UAV Podcast Series: Interview with Dr. Lorraine Tighe on how a disruptive technology opens the gates to non-mapping professionals

November 14, 2018

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Editor's Note: Welcome to our Audio Articles Series. In November 2018, Barbaree Duke caught up with Dr. Lorraine Tighe, Esri Senior Product Imagery and Remote Sensing Marketing Manager, about her perspectives on drones and traditional surveying and mapping techniques. This podcast is part 4 of our 4-part series on Drones. Special thanks to our sponsor, Esri.


You can also download or listen via iTunes.

Question Bookmarks

0:01:02 - Can you give us a little more information about your background and experience in the UAV industry? 

0:03:15 - Could you elaborate a little more on what mapping and survey principals need to be considered?

0:05:29 -  Looking at the expansion of drones, as a remotely sensed platform, how does it compete with traditional survey and mapping techniques, or does it compete?

0:07:35 - What is the landscape of drone operators today?

0:11:35 - Are these applications and professionals successful in generating what is needed for their projects?

0:16:31 - Does it meet survey and mapping standards?

0:20:09 - Any suggestions for non-survey and mapping professionals wanting to use drones in projects, but are not sure where to start?


Barbaree Duke: Today we are conducting a podcast with Dr. Lorraine Tighe, Esri Senior Product Imagery and Remote Sensing Marketing Manager. Lorraine, can you give us a little more information about your background and experience in the UAV industry. 

Dr. Lorraine Tighe:  My background is using remotely sensing platforms for Earth observations. Working in the microwave portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, where the signals (radar signals) observing the earth operate like ears rather than our eyes. However, providing images and terrain models of the earth below in regions of the world predominantly covered in cloud cover. This is made possible because radar penetrates cloud, haze, smoke, and operates at 24/7. The operation of a sensor at night and through clouds was a welcomed addition to the mapping community. This sort of data collection was critical in regions of the world where traditional mapping and surveying techniques were prohibited or at least constrained from optical remote sensing systems (i.e. cameras). No matter the mapping (or remote sensing techniques used to collect images of our Earth, the ability to tie them to the ground using surveying and photogrammetry principles is critical.

Barbaree Duke: Could you elaborate a little more on what mapping and survey principals need to be considered.

Dr. Lorraine Tighe: Yes. Discussed in one of the earlier podcasts, was the full workflow for working with drones as a data collection platform, where there were mention of RTK, PPP, GPS, and the like. Using any control to know where the platform being used to image the ground below is in relation to the ground below during the entire flying time is critical to ensure accurate output products. Back in the days when I was working with SAR, our platform was a Lear jet, thus, control was critical in our workflow. (elaborate a little more on control) Fast forward to today, some drone operators are performing surveys without control, relying on the drone SW/HW to provide meta data for use in output products.

Barbaree Duke: Looking at the expansion of drones, as a remotely sensed platform, how does it compete with traditional survey and mapping techniques, or does it compete?

Dr. Lorraine Tighe: Excellent question. I consider the advent of drones, to be a disruptive technology to traditional mapping industries, where there it is opening the gates to non-mapping professionals. In other words, drone hardware/software combination is using fundamental photogrammetric techniques without needing to expose them fully to the end user such that you do not have to be a surveyor photogrammetrist to conduct a drone mapping project.

Barbaree Duke: What is the landscape of drone operators today?

Dr. Lorraine Tighe:  Let's take that in two parts. First, let’s look at the application side. In one of the early podcasts, we went through the market, which gave you breadth of knowledge about the different applications, so I won't go into detail on that. But just think about inspection and monitoring of a pipeline, or a construction site wanting to know how much progress is made from day one today two or using collecting data for civil engineering.

Right now, on campus at Esri, we are building a new building. We have a drone project where we are flying it daily to look at the progress, the elevation data collected from it and just to monitor change as it's going on. We think about you UAVs and precision agriculture being able to monitor your fields to see if you need to add more water or more nutrients to your actual system or to your crops is important.

If I think about the actual users, remember I said that I feel drone use is a destructive technology and that it's bringing the traditional mapping survey techniques to a non-professional surveying and mapping folks. We have a software package, Drone2Map. Once you've collected drone data, you are then able to process that data and produce the accurate information that you need for whatever type of application you are working on.

I started to look at who's buying this software and who’s using it. After a couple of years working with this software and gathering this information, and what's interesting is that, the user base has expanded such that your traditional photogrammetric, photogrammetrists or survey-type people are at the lower end in terms of volume of users of this software. We're starting to see business development folks, construction,  scientists, fire fighters, police officers, and federal agents. I was recently at two drone conferences, and have never witnessed so many first responders, fire fighters, police officers and federal agents in my industry to date coming to see what's new and great about the landscape in drones. So I think the very fact that we're able to take our traditional survey map, bring expertise in terms of algorithms and mathematical models, and port it into software affords ease of use to our users like police officers, or firemen who don't even know what GIS is when they come to our booth. 

Barbaree Duke:  Are these applications and professionals successful in generating what is needed for their projects?

Dr. Lorraine Tighe:  Yeah, great question. I've been seeing the software and the hard work combination. In terms of being able to provide a stable platform and now that they're getting traction and, in a number of industries, expanding the different sensors that are on board those platforms, and then the software piece. If we think about Drone2Map, you basically collect your data, press a button, it will process the data, and within the field, you can see if you've collected your whole area, if you've missed anything. So that's exciting. Ah, but basically really it is that simple. There's a series of products associated with what drone users in any remotely sensed user is trying to capture. When we're working with sensors like your imagery, and you want your imagery to be tied to the ground. You want the 3D component, so some train information about your area. So, the software packages we're seeing today are able to quickly take all of those photos and derive an elevation model, and that's done with having these algorithms in the background to be able to process this information.

The speed at which users can get access to the information they've collected is really helping them to be successful, spending last time in the field. They are able to get in with these remotely sensed systems and get the information they need without putting people in harm's way and very quickly be able to have it up and shared online for end users, for many folks to have access to, to be able to see before and after effects of an area, and having the accuracy needed to go forward. Drone2Map takes the images that are collected, then stitched those together, and uses machine learning to be able to apply techniques to all of this imagery to produce a coverage map of your whole area that is accurate. All our living atlas data can help find where those images that you just took by this drone, where they are in relationship to the ground, pull it together and use the large collection of images that you're bringing together to refine that solution to get the accuracy your needs. So, without even having to worry about it, that is happening, um, with the software packages, which is a wonderful thing because it is providing confidence to the end users, especially those who are now starting to test the data. Drone2Map allows you to generate an accuracy assessment report that your scientists are used to having and can look at, but also boots on the street could be confident that what they are collecting makes sense. It is where it is on the ground, and they have some real tangible activity reports associated with that that allows them to move forward with success. 

Barbaree Duke:  Does it meet survey and mapping standards?

Dr. Lorraine Tighe: 

Excellent question and also one of the earlier podcasts in this series talks about the practical workflow, the equipment, and does get into bit about control as well. And one of the things in most of the podcast we're talking about is planning. One of the key things is to be able to plan your area. What is your project? What is the scope of it? How do you want to collect the data? We're working with 3DR, a flight planning software, that uses our ArcGIS basemap data that helps you both with imagery and elevation data to plan your flight lines to ensure that you're collecting the appropriate amount of information at the right flying heights. Also, we want to ensure that once you start to process, press that start button to produce that the output products, you will have all the data collected already to do so. So that part again is also taking away the need for beginners working with drones to really have to have an understanding of control to do these things.

But, you know, if you think about this survey and mapping professionals, they are concerned about control for sure. They're so used to precise collections. These software packages allow the input of control, so you can use your handheld GNSS devices, plot plan where you're going to position your control, go out and collect as you traditionally would do in any kind of traditional survey mapping project. With our ArcGIS platform, we tend to use Collector, which automatically populates it into our ArcGIS online, which is connected to Drone2Map, so it's all incorporated easy for the end users to work with. And you could then run, rerun your model. So, to rerun your processing, it's minutes to do so, and your accuracy will improve because you've now added additional controls to what was available before. The ability to be able to input control into the software packages, coupled with the already first order processing using existing data, allows you to read survey types of accuracies. So that's why i say complimentary, you know, we're bringing in the non-professionals who are not used to the traditional survey mapping world. They're benefiting from those techniques in a more high-level ribbon interface type environment. Yet your surveyor can still utilize this software as well and get the control they need to improve the solution. So meeting accuracies of both professions. 

Barbaree Duke: Any suggestions for non-survey and mapping professionals wanting to use drones in projects, but are not sure where to start?

Dr. Lorraine Tighe:  Sure. Well, you want to listen to the other three podcasts in this series. They're short enough that allow you to get an understanding of an actual project, what is the market like, who is using drones, what are the applications, and then what is the full workflow. We've got a couple of Learn ArcGIS lessons. (see resources below) There’s a webinar about expanding your mapping capabilities, knowledge, and working with drones along with lessons learned in the field. And then if that's not enough, we've also published three articles to give you examples of three applications working with drone data, how they found it useful or successful and how it improved their workflow.

Resources shared during the podcast

Podcasts & Webinars:

UAV Series

UAV Channel

Drones Flying Free

Expand Your Mapping with Drones Knowledge: Lessons from the Field -

 ArcGIS Learn Lessons:

Get Started with Drone2Map for ArcGIS -

Estimate Storage Capacity with Drone Imagery -


DirectionsMag UAV & Drones Channel -

Drone2Map article in eco 08/09/2018 - How Drones Can Help Save Communities on the Front Lines of Climate Change

Article (Commercial UAV News) 08/24/2018: “Understanding the Tools that Enable Aerial Survey Drones”

Drone2Map article in eco 07/19/2018 Water District Uses Drones for Site Development


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