How to Calculate Landfill Capacity with Drones
This landfill was on fire when Florida Aerial Survey Technologies surveyed it. We conducted a landfill capacity calculation survey on the dump without putting people in harms way.

How to Calculate Landfill Capacity with Drones

Drones can calculate landfill capacity

How does that work? We take a deeper look at landfill measurement and landfill capacity calculations.

Landfills have been measured for decades.The process of surveying landfills stems back to the 1930’s when the first modern landfill in Fresno. The concept of landfills goes back even further. Ancient Greeks used a crater in Athens to store trash. From inception of the modern landfill, measurement and analysis have been vital tools managers use to ensure safety and longevity of the dump. Surveys help the process of landfill capacity calculations. 

In recent years, a number of different technologies have been used to measure and monitor landfills. Technologies ranging from GPS receivers on loaders to aerial surveying from airplanes have been employed. Now, drone surveying technologies are set to replace these divergent technologies with a standard. 

Photo of a landfill capacity calculation survey from a drone

Drone surveying for measuring landfills

Drone surveying and mapping is going to be the go-to solution for virtually all landfills in the coming years. Drones have a unique ability to increase data resolution, increase safety on site, decrease turnaround time, and allow for more complete data sets. Drones can remotely measure areas that are hazardous. They can complete hundreds of acres of surveying in a day. Not only do they have these benefits, but drones manage to maintain survey grade tolerances as well. 

Drone surveying is better than the outgoing methods. Aerial surveying from manned aircraft has to be carried out on a cloudless day. A drone survey only needs a day without rain. A GPS laden loader can only access areas where the loader can drive. A drone can capture all contours, with a data resolution of over 20 points per cubic yard. A human operator cannot access hazardous areas. Using drones to survey significantly reduces risk around hazmat, fire, steep drops, and active machinery. Drone surveying is the clear choice for landfill capacity calculations and measuring usable remaining volume.

How does the process work?

Establishing a flight plan:

One of the first steps to starting a flight is planning. All smart pilots go into flights with a plan. An American Airlines pilot doesn’t just take off from Miami to go to London with a vague idea of how he is getting there. He knows the waypoints and IFR vectors he will fly. He knows how long it will take, how much fuel he will burn, what his take off weight is, how long his takeoff and landing roll is.

While flying drones doesn’t require quite that much preparation, a good plan can overcome many troubles in the field. It allows the pilot to focus on the hard stuff instead of wasting brain power dealing with small tasks like finding a suitable launch zone. 

We first look at the site and find where we would like to fly from. Ideally an accessible area that is out of the way, yet central so that we can maintain a visual on the drone throughout the flight.

We then look for areas to set ground control. This is a vital step we will cover next. Finally, we set our flight path, which dictates our flight time. Using this information, we can plan the number of batteries we will needed and come up with a power management protocol to ensure we have adequate battery to complete especially large missions. 

Setting Ground Control for accuracy.

As previously stated, ground control is a vital element of surveying. All tolerances and accuracies are interpolated from ground data. Using our model, we can check our modeled GCP locations against our known locations. This allows us to have a high degree of confidence in the data. Alternatively, it also allows us to see issues with the data before we deliver it. Often reprocessing with different parameters solves these inconsistencies.

Processing the Data into landfill volume measurements.

Finally, we get to the processing step. Depending on the method used, we use different post processing methodologies. We will talk in this article about Photogrammetry. LiDAR is the other technology that we will cover at a later date. 

With Photogrammetry, hundreds or even thousands of photos are used to triangulate common points. Using complex mathematics and algorithms, software not only creates a model, but also allows us to view reports on the statistical accuracies of our models. Furthermore, our company uses independent ground control to verify those reports. 

After getting our quality reports and the initial point clouds, we “clean” the point cloud. This process is largely manual. A survey CAD tech uses software to strip equipment, reflective surfaces, and noise from the model. Then the technician exports the point cloud to CAD and creates a surface that is used for the final survey deliverable. In this case that is a landfill capacity calculation. 

landfill capacity calculation and measurement using drones
A drone surveys a landfill for capacity calculation and measurement as the waste burns.

Looking to apply?

We have surveyed landfills and delivered capacity calculations for both landfills and stockpiles for clients stretching from Sint Maarten to Jacksonville, Florida. If your company needs landfill capacity calculations or stockpile and inventory reports, contact us below.

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