Hybrid UAS Solutions: Expanding Mapping Scope and Scale Opportunities


“Gather LiDAR and aerial photography of six project sites spread across the state covering a total of about 665 acres—and do it quickly.” That was the request made to SAM by an electric utility client in Missouri.

SAM delivered. With a condensed timeline and several diverse worksites, this was the perfect opportunity to put our newly acquired Skyfront Perimeter 8L gas-electric hybrid Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) to work. Depending on payload, this hybrid UAS has the endurance to fly up to an hour and a half longer than traditional battery-operated UAS. That extra flight time translates to a larger area mapped in a single flight, and ultimately, a faster time and lower cost to complete a project.

Before putting the hybrid UAS into the air, our crews conducted a flight evaluation to plan and ensure the safety of the crew and assets. The crews then established survey-grade photo-identifiable ground control points (GCP) unique to each project site’s location and coordinate system. SAM used these GCP to constrain the LiDAR and imagery data gathered for this project. In addition, since they are survey-grade GCP, they can be used for any future work on the sites, saving the client the time and expense of a second survey process.

Equipped with a Reigl MiniVUX airborne laser scanner, the UAS acquired over 300 acres in its longest single mission on this project. Previously, an effort of this scope and magnitude would have required up to seven flights and an entire day. This time, thanks to our newly acquired hybrid UAS, our teams mapped all six sites within a week, without incident.

Once the sites had been surveyed from the air, our team analyzed the LiDAR and imagery that the UAS gathered to produce surface contours, planimetrics, and orthophoto imagery. These products were then converted into a final GIS-formatted deliverable which integrated seamlessly into the client’s map inventory, providing comprehensive survey detail.

Since this project, SAM has upgraded the Perimeter hybrid UAS to increase our mapping capabilities further. The additional capacity will allow SAM to integrate the Reigl VUX-1 LiDAR expanding our opportunities to take on larger survey projects—upwards of 2,000 acres a day, in less time and at a lower cost to clients while maintaining our high quality and safety standards.

“The Skyfront Perimeter 8L hybrid gas-electric UAS combined with the VUX-1 LiDAR sensor is a game changer. With it, we are able to achieve nearly a 6 times improvement in the size of projects we can map with UAS in a single day—that makes our UAS competitive in cost, schedule, and performance compared to manned aircraft,” said Brandon Espinosa, Associate/Vice President, St. Louis office manager at SAM Companies.

To learn more about SAM’s UAS capabilities and how our teams implement them to benefit our clients, visit our Unmanned Aerial System page.