Over the past year, the drone industry has sharpened its focus on drone software, as opposed to drone hardware, as the main driver of market growth. According to Pix4D trainer Angad Singh, the real value of the drone industry lies not in the drone itself, but in the data drones can collect.
So how do you go from just flying your drone to flying your drone and using it to collect data? Angad Singh tells us about one possible path: Pix4D—a professional mapping and photogrammetry software company for drone pilots. It’s one of the best drone mapping software services, because all the tools you need to capture, process, analyze, and share data are built directly into this end-to-end software solution. It is also adaptable to specific industries, with workflows catered to surveying, construction, agriculture, and real estate.
As a Pix4D trainer, Angad teaches drone operators the theory behind Pix4D mapping software and best practices when integrating the software into their workflows. We met with Angad for an interview, during which he explained the ins and outs of the software, the value of data, and the benefits associated with Pix4D User Workshops.
Tell us a bit about what you do at Pix4D.
I am a trainer at Pix4D, and I teach people the end-to-end workflow of using drones to create geospatial data with Pix4D software.
Whether it be a private class or a public workshop, my primary goal is to help our clients understand the power, as well as the limitations, of geospatial data. Private classes cater to the specific needs of a single client. Public workshops, called Pix4D User Workshops, have been as large as 50 people and last two to three days. They’re very popular, and many sell out during the Fall and Spring.
Where do you teach Pix4D classes and workshops?
I’m based in San Francisco; however, I spend about 70-80% of the time on the road traveling to different workshop locations. A majority of our worksop locations are in North America, but we have them all around the world.
Find a Pix4D User Workshop Location Near You
What does the curriculum covered in the two-day workshop look like?
In the two-day workshop we first teach people what is photogrammetry and de-mystify that large, complex word. Then we teach them the manner in which you have to collect your images. They learn to take images and create 3D models and maps from those images. After that we teach them how to generate the point could, edit the point cloud, and put the data into a format that they can accept as a deliverable for their third party analytical solution.
How did you get into teaching these workshops on geospatial mapping?
What got me into this was the data. It’s the ability to use a drone to solve a pain that you have. The one thing I think people should really understand is that yes, drones are very cool. They’re cool to watch. They’re cool in the sky. But what’s really important is what a drone can do and how to leverage the sensor on the drone. Pix4D has lead the industry in recognizing the value of data and creating software solutions to pair with drone operations.
How do you define photogrammetry? When you hear that term, is it the same thing as mapping, or is there a difference?
Well, there’s a difference, but they’re actually very intertwined. Mapping, you can map with a survey grade GPS. Photogrammetry, if you break it down into the literal roots of the word, means to measure from images.
Images have perspective in them. For example, if I took a photo of you, you would appear closer to me in the photo than the wall behind you or the objects behind you. That’s called perspective—something we as humans inherently experience every day. To create a map where distance is constant in all directions, perspective has to be removed. So, photogrammetry is used to create maps that lay everything out with no perspectives.
What industries do your students typically work in once they’ve learned how to use Pix4D’s mapping software?
The most powerful thing is when people use this as a new tool in their own industries to add efficiency. For a lot of people, it’s injecting the information they learn from the workshop into the industry in which they’re already established as a new tool that does the job faster.
For example, land surveyors can use this tool to add an incredible level of efficiency to their workflow and do their job a lot faster with more detail. They’re legally the only people who can stamp a geospatial data product and say that it has survey grade accuracy. As another example, police officers and accident reconstructionists can take a drone and clean up a highway scene or an accident scene a lot faster and more efficiently than they could before.
Within those industries, what are some specific tasks commonly completed with Pix4D?
We use Pix4D mapping software for is volumetric calculations—understanding how much stuff exists in a designated space. Imagine a contractor bought a shipment of mulch and wants to see if he got the exact amount of mulch he paid for. The easiest and most accurate way to find out, without having to physically weigh the mulch, is to use software like Pix4D to take images of the stockpile to understand precisely what its volume is. This type of volumetric calculation is commonly done in the construction industry too, whether it be folks that work with dirt, or concrete, or other materials.
During workshops, what roadblocks or stumbling points do students encounter, and how do you help them overcome those?
It depends on what pre-existing skill set they come to the class with. For example, somebody who is a land surveyor, or a GIS professional, or an academic researcher in the geospatial sciences, they understand inherent technical terms such as coordinate systems. On the other hand, folks that come from industries where they’ve never encountered this type of information might take more time to fully understand the technical concepts. There could be a learning curve depending on your background, but these courses are designed for people from any background. Plus, students can always opt for the private training and have all of the information taught in a way directly suited to them.
Can you share some best practices for using Pix4D mapping software, or just mapping software in general in conjunction with drones?
First, make sure that your software is up to date. Make sure your firmware is up to date. Then, it’s also critical when you capture your images to take the SD card out of the drone and check those images. Make sure the images are collected with the fundamental level of overlap that Pix4D needs to do its job. Also make sure that the images are clear and focused and that the exposure, or the white balance, is correct.
What advice would you give drone pilots that want to learn about photogrammetry and mapping and put it to use in their own industries?
My biggest piece of advice is invest in your knowledge; don’t invest in your hardware. Invest first into your knowledge, into your skill set, and understand what you want to do. Then choose hardware that fits what you want to do. A lot of folks will take their money and they’ll go ahead and buy a fancy drones, a fancy camera, but they don’t invest in their own knowledge.
Why should someone use Pix4D?
Pix4D is the best and most consistent solution for taking images regardless of whether they’re from a drone, an airplane, a cellphone, or any camera really. Pix4D software can take those images and use the data within in them to create high-resolution, 3D models.
Creating the data helps you solve a question or use that data to analyze and create an answer to a problem or a question that you have. The purpose of creating high quality data is to get good answers. We don’t want Pix4D being the whole focus of everybody’s workflow. We want people to use Pix4D to create, to further research, and to create answers to questions that exist in the real world.
Check out this video for more ideas on how you can use Pix4D mapping software in your own sUAS operations: