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  • Writer's pictureExtreme Aerial

Everything You Need to Know: Fixed-Wing vs. Multirotor Drone for LiDAR

3D model of LiDAR scan with a multirotor drone

LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) has changed how we gather geospatial data, letting us map terrain, vegetation and structures with incredible precision. And, when it comes to picking the right drone for the job—whether it's the fixed-wing or multirotor—understanding their differences and knowing when to use each can make a big difference in the resulting data.

Let’s explore how the design and functionality of fixed-wing and multirotor drones impact the quality, coverage and operational efficiency of LiDAR data. We will look at everything from flight patterns to environmental factors, and how these two types of drones compare.

The Basics of LiDAR Technology

LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) technology involves the use of laser beams to measure distances and create detailed, three-dimensional maps of the terrain or objects below. A drone equipped with LiDAR typically carries a laser scanner that emits laser pulses towards the ground. These pulses bounce back after hitting objects or surfaces, and the LiDAR sensor measures the time it takes for the light to return. By calculating the distance based on the speed of light, the drone can generate precise elevation data points. These data points collectively form a point cloud, representing the topography of the surveyed area.  You can learn more about the pros and cons of LiDAR technology here.

Now that we understand the basics of LiDAR, let's examine the core aspects affecting decision-making when planning a surveying job.

Flight Altitudes and Point Density:

Flying a drone at higher altitudes during LiDAR data collection can result in a decrease in the number of data points captured per unit area. This reduction in point density is attributed to the increased distance between the LiDAR sensor and the ground, impacting the overall data resolution.

Fixed-wing vs Multrotor:

Fixed-wing drones have an edge when flying higher thanks to their sleek design and longer flight time. They cover more ground efficiently in a single flight, making data collection a breeze. However, as they climb in altitude, there's a catch – the point density decreases because the LiDAR sensor gets farther from the ground. On the flip side, multirotor drones, with their nimble moves and hovering ability, maintain a steady point density at lower altitudes. 

Wind Conditions and Data Collection:

Understanding and accounting for wind conditions is crucial during LiDAR data collection. Strong winds at higher altitudes may affect the drone's stability, potentially compromising the accuracy of LiDAR data collection. Adjustments in flight speed and patterns may be necessary to compensate for wind effects and ensure reliable data capture.

Fixed-wing vs Multrotor:

Fixed-wing drones often encounter challenges when faced with fluctuating wind speeds and directions. The forward momentum of fixed-wing drones makes them susceptible to the impact of winds, affecting flight lines and overlap which compromises data quality. On the contrary, multirotor drones are resilient in changing wind conditions. Their ability to maintain a consistent ground speed, regardless of the wind, ensures stable and reliable data collection. 

Flight Speed and Data Consistency:

Changes in drone flight speeds can have a notable impact on the reliability of LiDAR data. Slower flight speeds can lead to denser point clouds, as the LiDAR sensor captures more data points over a given area during longer flight times. Maintaining a consistent speed is crucial for reliable LiDAR mapping results, as faster speeds may result in data gaps and lower point density.

Fixed-wing vs Multrotor:

Fixed-wing drones can quickly cover large areas thanks to their sleek design. However, their challenge lies in maintaining a consistent data density; as higher speeds can lead to data gaps and decreased accuracy. On the flip side, multirotor drones, with their agile movements and ability to hover, take a more controlled approach. This agility allows them to keep a steady data density, making them a reliable choice for LiDAR mapping tasks. 

Terrain Following and Data Consistency:

Terrain following involves adjusting the drone’s altitude in real-time to mimic the terrain contours, ascending and descending to maintain the optimal height above the ground. This feature ensures the drone maintains a steady altitude Above Ground Level (AGL), enhancing data consistency and ensuring a more accurate landscape representation. 

Fixed-wing vs Multrotor:

Terrain following is a critical aspect where the capabilities of fixed-wing and multirotor drones become noticeable. Fixed-wing drones, known for their capability to cover vast areas, may face challenges in maintaining constant AGL over varying terrains. Navigating uneven landscapes poses difficulties that can lead to uneven point cloud distribution and impact the precision of LiDAR data. In contrast, multirotor drones show greater adaptability. Their vertical takeoff and landing abilities, coupled with agile maneuverability, enable precise adjustments to the drone's altitude based on the topography. This flexibility ensures that multirotor drones easily navigate elevation changes, providing a more accurate and even point cloud distribution.

Effective Flight Patterns:

Drones can apply various flight patterns for optimal surveying results. Using grid patterns, it systematically crisscrosses the survey area in a back-and-forth manner, ensuring broad coverage and a more uniform dataset with better point distribution. Zigzag patterns, on the other hand, involve the drone navigating along alternating diagonal paths, capturing data from diverse perspectives and increasing the dataset. This approach is particularly useful for addressing point density issues and enhancing mapping accuracy. Additionally, lawnmower patterns, similar to grid patterns, involve flying parallel lines, but the drone covers adjacent strips in alternating directions. This method proves effective for large-scale surveys, promoting efficient and organized data collection.

Fixed-wing vs Multrotor:

Fixed-wing drones and Multirotor LiDAR drones take different approaches to flight patterns. Picture Fixed-Wing drones as marathon runners, sticking to organized, straight routes to cover large areas efficiently. However, they face challenges in sudden changes of direction due to their aerodynamic design, which relies on forward motion for stability.

Multirotor LiDAR drones on the other hand are agile and able to hover, fly low, and adapt to changing surroundings. They're like aerial acrobats, adjusting their flight plans in real-time, navigating around obstacles, and hovering for close-up, detailed shots. 

Fixed-Wing vs Multirotor Drones

So how do these two drone models really stack up? Let’s review the pros and cons of each…

Fixed-wing drone

Fixed-Wing Pros:

  • Efficient for large-scale mapping

  • Extended flight times

  • High ground speed in optimal conditions

Fixed-Wing Cons:

  • Limited adaptability to complex terrains

  • Challenges in obstacle avoidance

Multirotor drone

Multirotor Pros:

  • Versatile flight patterns

  • Precise terrain following

  • Excellent obstacle avoidance

Multirotor Cons:

  • Shorter flight times

  • Reduced ground speed in adverse weather

In the dynamic field of LiDAR mapping, the choice between fixed-wing and multirotor drones depends on project requirements, environmental factors, and desired outcomes. Understanding the impact of design and functionality on data quality, coverage, and operational efficiency is central to making informed decisions. As technology continues to evolve, solutions like those introduced by Wingtra pave the way for more integrated and efficient LiDAR data collection methods, pushing the boundaries of what is possible in precision mapping.

Want more? Check out our blog on 17 Applications of the Hovermap LiDAR System.

Does your next project require LiDAR mapping? We would love to help out.

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