Many industries need detailed earth observation data and geolocated data to function. There are several ways these businesses use technology to get this data. The two main ways to collect earth observation data today are by utilising either drone imagery or satellite imagery.
Businesses in the energy, agriculture, engineering, forestry, and urban planning sectors use this technology to obtain reliable data for real-time use. Some tasks that satellites and drones are used to gather data for include ocean monitoring, wildfire containment, urban and regional planning, and mining and mineral exploration. Each technology has advantages and disadvantages, depending on the intended application of that data.
Drones Vs. Satellites: Uses and Applications
Earth observation is a blanket term that applies to more than the visual observation of the Earth’s surface. Scientists and engineers in the private and public sectors use the term to describe gathering data on chemical and biological systems, as well. To gather this complex data, both satellite imagery and drone imagery are used to capture large and small differences and changes in physical, biological, and chemical changes on specific areas of the earth’s surface.
The largest difference between drone and satellite data essentially simplifies to size and scale. Drones have the flexibility to map out small areas in great detail, providing minute data to their operators. Satellites provide time-series data across large areas of the earth, showing changes over time or large-scale differences or changes in terrain. Most users operate these systems separately but use their data in tandem to make the best possible predictions and decisions.
Because drones are comprised of light composite materials, they are able to travel at very high altitudes and manoeuvre into tight spaces when necessary. Depending on the task, they can be outfitted with cutting-edge data-gathering technology such as infrared cameras and GPS. Their advantages include lower data-gathering costs, the ability to survey and map inaccessible areas in great detail, and reduced field time.
Drones are operated from Remote Ground Control Stations (GCSs), or ground cockpits, meaning that someone has to be flying them for them to record data.
Satellites used for Earth observation are more common than drones and there are many types of satellites being used to record large-scale processes in large areas. Satellites are much more expensive to use but have the ability to automatically produce data for extended periods of time, giving users valuable change data over time.
Depending on the task, satellites must adhere to acquisition schedules due to computer memory and power constraints. Some satellites provide consistent, dependable data collection, while others don’t collect as much data but are able to stay in orbit longer and collect it over longer periods of time. Usually, data is collected on the satellite itself and only shares the data when it makes contact with a ground station.
A large advantage of satellite imagery is that satellites can be automated to provide large amounts of data over large areas and don’t have to be manually operated.
Advantages of Drones Over Satellites
The primary advantage that drones have over satellites in Earth observation and gathering geolocated data is their ability to capture minute details of terrain and land features. Because satellites operate much farther away from the Earth’s surface than drones, the data recovered from them may be spread out over a much larger area than a drone can cover, but the details of that area are often not captured.
The images that satellites capture are at a much lower resolution than drone-captured images. This can be an advantage or a disadvantage depending on the task at hand. Because the images are typically much higher in resolution, it is more difficult and costly to store and use those images to make decisions. Satellites are built to store massive amounts of data until that data can be recovered and used, while drones capture data in real time, but don’t have the hard drives to store as much digital data as a satellite.
Drones can also use GPS to deliver more precise readings on specific areas. By capturing detailed images of small pieces of land, drones can be used to gather extremely detailed data. They are also much easier and cheaper to deploy, and can even be used as security devices for restricted areas.
Advantages of Satellites Over Drones
One distinct advantage of satellites over drones as data gathering devices is that satellites are essentially ‘set and forget’ autonomous machines that gather data continuously, rather than relying on a human operator. Obviously, launching a satellite is much more expensive than deploying a drone, but once the satellite is in orbit, it circles the Earth gathering data automatically. Because historic satellite imagery is widely available at little or no cost, data engineers can compare older images with new ones and create a data set of changes in large parcels of land (or ocean, as climatologists often use satellite data) over time.
Satellites are also not bound by any type of range of operability constraint. While drones have to be in the range of their human operator to fly and collect data, satellites are autonomous and above all physical impediments that might limit access to any area of the Earth.
Drones can also be limited in their data-gathering abilities by factors such as battery life, signal interference, and human error. Because satellites have no such restrictions, their data is often more consistent. While the cost of using satellites is higher than drones, those costs are plummeting as this technology becomes more available. Some hidden costs of using drones include no-fly zones and purchasing certain photos taken by drones for data purposes.
Extract Geolocated Data with Imageryst
Imageryst helps many types of businesses extract geolocated data automatically from all kinds of images. Imageryst takes raw data from drone imagery or satellite imagery and builds usable models with machine learning and Artificial Intelligence for Earth observation projects. Imageryst helps users find hidden data in their satellite data and drone pictures, so they can get the most out of their hard-earned data.