unwilling to risk it?

It turned out to be the former. The event was a huge success and participants reveled in being back together. The raw numbers, provided by DivCom’s genial and extremely knowledgeable event strategist, Carl Berndtson, were: 2767 registrants from 61 nations and all 50 states, 130 exhibitors (the hall included a Korean pavilion for the first time), 12 product launches, 150 speakers and double the projected attendance in the conference sessions. Registration reached 88% of the 2019 figure, way higher than many other conferences that have happened in recent months.

The outdoor demos were a sell-out, with 300 attendees. We were bused to the site near Henderson, Nevada. The shadeless bleachers became brutal as the morning wore on and the temperature rose towards 35°C, but compere Douglas Spotted Eagle of Sundance Media Group and KukerRanken, a regular at these events, repeatedly enjoined attendees to partake of the water provided, so casualties were minimal. We saw UAVs flown in 20-minute slots by Skyfront, CommAris (a brand of Terrafugia, the flying car people), Doosan Mobility Innovation, Skydio, AEE Technology, Autel Robotics, and BRINC/Adorama Business Solutions. This immediately underlined a theme of the conference, the real and increasing role of UAVs in emergency management, first response, and search and rescue. Another very apparent feature was the number of large aircraft, always, however, below the 55 lb limit. Skyfront’s multi-rotor, long-endurance UAV, with a gas engine generating electricity to drive the propellers, can carry a YellowScan lidar, though the large number of available payloads have somewhat of a defense focus. Douglas Spotted Eagle conducted an unscripted show of hands of the audience to see who was using lidar: there were nine responses from the bleachers, five using DJI, one Microdrones and three YellowScan.

Next on was CommAris, the big Seeker long-endurance VTOL requiring two crew with full jumpsuits and helmets to get it airborne. Despite its size (15’ wingspan), the Seeker can be quickly assembled in the field and can carry a 10-lb payload. I spoke to the CommAris folk in the exhibition: so far they don’t have a lidar customer, but they expect several and will keep us informed. As it flew, we saw a hawk (the bird, not the name of another UAV) fly near to take a look, but it elected not to attack. Doosan’s UAV was carrying a USPS package. It uses a hydrogen cell to increase endurance and brought home to us, if we weren’t already believers, that the carrying of packages by UAVs is happening in many countries and is a reality, no longer confined to carrying anti-venom in the remote Amazon, but likely soon to be part of daily life for the non-fluvial Amazon, Walmart and others. Indeed, Walmart’s “director last mile” gave a keynote on Thursday.

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Doosan Mobility Innovation, indoors at Commercial UAV Expo 2021.

Act five was the public debut of the Mach 6 UAV from AEE, focused on public safety, with dual batteries to increase endurance. Though the payloads shown were not geospatial (thermal imagery of the audience; megaphone; delivery of automated external defibrillator through a partnership with Schiller Medical), the Mach 6 could easily carry lidar. It uses radar for collision avoidance and AEE has BVLOS very much in mind. AEE was followed by another new product, the Skydio X2. The firm has a defense focus and has won an AUVSI Excellence in Innovation award. The demo involved imagery and the creation of a mesh with photogrammetry – no mention of lidar. Like all the presenters, the Skydio team explained aspects of their software using both PowerPoint and live demos on the big screen, though bright sunlight and intense heat sapped audience concentration.

The Autel Dragonfish VTOL is not new, but has evolved considerably from earlier models. The aircraft has a two-hour endurance and offers a terrain-following feature. After the mission, it landed perfectly on the mat provided for it. The audience consisted on UAV veterans, yet this pinpoint ability – which all demos featured – never failed to raise some applause. The last performer was BRINC Drones, a Las Vegas company, assisted by Adorama. Its Lemur S, aimed at the public safety market, uses lidar to help navigation, but not for geospatial purposes. Nevertheless, this remarkable aircraft is worth a few words: if it crashes and tips over, it can get up, right itself and resume the mission; and it was demonstrated with an attachment that can break glass! The latter was used to enter a small hut on the demo site, and we were also shown the UAV flying thermal imagery inside a school bus. Truly remarkable!

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Commercial UAV Expo 2021 attendees

Thus ended a wonderful morning, impressing upon us the progress being made by UAVs to the extent that they are part of daily life. The efforts of the firms’ personnel, some of whom had been out to the site on one or two previous occasions to rehearse, deserved applause – they had suffered the torrid conditions in order to make our time as productive as possible.

Returning from the desert, we had to prepare quickly for the afternoon fare, the product preview presentations. As always, these were a bit of an endurance test, with 17 15-minute presentations in each of two rooms, necessitating agile jumping between the two in pursuit of the best mix. There were frustrations – ASPRS did not speak at the time advertised on the program, and RIEGL and LiDAR USA were on at the same time – yet the speakers managed to overcome the temptations to firehose us with small detail of their products and the afternoon passed quickly and informatively. There was too much here to report in a few words, but it’s worth following up the geospatial lidar players by looking at their websites for the latest developments, such as DJI, GeoCue, Leica Geosystems, LiDAR USA, RIEGL, SimActive and YellowScan, and imaging players such as AgEagle and Phase One.

After the demanding first day, the event resumed on the Wednesday with opening remarks from DivCom director Lee Corkhill. Top of the bill keynote was Stephen Dickson, FAA Administrator (ex USAF and Delta). He gave a fine presentation, but, as usually happens in these events, once its representative had departed, FAA was targeted with some less than complimentary remarks by later speakers, all of whom are anxious to fly BVLOS, or in the dark, or over populated areas, or all of the above, sooner rather than later. As Stephen said, lots of progress has been made on night flying, but for other desires waivers are the current way to go, so we’re at an inflection point as this process cannot be sustained at scale. Whatever other speakers may have felt, there is no doubt that FAA is busy and one cannot argue with Stephen’s closing remarks, “Safety is a journey, not a destination”, and his emphases on humility and safety.

There was too much in the show to spend time on every booth. Among highlights were, prominent on the DJI booth, an M600 with the Zenmuse L1 lidar sensor. Phase One had a new camera, the P3, complete with gimbal. Emesent had the Hovermap lidar sensor, complete with SLAM software, i.e. it also works in GNSS-denied environments, which can be mounted on UAVs, or land vehicles, or in a backpack of hand-carried – indeed, Emesent perhaps stole the show by showing it on the back of Spot, the robotic dog from Boston Dynamics (remember reading about it in LIDAR Magazine?[1]). Leica Geosystems introduced BLK2FLY, its gorgeous new laser scanner snuggling inside a quadcopter, also called an “autonomous flying laser scanner”. The software is richly furnished with SLAM as well as GNSS/IMU components. Some of the exhibitors gave additional presentations in the theater set up in the exhibition hall, so there was no excuse not to find out about products of interest.

LIDAR Magazine was invited to participate in the “Meet the Press” event. Of the 25 firms who entered, 16 sent representatives to the one-hour live event, at which they spoke for two minutes each, followed by one minute for questions. The speakers entered into the spirit of this “fun” session and fielded the questions both competently and with a sense of humor. The journalists went into purdah and chose Emesent, BRINC Drones and vHive as winners[2].

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Teledyne FLIR spokesperson shares a new sensor with the press.

Amongst all this, I attended as many sessions as possible. Jeremiah Karpowicz of DivCom conducted a good on-stage discussion with Brandon Torres Declet, the new CEO of AgEagle. DivCom favors a formula where part or all of almost every session is a panel discussion, with several experts on stage. Some of these were a tad thin or repetitive, but invariably attorneys, police officers and firefighters did well. These people may not be ideal to discern trends for us after a moment’s thought, but they are performing or managing UAV flights in the thousands every year, so listen up! We’ve moved from shiny toys to commercialization, rapidly and successfully. A session on construction revealed what could be done, for example measuring cranes, flare structures, Las Vegas’s Allegiant Stadium. UAV-delivery firms Zipline and DroneUp both made deep impressions.

Towards the end of the conference, our regular contributor Lewis Graham chaired a session on surveying and mapping. I felt on more familiar ground here as speakers from Ohio UAS Center and The Ohio State University talked about the multiplicity of projects they had completed, while sometimes humorously referring to some of the day-to-day problems they encountered. Also in this session was one of the firms from the Korean pavilion in the exhibition, describing UAV-based geomatics land data acquisition in Ethiopia, using a UAV built in Korea.

ASPRS ran four two-hour workshops, two on Wednesday and two on Thursday, one pair on UAV-photogrammetry and one on UAV-lidar. All were well attended, confirming the thirst for knowledge that was so obvious from the buzz and attendance at this event

The DivCom sales team was energetically working the halls and must have a good chance of following the sell-out exhibition with another one at the Geo Week conferences in Denver in February 2022, where ILMF, AEC Next, SPAR 3D, ASPRS and USIBD will be combined. Meanwhile, LIDAR Magazine was taking every opportunity to solicit firms for articles, as a result of which we are working with DJI, Emesent, LightWare, Phoenix LiDAR Systems, SimActive and several others.

DivCom has decided to change the venue of Commercial UAV Expo Americas and the next iteration of the event will be at Caesars Forum on 6-8 September 2022. LIDAR Magazine would have preferred a slot later in the year, so we would be less well done at the outdoor demos, but won’t hesitate to be there, to learn, enjoy, contribute and be thankful. While the scope of UAVs extends far beyond the geospatial, and the lidar vertical is but a small part of a market dominated by public safety and parcel deliveries, I wouldn’t willingly miss this event. The UAV world is fast moving and more than one company said it was in robotics rather than drones. DivCom’s formula of a technology-based rather than market-based event works and the wide range of backgrounds of attendees is a big plus. I felt almost overwhelmed by information, yet stimulated, inspired and anxious to reflect in order to get it all into perspective. Probably that’s what a successful conference event should inspire!

As I finished this report, HxGN LIVE GeoSummit and Intergeo, remote and hybrid respectively, were swinging into action. Once again, we’re in the thick of development and struggling to assimilate all the news and innovations. It’s a great time to be in lidar!

Selecting the Right Drone for Your Construction Business

Selecting the Right Drone for Your Construction Business

Douglas Spotted Eagle and Brady Reisch headed into the field to collect aerial construction data over fourteen weeks with three different drones.  Their goal was to determine which drone was best for the construction job site.

They used three popular aircraft for the comparisons and the results were pretty surprising.   

Drones Compared:

Unmanned Aircraft (UA/Drones) have rapidly become a significant component of the modern construction industry workflow whether it’s for progress reporting, site planning, BIM, inventory control, safety awareness, structure inspection, topo’s, or other purposes. Site supervisors, architects, and stakeholders all benefit from the rapid output of accurate 2D/Ortho, or 3D models that may be used for purposes ranging from simple visualizations, progress reporting, stockpile calculations, DSM, contours, to more complex overlaying blue-prints in the As-Designed/As-Built or BIM process.

Choosing the right aerial asset/UA may be challenging, particularly as the marketing of many UA is focused on RTK built in (rarely accurate) PPK solutions and a many component workflow versus others that are single-step workflows. Decisions on aircraft choices will be made based on budget, accuracy requirements, speed to result, and overall reporting requirements.

On any site flown for BIM, input to AutoDesk or similar tools, having accurate ground control points (GCP) is required. GCP’s may be obtained from the site surveyor, county plat, or other official sources, and this is often the best method assuming that the ground control points may be identified via UA flight-captured images. Site supervisors may also capture their own points using common survey tools. Devices such as the DTResearch 301 RTK tablet may be used to augment accuracy, combining GPC location points from the air and on the ground. Failing these methods, site supervisors can capture their own points based on the specific needs of the site. These points may be calculated via traditional rover/base RTK systems, or using PPK, RTK, or PPP solutions, again being budget and time dependent. If centimeter (vs decimeter) accuracy is required, RTK or PPK are necessary.

Putting accuracy aside, image quality is gaining importance as stakeholders have become accustomed to photo-grade ortho or models. Oftentimes, these models are used to share growth with inspectors as well, which means having presentation-grade images may be critical. Image quality is high priority when generating pre-development topos, or simply illustrating a tract of land from all directions. In other words, a high-quality imaging sensor (camera) is a necessity. Some aircraft allow user-choice cameras, while many UA manufacturers are creating cameras specific to their aircraft design.

Turning to aircraft, we chose three popular aircraft for the comparisons:

Flying the site several times in various conditions, the same RTK capture points are used in all three mapping projects. The DTResearch 301 RTK system is used to capture GCP on-location, with Hoodman GCP kit as the on-ground GCP. The Hoodman SkyRuler system was also captured as a scale-constraint checkpoint.

This commercial site is small in size (1.64 acres), and one we were able to begin capturing prior to forms being laid, all the way to vertical installation.

Accuracy varied greatly with each aircraft system, particularly in elevation calculations. Deviations are from projected points vs the GCP points obtained through a surveyor’s RTK system.
Overall (and to our surprise), the Autel EVO was most accurate with a deviation of:

  • x-5.112ft
  • y-47.827ft
  • z-16.541ft 

The Yuneec H520/E90 combo was not far behind with a deviation of:

  • X-10.323ft
  • y-44.225ft
  • z-92.788ft

Finally, the DJI Phantom 4 presented deviations of:

  • x-1.95ft
  • y-45.565ft
  • z-140.626ft 

All of these deviations are calculated and compensated for in Pix4DMapper, which is used to assemble all of these week-to-week projects.
As 3D modelling was part of the comparison/goal, obliques were flown in addition to nadir captures. While manual settings are often essential for high quality maps and models, in the following images cameras were all set to automatic exposure, shutter, ISO.

It is important to remember that these are NOT corrected via network nor base station. This is autonomous flight, localized in Pix4D.


AUTEL EVO (Original version)

All aircraft models work well with Pix4DMapper, although at the time of this writing, Pix4D has not created lens profiles for the Autel EVO (they have indicated this feature should be available “soon”). We custom-sized the lens profile ourselves, based on information provided by Autel’s product managers. *as of 2.1.22, Pix4D has generated lens profiles for both Autel EVO and EVO II aircraft.



Although image quality is subjective, our client and our team all agree the Autel EVO provides the best image quality and color of all aircraft, with all aircraft set to automatic exposure, shutters peed, and ISO of 100. This is a surprise, given the Autel is a ½.3 imager, vs the 1” rolling shutter of Yuneec and global shutter of the DJI aircraft. Based on internet forums, Autel is very well known for their camera parameters being impressive.

All flights are single-battery flights. This is important, as changing batteries offers different functions for the various aircraft. Using Yuneec and DJI products and their respective software applications, we are able to fly larger sites with proper battery management with the aircraft returning to launch point when a battery is depleted and resume a mission where it left off once a fresh/charged battery is inserted. The Autel mission planner currently does not support multi-battery missions (although we’re told it will soon do so).

There are a few aspects to this workflow that are appreciated and some that are not. For example, when flying Autel and Yuneec products, we’re able to act as responsible pilots operating under our area wide Class B authorization provided by the FAA. To fly the DJI Phantom, the aircraft requires a DJI-provided unlock that permits flights. It’s a small annoyance, yet if one shows up on a jobsite not anticipating an unlock, it can be tedious. In some instances, we are just on the edge and outside controlled airspace, yet DJI’s extremely conservative system still requires an unlock. Most times, the unlock is very fast; other times, it doesn’t happen at all.

All three aircraft are reasonably fast to deploy, and this is important when a LAANC request for a zero-altitude grid is a short window. Autel clearly wins the prize for rapid deployment, with the EVO taking approximately 30 seconds to launch from case-open to in-the-air. Mission planning may be managed prior to flight and uploaded once the UA has left the ground. We are experiencing much the same with the latest release of the EVO II 1” camera as well. We also appreciated the lack of drift and angle in relatively high winds (26mph+).

DJI is next fastest at approximately three minutes, (assuming propellers remain attached in the case), while the mission planning aspect is a bit slower than the Autel system. DJI uploads the mission to the aircraft prior to launch. Of course, this is assuming we’ve already achieved an approval from DJI to fly in the restricted airspace, on top of the FAA blanket approval. If we don’t, we may find (and have found) ourselves unable to fly once on-site, due to glitches or slow response from DJI.

Yuneec is the slowest to deploy, given six props that must be detached for transport. Powering the ST16 Controller, attaching props, and waiting for GPS lock often requires up to five minutes. The mission planning tool (DataPilot) is significantly more robust than DJI’s GSPro, third party Litchi or other planning apps, and is far more robust than Autel Explorer’s mission planner. DataPilot also essentially ensures the mission will fly correctly, as it auto-sets the camera angle for different types of flight, reducing the margin for pilot error. The Yuneec H520 is superior in high winds, holding accurate position in reasonably high winds nearing 30mph.

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All three aircraft turn out very usable models. All aircraft capture very usable, high-quality images. All of the aircraft are, within reason, accurate to ground points prior to being tied to GCP.

We were surprised to find we prefer the Autel EVO and are now completing this project after having acquired an Autel EVO II Pro with a 1” camera and 6K video.


Foremost, the Autel EVO family offered the most accurate positioning compared to the other aircraft in the many, many missions flown over this site. With dozens of comparison datasets, the Autel also offered the fastest deployment, and ability to fly well in high winds when necessary. The cost of the Autel EVO and EVO II Pro make this an exceptionally accessible tool and entirely reliable. That the Autel EVO requires no authorization from an overseas company, particularly in areas where we already have authorizations from the FAA, is significant to us, and the image quality is superior to either of the other aircraft.

We also greatly appreciate the small size of the aircraft, as it takes little space in our work truck, and our clients appreciate that we’re not invasive when working residential areas for them. The aircraft isn’t nearly as noisy as other aircraft, resulting in fewer people paying attention to the UA on the jobsite. The bright orange color, coupled with our FoxFury D3060 light kit (used even in daylight) assists in being able to see the aircraft quite easily, even when up against a white sky or dark building background.

We also of course, appreciate the speed in deployment. With safety checks, LAANC authorizations, planning a mission, and powering on remote and aircraft, the Autel EVO is deployable in under two minutes. When flying in G airspace, from case to airborne can be accomplished in under 30 seconds.

Battery life on the EVO 1 is substantial at 25 minutes, while our newly acquired EVO II Pro offers 40 minutes of flight time with incredible images to feed into Pix4D or other post-flight analytics software.

Of greatest importance, the EVO provides the most accurate XYZ location in-flight compared to the other aircraft. For those not using GPS systems such as the DTResearch 301 that we’re using on this project, accuracy is critical, and being able to ensure clean capture with accurate metadata is the key to successful mapping for input to Autocad applications.

WHERE TO LEARN MORE: (UA, mission planning) (RTK Tablet with hyper-accurate antenna system) (UA, mission planning) (Lighting system for visualization) (GCP, LaunchPad, SkyRuler) (Post-flight mapping/modelling software) (training for mapping, Pix4D, public safety forensic capture) (UA, mission planning)

With thanks to AutelHoodmanDTResearch, and Pix4D.

Part 91, 101, 103, 105, 107, 137: WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?

All these FARs, what’s a drone pilot to do in order to understand them? Do they matter?


In virtually every aviation pursuit except for sUAS, an understanding of regulations is requisite and part of most testing mechanisms.  As a result, many sUAS pilots holding 

a Remote Pilot Certificate under Part §107 are woefully uninformed, to the detriment of the industry.

Therefore, sUAS pilots would be well-served to inform themselves of how each section of relevant FARs regulate components of aviation.

Let’s start by digging into the intent of each Part.

  • §Part 91 regulates General Operating and Flight Rules.
  • §Part 101 regulates Moored Balloons, Kites, Amateur Rockets, Unmanned Free Balloons, and some types of Model Aircraft.
  • §Public Law Section 336 regulates hobby drones as an addendum to Part 101.
  • §Part 103 regulates Ultra-Light Vehicles, or manned, unpowered aviation.
  • §Part 105 regulates Skydiving.
  • §Part 107 regulates sUAS
  • §Part 137 regulates agricultural aircraft


Part §91

This portion of the FARs is barely recognized, although certain sections of Part 91 may come into play in the event of an action by the FAA against an sUAS pilot. For example, the most concerning portion of Part 91 is  91.13, or “Careless or Reckless Operation.” Nearly every action taken against sUAS pilots have included a charge of 91.13 in the past (prior to 107).

Specific to drone actions, The vast majority of individuals charged have also included the specific of a 91.13 charge.

sUAS pilots whether recreational or commercial pilots may be charged with a §91.13 or the more relevant §107.23 (reckless)

It’s pretty simple; if there are consequences to a pilot’s choices and actions, it’s likely those consequences also included a disregard for safety or planning, ergo; careless/reckless. The FAA has recently initiated actions against Masih Mozayan for flying his aircraft near a helicopter and taking no avoidance action. They’ve also taken action against Vyacheslav Tantashov for his actions that resulted in damage to a military helicopter (without seeing the actual action, it’s a reasonable assumption that the action will be a §91.13 or a §107.23 (hazardous operation).

Other parts of Part 91 are relevant as well. For example;

  • §91.1   Applicability.

(a) Except as provided in paragraphs (b), (c), (e), and (f) of this section and §§91.701 and 91.703, this part prescribes rules governing the operation of aircraft within the United States, including the waters within 3 nautical miles of the U.S. coast.

The above paragraph includes sUAS.  Additionally, Part 107 does not exclude Part 91. Airmen (including sUAS pilots) should be aware of the freedoms and restrictions granted in Part 91.

§91.3   Responsibility and authority of the pilot in command.

(a) The pilot in command of an aircraft is directly responsible for, and is the final authority as to, the operation of that aircraft.

(b) In an in-flight emergency requiring immediate action, the pilot in command may deviate from any rule of this part to the extent required to meet that emergency.

(c) Each pilot in command who deviates from a rule under paragraph (b) of this section shall, upon the request of the Administrator, send a written report of that deviation to the Administrator.

§91.7   Civil aircraft airworthiness.

(a) No person may operate a civil aircraft unless it is in an airworthy condition.

(b) The pilot in command of a civil aircraft is responsible for determining whether that aircraft is in condition for safe flight. The pilot in command shall discontinue the flight when unairworthy mechanical, electrical, or structural conditions occur.

§91.15   Dropping objects.

No pilot in command of a civil aircraft may allow any object to be dropped from that aircraft in flight that creates a hazard to persons or property. However, this section does not prohibit the dropping of any object if reasonable precautions are taken to avoid injury or damage to persons or property.

§91.17   Alcohol or drugs.

(a) No person may act or attempt to act as a crewmember of a civil aircraft—

(1) Within 8 hours after the consumption of any alcoholic beverage;

(2) While under the influence of alcohol;

(3) While using any drug that affects the person’s faculties in any way contrary to safety; or

Sound familiar?

SubPart B also carries relevant information/regulation with regard to operation in controlled airspace, operations in areas under TFR ((§91.133), operations in disaster/hazard areas, flights during national events, lighting (§91.209)

PART 101

Part §101 has a few applicable sections.

Subpart (a) under §101.1 restricts model aircraft and tethered aircraft (balloons). Although subpart (a.4. iiv) is applicable to balloon tethers, there is argument that it also applies to sUAS. Subpart (a.5.iii) defines recreational flight for sUAS/model aircraft.

Finally, §101.7 re-emphasizes §91.15 with regard to dropping objects (may not be performed without taking precautions to prevent injury or damage to persons or property).  Public Law 112-95 Section 336 (which may be folded into a “107 lite” version), clarifies sections not added to Part 101.

Bear in mind that unless the pilot follows the rules and guidelines of a NCBO such as the AMA, AND the requirements of that NCBO are met, the flight requirements default to Part 107 requirements.

PART §103

Part §103 regulates Ultralight vehicles (Non powered, manned aviation)

Although no component of Part §103 specifically regulates UAV, it’s a good read as Part 103 contains components of regulation found in Part 107.

PART §105

Part §105 regulates Skydiving.

Part §105 carries no specific regulation to sUAS, an understanding of Part 105 provides great insight to components of Part 107. Part 107 has very few “new” components; most of its components are clipped out of other FAR sections.

PART §107

Although many sUAS pilots “have their 107,” very few have actually absorbed the FAR beyond a rapid read-through. Without a thorough understanding of the FAR, it’s difficult to comprehend the foundation of many rules.

PART §137

Part 137 applies specifically to spraying crops via aerial vehicles.

Those looking into crop spraying via sUAS should be familiar with Part 137, particularly with the limitations on who can fly, where they can fly, and how crops may be sprayed.
One area every ag drone pilot should look at is §137.35 §137.55 regarding limitations and business licenses.

The bottom line is that the more informed a pilot is, the better pilot they can be.  While there are many online experts purporting deep knowledge of aviation regulations and how they specifically apply to sUAS, very few are familiar with the regulations in specific, and even less informed as to how those regulations are interpreted and enforced by ASI’s. We’ve even had Part 61 pilots insist that the FSDO is a “who” and not a “what/where.” Even fewer are aware of an ASI and how they relate to the world of sUAS.

FSIM Volume 16

It is reasonably safe to say that most sUAS pilots are entirely unaware of the Flight Standards Information Management System, aka “FSIMS.” I’ve yet to run across a 107 pilot familiar with the FSIMS, and recently was vehemently informed that “there is nothing beyond FAR Part 107 relative to sUAS. Au contraire…

Familiarity with the FSIMS may enlighten sUAS operator/pilots in how the FAA examines, investigates, and enforces relevant FARs.

Chapter 1 Sections 1, 2  and 4 are a brief, but important read, as is Chapter 2, Section 2.

Chapter 3 Section 1 is informational for those looking to apply for their RPC Part 107 Certificate.

Chapter 4 Sections 2, 5, 7, 8 are of particular value for commercial pilots operating under Part 107.

Volume 17, although related only to manned aviation, also has components related to 107, and should be read through (Chapters 3 & 4) by 107 pilots who want to be informed.

Gaining new information is always beneficial, and even better if the new information is implemented in your workflow and program. Become informed, be the best pilot you can be, and encourage others to recognize the value in being a true professional, informed and aware.