Drones, i.e. unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), are not welcome just anywhere.
Their reputation as stealth machines performing unwelcome activities tends to overshadow the good side of these robotic conveyances.
Norway is among the countries with relatively less stringent regulations regarding UAV flights.
It’s home base for a group of researchers using some exciting applications of varied cutting edge technology, including the drone.
The Virtual Outcrop Geology (VOG) research group, based in the Centre for Integrated Petroleum Research (CIPR) in Bergen, is drawing attention for its involvement in using an array of geospatial technologies – including laser scanning, image processing and the UAV – to create 3-D virtual models of outcrops of geologic formation.
The UAV technology can take on a significant role in acquiring needed data in inaccessible areas, which a drone often can reach much faster than a pricier helicopter
“The virtual models of the outcrops can be used by the geologists to gain a deeper understanding of geological features and their impact on subsurface reservoirs,” said Simon Buckley, CIPR senior researcher and project leader in the VOG group.
The VOG group was formed in 2004 with the goal to expand the quantitative application of outcrops in reservoirs.
“The main aim of the VOG technique is to obtain high resolution and accurate geometric information that can be used as a framework for interpretations,” he said.
“Ultimately, we don’t do exploration,” Buckley emphasized. “We help improve knowledge so that new and existing fields can be exploited to a higher potential.”
He noted that over the past 10 years the VOG has acquired considerable expertise using 3-D laser scanning to scan surfaces within a centimeter of accuracy.
“The main contribution is the high resolution and precision,” he noted. “This allows the geometry of geological features to be recorded and measured to an increasingly high degree, which can then be used for reservoir modeling, for example.
“In fact, a common use of the virtual outcrop model is to digitize key surfaces that are then exported to a reservoir modeling system and used to build geocellular models.
“Building geocellular models from outcrops creates a bridge between the subsurface and the outcrop analog,” Buckley emphasized. “The models provide an improved understanding of the stratigraphic architecture and can be used to simulate fluid flow in the analog.
“They also can provide a focal point for training and field trips,” he added.
Assets and Challenges
The specially designed, camera-equipped drone piloted by the research team features eight rotors displayed on spokes emanating from the central body. The accouterment measures only a few feet across and tips the scales at just a few pounds.
It affords a stable platform for the camera sensors, being easily and quickly guided into position over the target area while controlled by an operator nearby on the ground.
“UAVs are proliferating rapidly into many applications,” Buckley said. “We saw the advancements in both the platform technology and the processing methods had reached the point where we could adapt them into our existing workflows.
“Advantages of the UAV are that it provides optimum camera positions for taking images, is fast to use and is cost-effective in relation to lidar equipment,” he noted.
“Challenges are perhaps mostly related to logistics and operation,” he said. “User training is required, weather conditions must be suitable (<10m/s wind speed) and regulations must be taken into consideration.”