Interview with engineer Eric Ravijts on the added value of drones.

Did you happen to catch this crazy ramp at the World Championship snowboarding in Antwerp? It’s a creation by Eric Ravijts, business owner at Mapix, an engineering/surveying company in Belgium. Nowadays Eric is focusing on 3D-capturing events such as the Tomorrowland-stage in Boom with a drone. Already Impressed? Let’s talk to the man.

“Yeah, the Tomorrowland-project was fun to do”, Eric Ravijts says. “We enabled the organization of the world-famous festival to have a 3D-representation of the festival site. It’s quick, accurate, beautiful and functional. Because we can offer them a 3D-render of the festival grounds, the people over at Tomorrowland can design their stage in 3D before creating it in real life. As most people know, the stage at Tomorrowland is a real piece of art, and requires a lot of work. That’s why it’s so important that we can provide this service to them, and it’s all thanks to drones.”

“There are opportunities with drone technology, even with the current legal restrictions.”

The Tomorrowland-site is partially a Controlled Traffic Region, meaning you can’t just get a regular approval for drone-flying. It’s close to the Antwerp Airport, and pilots seeking to operate in the area should get special approval by the Belgian Mobility department. “And that’s where it gets expensive”, Ravijts says. “You have to be a class 1 pilot and be aware that you will have to pay around 200 euro just to be able to apply for an exception. And then you’re not even sure you will get the permission. But still, there are opportunities, even with the current restrictions.”

Eric Ravijts sometimes worries about competitiveness. “Legislation tends to make everything more expensive for certain drone operations. For a company like mine, it’s still okay. I’m not solely reliant on drones, but imagine this is your breadwinning. Something must be done about this. To be able to work with drones on a project like this festival, I don’t even need to fly at high altitudes. If I can go up to 25 meters, I can get the job done. I could be up in the air fast on any given moment, which adds flexibility to any task. But legislation is taking away these advantages of drones.”

“To be able to build the main stage in 3D offers a wide range of experimentation possibilities to the designers. Scaffolding, special constructions, everything can be tested in a virtual environment, which is great.”

Because Ravijts is a construction engineer and a certified surveyor, he can combine drone measurements with the deriving calculations. “I have to measure what kind of wind resistance the Tomorrowland constructions have. To be able to build the main stage in 3D offers a wide range of experimentation possibilities to the designers. Scaffolding, special constructions, everything can be tested in a virtual environment, which is great. You could do this without the use of a drone, but that would make this more expensive and more important, it would be more time consuming, which is something that isn’t always available.”

Another project Eric Ravijts is particularly proud of is the measurements of a gas pipeline: “I was asked to map out the welding seems of this line. This must be extremely accurate. A surveyor cannot go into the ditch where the pipeline is buried, so a drone can help with that. It’s much safer this way. I managed to map out the entire thing with less than a millimeter margin of error. And I did it with a drone.”

“Three years ago, I decided to consider drones. It was an up and coming technology and I heard it could revolutionize the business. Today, I still believe that to be true.”

Eric Ravijts’ company was founded by his father. He took over management about 8 years ago. “We were always focusing on construction and calculation of event related buildings. The more special the assignment, the more likely we would be able to do it. Not because we’re that much better than others, but mostly because we go on to find a solution where others throw in the towel. This is how we managed to get the Snowboard World Championship-job.”

“Three years ago, I decided to consider drones”, Ravijts tells us. “It was an up and coming technology and as surveying goes, I heard it could revolutionize the business. Today, I still believe that to be true.”

Ravijts is looking to make drone data gathering the pinnacle of measurement. “I asked myself a very important question”, he says. “What are the exact coordinates of every pixel in a drone captured image? I you know the answer to this question, all the data gathered by a drone is exact to the millimeter. You wouldn’t need checkpoints on the ground. It would be ideal to make measurements on places inaccessible from the ground. And I believe I have found a solution for this question. Currently I am working on this this with the help of the university KU Leuven.”

“The only thing that will drastically change is that pilots will not be a big part of the drone future. More and more flights will be automated, as soon as legislation allows it.”

“The future of drones looks bright”, Ravijts says. “Drones will continue to be an extraordinary tool because they’re easy to use, flexible to deploy and dirt-cheap compared to the alternatives. This technology will conquer the world, mark my words. The only thing that will drastically change is that pilots will not be a big part of the drone future. More and more flights will be automated, as soon as legislation allows it.”