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senseFly’s Ebee Plus Helps Keep People Safe from Ice Hazards on Lake Winnipeg

BY Zacc Dukowitz
9 September 2020

Canadian company NextGen Environment Research Inc. has been using senseFly’s eBee Plus to track hazards on the ice at Lake Winnipeg.

Photo credit: senseFly

The project is part of the Canadian Space Agencies Earth Observation Applications Development Program (EODAP), whose overall goal is to increase awareness about the growing dangers of ice travel.

Historically, the ice on Lake Winnipeg is so thick that you could travel across it without any issues. But climate change has steadily reduced the level of ice on the lake, with studies projecting that the ice mass will melt significantly in the near future.

In addition to hazards posed due to ice melting, the ice can change dramatically in a short period of time, which also poses dangers to ice travel.

How NextGen Used the eBee Plus on Lake Winnipeg

Last spring, the NextGen team used visual data collected by the eBee Plus to create detailed maps of sections of Lake Winnipeg, helping them to monitor:

  • The level of the ice. As climate change reduces the overall mass of ice it becomes weaker, and, at a certain level, it can no longer support ice travel.
  • Cracks in the ice. These can be covered by snow and present serious hazards to ice travel.
  • Pressure ridges in the ice. These ridges are formed when the ice is melting. They can stand almost ten feet off the surface of the lake and extend in length by over 300 feet. Ridges can expose open water, and the combination they present of being an obstacle and creating openings in the ice makes them a major hazard for ice travel.

Without a drone, NextGen surveyors would have had to map the area using traditional methods, facing the dangers of hidden openings in the ice created by pressure ridges and other hazards that come with walking on open ice.

Photo credit: senseFly

The eBee Plus was particularly well suited for Next Gen’s work on Lake Winnipeg because it can cover large areas (more so than other drones with similar weights, according to senseFly). It was also made to withstand extreme weather—temperatures on the lake could shift dramatically, ranging from -4 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit within the three-month period of the project.

And it’s also one of the best mapping drones on the market, which certainly didn’t hurt.

[Related reading: A Beginner’s Guide to Drone Mapping Software]

Starting in late February, NextGen team members used the eBee Plus every week to perform a full topographic survey of two sites located in the South basin of the lake, covering a total area of about half a mile by half a mile.

The data collected with the eBee Plus was then combined with data from 14 satellite overpasses to create a comprehensive overview of the status of the ice on the lake.

The ice conditions of Lake Winnipeg during early spring are extremely challenging. We were confident that the senseFly eBee Plus would be reliable enough for us to fly over the lake at a safe distance from the hazardous ridges—even once the ice had begun to decay and move and we had to work from shore. Having this level of dependability on such a large scale was crucial for our operations.

– Dr. Paul M. Cooley, Founder and President at NextGen Environment Research

NextGen’s work continued throughout the spring, ending in early May.

In the end, 14 surveys were completed, allowing the team to make digital elevation models that satisfied the level of detail needed to identify ice hazards and help keep people safe.

Drone Mapping Mission Details

Before each flight on Lake Winnipeg, NextGen used senseFly’s eMotion management software to assess wind speed and plan flight paths.

In order to conduct these flights, NextGen had to secure approval from Transport Canada, which required the missions to be conducted within the line of visual site and supported by a Visual Observer.

The eBee Plus Drone - Aerial Efficiency, Photogrammetric Accuracy

Across the 14 missions conducted the eBee Plus captured hundreds of images. These images were then processed using Pix4DMapper and turned into detailed digital surface models, which showed the location of ice hazards.

The eBee Plus also served as a good reconnaissance tool for the project, highlighting areas where more visual information was needed so that the satellites could focus on specific places when they were sent over to collect additional data.

[Related reading: Drones for Good—Inspiring Examples of Drones Doing Good around the Globe]

The maps created with data from the satellites and the eBee Plus allowed the NextGen team to identify the exact location of pressure ridges on the ice, and to monitor other changes in the ice’s structure over time.

The end result of all this mapping was the creation of safe routes across the ice, resulting in fewer accidents and safer ice travel overall.

Know of other drone mapping projects that are helping keep people safe? Chime in on this thread in the UAV Coach community forum.

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