6 Reasons Your Drone Needs RTK

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Chris Dima
Chris Dima

It may seem like drones are relatively new technology, but believe it or not, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have been in use in some shape or form for about 100 years. However, there’s no denying that drones are now more easily accessible for organizations and individuals alike to use for a wide variety of applications. Today, UAVs are quickly becoming a standard method of capturing critical geospatial information, and are increasingly even used for recreational activities. 

Some of the top applications for drones include mapping, surveying, surveillance, farming, and photography. While these use cases all have unique goals and workflows, they tend to share one common objective: reality determination. UAVs are particularly helpful for this as they can not only capture imagery, but also the imagery’s precise location. Drone operators can then use this positioning data to georeference the image onto the Earth’s surface, transforming the imagery captured into actionable data for their particular use case.

Correcting drone positioning inaccuracies with RTK

Despite the rise in popularity of drones and the rapid evolution of geospatial technology, achieving high-precision positioning information is not always easy. UAV positioning is typically derived using GNSS, with accuracy that can be impacted by a host of different factors. Correcting these GNSS signal inaccuracies is crucial for drone operators to ensure the information they are collecting is usable, but often complex.

Real-time kinematic positioning (RTK) is one method of correcting the GNSS signal inaccuracies of a drone. RTK corrections are essentially derived by calculating the positional discrepancy between a nearby base station and the drone, and result in centimeter-level accuracy positioning. This high-precision positioning not only makes the data captured by the drone more productive, it also unlocks further potential for new and innovative use cases.

Luckily, RTK networks like Point One Polaris mean UAV operators can harness the power of high-precision signal corrections without having to put in the legwork of setting up a base station or performing complicated calculations themselves. Instead, they can focus on flying their drones and collecting the data they need – at the precision required – for their specific goal.

Top 6 reasons why your drone needs RTK

 Not convinced? Here are our top 6 reasons for RTK-enabling your drone.


1. Eliminate the need to set up your own GCPs

Many drone operators still set up their own ground control points (GCPs) or base stations with known locations so they can later rectify data collected in-flight for more accurate positioning. By leveraging a modern RTK network like Polaris, you can simply fly your drone and achieve centimeter-level accuracy by accessing over 1,440 global base stations – all without having to set up your own GCP. With RTK, you can spend more time collecting and using the data you need, and less time preparing to capture it.


2. Drastically reduce post-processing time

Similarly, RTK reduces the amount of time processing data post-flight. Any photogrammetry, LIDAR frame matching, or mapping requires post-processing work on a computer to accurately georeference the data collected and make it usable. RTK corrections drastically decrease this effort by providing high-precision positioning from the start. For example, a recent case study found that RTK-enabled drones reduce post-processing time by 90%.


3. Simplify path planning & navigation workflows

RTK also makes it easy to plan and set up your drone’s flight path. As you prepare to capture data with a UAV, you no longer need to spend time surveying and setting up GCPs to ensure your drone stays on track. RTK enables your drone to accurately navigate in the real world based on the x, y, and z dimensions of your pre-programmed flight path by correcting any GNSS signal inaccuracies in real-time. Plus, you won’t need to post-process GCP locations.


4. Confidently avoid collisions

In an increasingly crowded airspace, it’s important to detect and avoid collisions with objects. Whether you’re operating an entire drone fleet or simply trying to avoid a crash, RTK provides the high-precision positioning needed to understand where your UAV is relative to potential obstacles. Well-functioning RTK integrated with path-planning tools prevents collisions before they happen – read more easily integrating real-time RTK with Point One’s new GraphQL API.


5. Achieve unprecedented observability in your flight history

No technical solution is perfect, and while RTK is a game-changer for producing high-precision results, it can also help operators figure out where any remaining inaccuracies are coming from. Properly diagnosing problems that occur in-flight requires observability into flight history, including timestamped locations. For instance, the GraphQL API makes it possible to send one simple HTTPS request and receive plain, well-formed JSON data in return for any RTK-enabled device, providing an unprecedented level of observability for drone operators.


6. Expand the use of your UAV


All of the time saved and new insights into your drone that RTK delivers mean that you can now explore new and innovative ways to apply UAV-captured data. Every day, new use cases for drones are introduced, and RTK will continue to play an essential role in ensuring high-precision positioning in these expanded applications. RTK currently powers the foundational positioning data behind precision agriculture, volumetric measurement, inspection, and a host of other location-based use cases.


So there you have it – there’s a lot of upside to using RTK for your drone, but not all RTK networks are the same. Get in touch with the Point One team to learn more about the unmatched coverage, accuracy, and accessibility of the Polaris network, and how you can enhance your drone projects with precise positioning.

Chris Dima
Chris Dima

Chris is Point One Navigation’s Director of Growth, focused on expanding the customer base into new markets. He has over 20 years of experience in product strategy, marketing, and sales in enterprise software, financial services, and robotics/automation.

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