Bringing a massive drone construction survey in-house for a low-cost, high-quality solution

Nigeria is the most populous country in African and the seventh most populous country on Earth. It also boasts the largest economy in Africa, based on the International Monetary Fund GDP calculations and is the world’s 24th largest economy. For this reason, it’s listed as an emerging market by the World Bank. So it’s no wonder that development firms are interested in investing in its infrastructure. One key project underway now is a massive modern urban center called Abia Heritage City.

“Abia state in Nigeria has two cities and they are overpopulated,” said Christopher Odiachi, General Manager at GeoNel Holding Company, who is working with the design consulting firm, Architekt Muri. “We went into partnership with the state government to put Heritage City in between them. Nigerians are returning home from outside the country, and they basically can’t have the same lifestyle they had outside. We want to have a well-planned and well-laid-out city for them. Thanks to WingtraOne, we’ve now gathered the terrestrial map to properly plan this city.”

Indeed, the Heritage City Project is slated to be the finest city in the region. So these first critical planning stages are essential to accomplishing this vision. GeoNel executives saw that drones could tackle surveying the best. However it took several attempts to find the right drone, and they’re sharing their story to provide a shortcut to firms who might be tempted to take the same route.

Application
Camera
Country
Challenge
Large area to map grounds for an entire city, expensive quotes from contractors, demanding accuracy results for precise planning of infrastructure

So we had big problems with the first drones we tried, and we knew we needed other equipment and that’s when we saw the Wingtra.

Christopher Odiachi
General Manager at GeoNel Holding Company

Not all drone construction surveys are equal

The idea of the Heritage City project was conceived in 2016. The key assets that Architekt Muri needed from GeoNel was an aerial map of the project site plus a surface terrain model. For this project, a terrestrial survey would cost about 62,000 Euros, Odiachi said.

“And my boss had heard about drones doing surveys, so we contacted a company offering drone survey data. They gave us a quote. It was going to take them 20 days with a DJI Phantom 4 drone, and it was going to cost 80,000 Euros.”

With a limited knowledge about drones, GeoNel executives concluded that it would be better to invest this money in a drone and bring the tech and the survey in-house.

“We identified a hexacopter drone and went to Germany,” Odiachi said. “It cost about 60,000 Euros for the base and rover system with a Sony Alpha 6000 payload. So we came back, hired a consultant, and because this drone had no PPK, we realized we needed to put down 180 GCPs. We spent four days setting them out.

“This drone only flew 11 minutes. So after four days of flying—battling rainy weather, short flight times and people stealing the GCPs—we stopped and said ‘this is impossible.’”

The team started researching PPK and RTK systems and decided to put PPK on the drone. But this complicated the workflow with a third-party software to post process, and then there were trigger mismatches, i.e., difference between the triggering and saving to the memory card.

GeoNel surveyors planning a mission with WingtraOne
After trial and error, GeoNel found a fast, high-quality and reliable solution in WingtraOne.

We bought WingtraOne, and we surveyed the whole site in two days with it.

Christopher Odiachi
General Manager at GeoNel Holding Company

Same survey, different drones

DJI Phantom 4

Phantom 4 illustration

Estimated cost

20
days
80k
$
estimate

Hexacopter

Hexacopter illustration

Net loss

~
incomplete
66k
$
system + payload

WingtraOne

Wingtra illustration

ROI

2
days
4k
$
system + payload

All prices in USD. GeoNel received a quote to map the city project from a consultancy firm employing a DJI Phantom 4. Instead, they purchased a hexacopter for less, but with its short flight time and lack of built-in PPK, the system was unable to deliver. So the 66k loss for hardware is a conservative estimate because they lost time. Wingtra delivered the results in two days.

A high-quality, reliable drone survey costing 20x less

Despite these many trials, GeoNel was still convinced that a drone was their solution. At this point, they had crossed out what didn’t work and narrowed their options down to what kind of system they would need to tackle this project.

“I knew that if we were to get something we also needed built-in PPK,” Odiachi said. “So this led us to find the WingtraOne, and we bought it, and we surveyed the site in two days with it.”

Flying with the RX1R II payload, GeoNel covered 835 ha (2063 ac) in just less than three hours total flight time. They flew at 150 m (490 ft) altitude for an overall X,Y absolute accuracy of 2.6 cm (1 in). 

These rich results allow city planners to design infrastructure that respects the unique landscape and weather conditions in southeast Nigeria.

“In fact, WingtraOne data is what the design team are using for the master planning now,” Odiachi said. “It’s the basis for all the planning. They use the terrain models to decide on the different features for the city, like where to locate the golf course and how to plan for flooding. We have a river at the top of the site. So with these elevations they have been able to combine this drone data with meteorological data to run their flood calculations.”

For this particular project with WingtraOne, comparing it to outsourcing to another company, it was much faster, much more economical for us—I would say if we were to bill ourselves for this survey with Wingtra it would be about 4,000 Euros.

Christopher Odiachi
General Manager at GeoNel Holding Company

GeoNel and WingtraOne mapping projects in Nigeria
GeoNel is particularly impressed with the quality of Wingtra's support and the free software updates that respond to their feedback.

“I really look forward to software updates—I’m always excited.”

Beyond an ordinary field tool, WingtraOne inspires an appreciation among Odiachi and his team. They especially enjoy the smooth workflow and overall ease of use of the system as well as its durability in different conditions and around local wildlife.

“With other drones you had to carry a computer in the field and it took 10-15 minutes of setup time per flight,” Odiachi said. “Wingtra is much easier. I read the flight logs that it was windy, but it had no problem with that. Lots of birds there, but they didn’t come close. They just looked and flew off.”

The GeoNel team has since used WingtraOne to survey other projects involving farm and airstrip planning. They’re particularly impressed with Wingtra Support and the engineering team’s software updates.

“The Wingtra Support team is always checking back to know how it’s going,” Odiachi said. “It’s improved most of the work we do. We are the end users, and for our farm project we have used those maps very effectively in planning. We’re building an airstrip and the orthophotos from Wingtra data helped us to find the best location for it. This would have been impossible if we were standing on the ground. We had the elevations of the land and it helped us to pick the right location.”

The whole thing—it’s been wonderful! I really look forward to the software updates. I’m always excited. Wingtra’s team is addressing things that are on my mind.

Christopher Odiachi
General Manager at GeoNel Holding Company

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