Fast, detailed urban drone survey of Cancún to promote development

Every year, millions of people flock to the beautiful white-coral beaches of Cancún to take a vacation. This paradise city in Mexico features colorful contrasts of high-rise buildings and seascapes, hosting a blend of residential and tourist ambition.

For Mexico, Cancún is not only a point of beauty and pride. Like any beautiful place in the world, it draws a lot of tourist income and can be taxed in a way that significantly helps the economy. In order for the government to maximize this income potential and feed gains back into the development of the country, it needs a clear view of all of the infrastructure and business. That view is now available thanks to WingtraOne drone data.

“Our job is to collect data so that the government can collect taxes and fees related to what they do in the city,” said David Samadi, CEO of Agenda Digital, a drone-based data analysis and inspection company that partnered with GeoEarth. “Cancún’s cadastral information is very old, based on satellite images. That’s why we are working with WingtraOne to update it. The results we are getting from the RX1R II payload plus PPK are high resolution and very precise.” 

Large, urban survey area demanding high accuracy and efficient operations to provide dependable data to a national government

Many people ask us ‘why aren’t you using another drone?’ Because WingtraOne is very safe, it minimizes a search for a take-off and landing space, and it’s easy to operate in very difficult areas while giving us good data.

David Samadi
CEO of Agenda Digital 

Mapping a 270 km2 (104 mi2) city to 5 cm (2 in) detail in 19 days

Working as a small team, Agenda Digital and GeoEarth pilots and engineers traveled to Cancún and stayed in a hotel with a high roof. Every morning, they would climb up and measure the island winds while tracking the weather on an app. When the conditions were okay, they flew an average of six flights a day and 400 ha (4 km2) per flight. In six weeks, they were able to fly 19 days and captured all the data over those days.

“We gathered information from the entire city, from the touristy part to the outskirts,” said Luis Zedillo, CTO and certified pilot with Agenda Digital. “Since this was cadastral, we captured data at the centimeter level and our results are 5 cm (2 in) GSD. The digital elevation model has to be very accurate so we can tell how many floors are in every construction. So we flew with a 90 percent front overlap and 70 percent lateral overlap.”

WingtraOne not only gathered the data reliably and at a high quality, but it also saved the team and the government loads of time and money, offering results within two months.

With a multicopter, they said it would have taken six to eight months to run the same survey. And a manned aircraft, they estimate, would have cost 1500 USD per hour to hire for the job, plus the risk to the crew in a windy location.   

WingtraOne RGB aerial image of Cancún
The survey team achieved 5cm (2 in)/ pixel accuracy with WingtraOne's RX1R II payload flying 360 meters (1181 ft) above mean sea level.

This is the great thing about WingtraOne: we can cover large, urban areas safely. We don’t have to take risks that it will go off course. For any drone, the difficult part is the landing. Cancún was very windy, but we managed to land very well. Even in 9 m/s (20 mph) winds, we could handle it.

Luis Zedillo
CTO and certified drone pilot with Agenda Digital 

Breaking Cancún down into “superblocks”

To make the drone data useful for the government right away and into the future, the survey team organized the city into eight areas called “superblocks,” based on price and services in the residential structures. The blocks measured up to 40 km2 (15 mi2).

“So the government has a way to group this information with the superblocks,” said Zedillo. “We also created the orthomosaic in superblocks. So if you have to look at a specific location you don’t have to open the entire ortho or mesh. You just have to open that superblock.” 

On the back end, the team used Pix4D to first process the point cloud, ensuring that the digital elevation models (DEMs) would be of the highest quality.

“The reconstructed elevation model is very important for us,” Zedillo said. “With that, the government can tell how many floors buildings have.”

Agenda experienced another big bonus in that they could share more information at a higher quality without the burden of sending so much data.

Superblock aerial data capture in Cancún
A section of a "superblock" residential area in Cancún as captured by WingtraOne and it's RX1R II payload.

We had experience with a Cessna 206 manned aircraft for photogrammetry. The best thing about Wingtra is that you have a lot of information without so much data. In the other system we had huge amounts of data, big servers and less detail.

Luis Zedillo
CTO and certified drone pilot with Agenda Digital 

WingtraOne in Cancún
The surveyors say they "managed to land manually WingtraOne, even in windy conditions on a small spot in a way that no other fixed-wing drone could."

How drone data drives smarter urban development

Rich cadastral data can be the basis for a lot of analytics, Román Ángeles, Manager and head of RPAS Operations at GeoEarth said. “We can create a geospatial project that gathers information about telephone poles, cameras, police departments, social and criminal activities, commerce and all the roads. With this, the government can make smarter decisions.

Rather than talk to people and try to gather intelligence on the ground, the Mexican government can now choose to invest in an area specifically based on what they have seen themselves. This means educated decisions about where resources and money is going. Plus, to keep tourists attracted to Cancún, the city needs to be safe.

“A lot of this job is for urban development based on improved safety, Ángeles said. “With the data, you can analyze streets, and once you know all the routes of very specific places, you can make risk maps for the police to patrol and prevent crime. So this is a very nice outcome.”

The elevation models can also be used to track the effects of flooding as coastal cities like Cancún bear the brunt of stormier weather due to climate change. For example, volumetric studies of beaches and before-and-after comparisons are possible if the team needs to follow up on this baseline map. 

Cadastry and GIS projects are the basis for sound development. You can make that as complete and thorough as you want, but you have to have a good base, a precise base. WingtraOne has helped us establish this.

Román Ángeles,
Manager and head of RPAS Operations at GeoEarth 

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