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Drones in Highway Engineering: Why the hype?

In the past, before a civil engineering project could begin, the land where the project would be taking place needed to be surveyed. Accurate dimensions, topographical information and general site data had to be gathered. This usually meant using old-school surveying tools such as chains, tape measures, compasses, levels and transits.

Once the actual site data was gathered, the design phase of the project could begin. Depending on the size of a project or obstacles encountered at the site, this process could take a long time.

Reality Capture is the new buzzword used to describe this process – capturing the “real” conditions of a job site. Reality Capture was advanced in the late 90s by the advent of 3D scanners that used lasers or photogrammetry to capture accurate site data. While this was a big leap, there were still limitations. 3D scanners are tripod mounted and need to be placed in several locations around the site to ensure data can be collected from every angle due to obstructions that limit the scanners’ vision.

Enter the world of drones. Drones have had a huge impact on civil engineering. Drones can fly and hover around and above job sites. Their height and cameras can be adjusted remotely by the operator. The can also be equipped with a myriad of sensors to transmit site data. Drones in civil engineering means quick, accurate and real-time access to data like:

  • Jobsite Reports: Digital, real-time reports of site data and conditions from aerial surveys
  • Volume Measurement: Calculate cut-fill volume of any required earthwork
  • Jobsite Progress Tracking: Track daily progress and productivity. Create precision 3D maps of jobsites
  • Contour Line Maps: Measure the elevation and shape of jobsite terrain
  • Build-out Monitoring: Schedule and budget management by comparing plans to progress
  • Earthwork Monitoring: Survey jobsites to check embankment slopes, area size and cut-and-fill volumes
  • Security and Monitoring: Monitor jobsites with aerial surveys of equipment and materials
  • Thermal Inspections: Detect and identify anomalies hidden beneath surfaces
  • Facility Management: Manage assets, keep projects on track, and streamline collaboration on site data and project progress

Drones in civil engineering can add value to every phase of a project. From the surveying phase, to the design phase, into the construction phase and all the way through completion of the project and as-built phase. The ability for project stakeholders to have accurate, real-time project data throughout all project phases means that collaboration is more efficient, which helps identify and mitigate obstacles as they arise, saving time and money.

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