Nacogdoches company improves drone usage in wooded areas

Nacogdoches company improves drone usage in wooded areas
Published: Feb. 10, 2022 at 3:41 PM CST
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NACOGDOCHES, Texas (KTRE) - Drone photography for collecting survey-grade data is remarkable, except when it comes to dense forests like we have in Deep East Texas and other parts of the nation.

However, there’s always a way around a problem.

A Nacogdoches drone exploration company has a view beyond the trees like none other.

Hydrex Environmental Drone Division general manager Clayton Collier equips the 25-year-old company with the best high-resolution cameras, but he recognizes their limitations.

“Especially here in East Texas with all our woods. West Texas is great for photogrammetry,” Collier said. “East Texas, if it’s wooded, really need to be flying LiDAR.”

LiDAR is Light Detection and Ranging, and it is the newest data collector in the Hydrex toolbox for GIS and Drone Division coordinator John Chapman.

“So, with LiDAR, we have laser pulses that gives us returns from underneath vegetation canopy that we can’t see,” Chapman explained.

Airplanes have transported the sensors for two decades. Large drones, capable of hauling the extra weight, allow LiDAR to scan through the trees with pin-point precision.

“It’s just become more economical and efficient to use drones to fly LiDAR sensors,” Collier said.

From the field, scans are relayed to the Hydrex Drone Division, a corporate neighbor to Stephen F. Austin State University’s Geospatial Science program. Graduates are often hired by the company.

The GIS team produces 3D models illustrating the topography above and below the trees. The focus is on erosion.

“So, we can see underneath where that ravine is despite all this vegetation on top,” Chapman said in front of a monitor image of a deep-green forest that traveled into a deep underground ravine.

The information is valuable in project planning and site design before the first shovel of dirt is turned. Hydrex clients include developers and entities developing landfills.

“We’ve been flying landfills in Mississippi and wooded sites around East Texas and Houston area for development,” Collier said.

The customer base can only expand because no tree can stand in the way.

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