Meet the Team - Chief Remote Pilot Marty Rocks

 Meet Marty Rocks, Associate GIS Analyst and Chief Remote Pilot

Introducing Marty Rocks, Associate GIS Analyst and Chief Remote Pilot at EMM, whose expertise in remote piloted aircrafts (RPAs) and aerial surveying unveils the intersection of cutting-edge technology and environmental stewardship. Marty shares his journey into the world of drone technology, highlighting the evolving landscape of sensors, software, and applications driving innovation. From the seamless integration of spatial technology with drone operations to the meticulous adherence to safety regulations set forth by governing bodies like CASA, Marty provides a glimpse into the intricate processes that underpin EMM's commitment to excellence in aerial data collection and analysis.

What inspired you to become involved in drone technology and aerial surveying?

Having a spatial and GIS background, I’ve been watching the development of drone technology over the years with great interest. Whilst most recreational users would see the potential for videography and photography (or just playing with cool new toys), I was excited primarily at the prospect of being able to use drones for aerial mapping and creation of orthomosaics.


Even only a few years ago, there was no such thing as ‘affordable’ multispectral or LiDAR sensors (unless you were a large survey company) but with the development and increasing affordability of more and more complex sensors (multi/hyperspectral, LiDAR, thermal, air quality, noise, geomagnetics) as well as more sophisticated drone hardware and processing software, we can now capture not only RGB aerial imagery, but a multitude of other useful datalayers as well - such as landform topography, vegetation coverage and density, ground temperature, air quality, noise and more.


With increasingly complex software, we’re able to further process, interrogate, and analyse the data that we do capture, and glean new insights as to what’s actually happening on or under the ground in the areas that we survey.


What keeps me inspired is the continuing development of drone technology, sensors, and the seeking out of new use cases and applications for the technology. There are so many different applications of drone technology – particularly in the environmental sector, and the wide range of expertise within the various EMM tech teams allows us to be on the leading edge of that technology – employing it in a myriad of ways – from digital twin creation for heritage teams; fauna surveying or vegetation health assessments for our ecologists; generating DEMs and identifying areas of standing water for our water teams; to airborne air quality monitoring and noise assessments for our air quality and acoustics teams.


With the ongoing advancement of ancillary technology (AI and Machine Learning – enabling automated flights or live identification of vegetation species), its hard not to stay inspired!


What role does spatial technology play in your work, and how does it complement the use of drones?

I’m currently part of the Spatial Solutions team at EMM - spatial technology is my day to day! For me, GIS tech and drone tech have always had the potential to be interlinked – much of the data that drones capture is inherently spatial, and having the tools and the knowledge to not only process the data that we capture but also interrogate it and divine insights or learnings that previously may have been difficult to come by is a real validation of the intersecting of the two (increasingly overlapping) technologies.

Having that background in GIS (which at times can be tantamount to feeling like an honourary IT person) engenders a ‘troubleshooting and fixing problems’ way of thinking, as well as requiring an ability to keep calm, assess, and do what you can to help fix things when they fall over - which is invaluable when things go wrong in the field with drones. That mentality allows us to pivot quickly and develop or find new solutions on the fly (pun intended) when things don’t go according to plan. To my mind, the Venn diagram of spatial technology and drone technology is fast becoming a circle.

How do you ensure compliance with regulations and safety standards while operating drones for surveying purposes?

CASA (Civil Aviation Safety Authority) is the governing body for all aerial activity within Australia, and to operate the types of drones that EMM have, we’re required to hold a ReOC (Remote Operators Certificate) which can only be granted by CASA after an extensive training and assessment period.

We are wholly compliant with CASA regulations as well as relevant Federal Legislation and are fully insured to carry out RPA operations with our growing fleet of enterprise-grade drones which include a DJI Mavic 3T (Thermal), Mavic 3M (Multispectral), and a Matrice 350 RTK.

To ensure that we remain compliant, all of our pilots are RePL (Remote Pilot License) certified, and have undergone internal induction and field training to ensure they’re across their own responsibilities as RPA pilots. These responsibilities include not flying close to people or animals, not flying in restricted areas or airspace, and/ or obtaining the required approvals from CASA or other stakeholder in order to fly specific areas or operation types.

A detailed risk and safety assessment is conducted before each and every flight that we carry out, and all of our RPA’s are maintained to the highest standard to ensure airworthiness and serviceability. We also have certain reporting obligations to CASA, and are required to keep records of flights, authorisations, pilots, training, incidents, and our drone assets for up to 7 years.

The drones themselves collect telemetry data as they fly, and the chief pilot is alerted should the remote pilot breach any conditions that are outlined prior to flight (such as flying outside the agreed area, flying above a certain height, or flying at the incorrect time.)

A typical workflow of a drone operation includes defining the area to be flown, carrying out a desktop survey of the area prior to any field work, completion of a risk and job safety assessment, close coordination with the project management and other field teams to ensure that other staff and stakeholders are aware of upcoming drone activity, and a safety briefing to any crew or observers on the day of flight. All of this is to ensure that our operations are flown with the utmost regard to the safety and wellbeing of our drone pilot, ground crew, and any observers.

As well as CASA regulations, there are also other regulations that we consider before and during flights, such as local council regulations, national parks guidelines, and environmental protection regulations – particularly when there’s a chance of flying near any endangered species or protected habitats.

Lastly, our drone pilot crew are all trained in, and familiar with, EMM’s own safety policies and procedures and documentation.  


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Marty Rocks

Associate GIS Analyst and Chief Remote Pilot