3DroneMapping has been testing a PPK system for the past year. The point of PPK (or Post Processing Kinematic) is not just to improve internal photogrammetric model orientations, but also is general recognised as a way of undertaking full-scale surveys at the same accuracy but without having to place time-consuming ground control points. 3DroneMapping setup a calibration site to test the claims made by manufacturers and ultimately for our own quality assurance that what we publish is indeed right the first and only time.
Ground control points traditionally have become a sore topic with RPAS aerial surveyors as they take time to construct, survey and verify. These points are needed in a much greater density than tradition aerial survey methods, due to the non metric cameras often used in RPAS. Locations where the terrain changes rapidly, homogenous surfaces, and densely vegetated areas all require a higher density of control points to assist the photogrammetric software to locate accurate ties points and stop the model from deviating. Undertaking a photogrammetric survey without control, can lead to disastrous results.
There are a number of issues with placing and surveying control points. The obvious one being that another piece of survey equipment is needed to accurately record the positions. This comes at a great cost as survey grade GPS systems can run into tens of thousands of dollars. Then the areas for the control need to be identified. These areas are often located at the fringes of the site to be surveyed as well as in the center. This means that the site needs to be traversed (often on foot) to place marks and survey them. In some cases it can take a few days to complete the marking for fairly small sites due to the terrain, vegetation. Control points are also not permanent. They often go missing due to weather, theft for vandalism and cause problem for the surveyor back in the office when the surveyed points are not visible on the imagery.
Another problem with using control only for surveys using low-level photogrammetry is that the consumer grade cameras used are not metric and are prone to distortion. While control can eliminate this to an extent, it is the areas between the control points that often are forced to fit alignment. This can lead to errors especially regarding heights.
PPK is setup to have an accurate onboard GPS system that records a high frequency measurement tracklog of an RPAS flight. The system notes every time the camera takes an image and logs it. Another GPS is setup on the ground to record satellite information during the flight. Using some Post Processing software, the relative satellite positions between the devices can be compared and reduced. The results are very accurate coordinates for each image captured.
The photogrammetric model generated from using PPK enhanced images gives a much more consistent and accurate rendering of the terrain. Tie points have a much greater certainty of intersection, speeding up the matching processes. This reduction in uncertainty means fewer resources are required, leaving an opportunity to increase the density of other processes like point cloud generation, geometrically verified matching, etc.
Trials for PPK testing began 3 weeks ago with a test calibration site. Over 200 tradition ground control points were surveyed over a 780ha site, some of which were placed in very challenging positions that like close to tall structures, under power lines, close to dense vegetation and visibly homogeneous surfaces. The site was flown over a 3 week period with a number of flights to determine the optimum settings and processing requirements. At the end, the most consistent and repeatable results were chosen for the optimised settings for our company and RPAS setup.