RTK stands for Real-Time Kinematic. A real-time kinematic system calculates its position by comparing the distance from several stationary satellites to its own location. It’s considered “real-time” as it takes measurements almost instantly (within) – whereas traditional GPS systems take longer to calculate your position.
What does this mean for you?
As a drone pilot, running a real-time kinematic system will increase the accuracy of the GPS data gathered while looking for photo opportunities or surveying land. A low-cost RTK extra is available here.
Flying drones in built-up areas comes with its own set of challenges when it comes to getting accurate information. If I fly my standard kit consisting of an Android device attached to my transmitter using ‘DroidPlanner’ then I get accurate results, but because there are buildings around I can’t really get an aerial shot without having something that is RTK enabled. So if I was filming a family event and wanted all the family in one shot I would either have to get lucky and manage it or get my RTK drone in the air. A lot of planning goes into taking aerial footage for events such as weddings, which is why having the ability to accurately gather GPS data is important.
Pros and cons of using RTK drones
Real-time kinematic systems do come with their own brand of issues. The first is that it can be extremely expensive. If you want to gather the best information possible then investing in an RTK drone could cost you upwards of £6000 (depending on how many drones, receivers and other accessories). The other problem is that if your area doesn’t have a lot of buildings or anything obstructing it then standard GPS systems may still work just as well at gathering data.
Gathers very accurate information Can gather data over large areas within seconds Takes professional shot precautions Cons: Expensive Need open skies Not always necessary for smaller areas
It’s also worth noting that not everyone has the time to set up RTK. It takes time to set up the drones, receivers and plans your course – this can be very frustrating if you want quick results for what you are doing.
What about the future of RTK drones?
Currently, to get accurate data with a drone you have to invest in an expensive kit that will only gather information from specific areas which are unobstructed by buildings or trees. If real-time kinematic systems were more accessible then businesses may not have to fork out so much money into drone equipment. This is where university technology comes in. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln has created an RTK ready UAV system called ‘BEEcontrolled’ . The BEEcontrolled uses ionospheric tomography (IRT), which uses a specific signal to calculate distance. This means acquiring accurate information is much cheaper when compared with traditional RTK drones.
In the future, I believe that we will start to see more of these affordable systems come onto the market because it will become increasingly important for businesses to access quick results without having to spend thousands on their equipment. As technology becomes more advanced and receivers get smaller then perhaps prices will reduce even further making this type of data gathering system accessible to all.