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Debunking Myths about Drone Technology in Surveying and Engineering Applications

The use of drone technology in surveying and civil engineering is increasing all the time. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, more than 300,000 commercial or industrial drones are registered in the United States. Many of those will be used by construction companies, property developers, or civil engineers who need to get the lay of the land before they break ground. You may hear drones talked about in terms of UAVs or UAS, acronyms that mean unmanned aerial vehicles and systems, respectively.  

One of the reasons engineers and architects don’t universally use drones is because of the misinformation surrounding these innovative tools. We’ve picked out five myths about drone technology in surveying and engineering and debunked them to keep you in the know.

Myth 1: Drones Are Only for Large-Scale Engineering Projects

Drones are highly versatile and ideal for a range of small to medium-size projects. Smaller property developers and engineering teams are wisely taking advantage of advanced technologies like UAS, carefully plotting out even the smallest sites with aerial photogrammetry and collecting vital data about site conditions. Remote control allows drone pilots to take UAVs into small spaces or under leaf cover, reaching areas that are difficult to navigate on foot and gathering data that can be used to build models or for site evaluation and eventual selection.

Aerial vehicles are also ideal for inspecting faults on rooftops, traffic lights at busy intersections, and under or high up on bridges, dams, and other hazardous or hard-to-reach areas. Civil engineering UAS are certainly not just for the largest organizations, as many of the smaller and more innovative surveying or engineering teams are now discovering.

Myth 2: Drone Technology Is Too Expensive for Surveying and Engineering Purposes

Another barrier to embracing this technology is the concern about cost. As construction materials become more expensive and logistics become trickier due to personnel shortages and supply chain issues, keeping project overheads low may be a top priority. Therefore, investing in new technologies can be daunting when considering your project budget. Engineering Surveys & Services (ES&S) can advise you on whether drone technology is appropriate for your project, how much it will cost, and how to fit the tech into your existing budget. It’s worth noting that drones can actually cut costs by:

  • Reducing the need for multiple in-person site visits.
  • Discovering potential issues before beginning on-site work.
  • Preventing delays by delivering accurate topographical data to support architects and designers.
  • Increasing on-site safety and supporting the well-being of your workforce by remotely assessing hazardous areas.
  • Collecting and storing large volumes of data digitally in secure servers and point clouds so designers and architects can access it as and when they need it. 

Using UAS in your surveying and engineering projects can actually drastically reduce your overheads, facilitate safety, and help you maintain regulatory compliance as well. 

Myth 3: Drones Can’t Collect Enough Data for Effective Surveying

Drones can be so small that it might seem like they wouldn’t be able to collect enough data to create the vast topographical maps and 3D models required for engineering projects. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Cameras and storage devices for drones may be compact and light, but they can capture and retain many gigabytes of data. The fact that many drones can connect wirelessly to the cloud to transfer the images they take makes UAVs a fantastic tool for collecting precisely the right amount of data for your project. 

Myth 4: The Only Benefit Is Speed

Aerial photogrammetry is a fast way to take numerous photos, often to create detailed topographical maps. Drones are also used to get into small, tight areas quicker than a team member on the ground could set up an alternative solution, such as a small, wire-mounted movable camera. Speed and efficiency are clearly great selling points when talking about this kind of technology for engineering projects. But they’re not the only benefits.

As we’ve already discussed, drones can cut costs, reducing the number of on-site trips you need to make. Less back-and-forth traffic has the added benefit of making your project better for the environment, which makes the world a better place and helps ensure your organization or team is hitting corporate social responsibility targets when applicable. Other ecological benefits include being able to check a potential site for protected wildlife or plants so you can plan around them accordingly. This technology supports a more sustainable approach to surveying and civil engineering.

Myth 5: They Fix All Surveying Problems

We’ve extolled the benefits of drone technology for surveying and engineering, but that doesn’t mean that drones are all you need. Intelligent civil engineering and construction teams use a variety of technologies, from traditional methods to the latest digital innovations. Drones need humans to control them and validate the accuracy of the information, using the data gathered appropriately in conjunction with related software and other pieces of equipment. The resulting 3D maps of sites can be used to control on-site machines, carefully planning out how much earth needs to be dug away or brought to the site.

It takes an expert team to extrapolate the correct data from your drones to make this information as impactful as possible for your projects. You need partners like ES&S that advise you on what technologies and techniques you should be leveraging for the best success of your current and future projects. For more information on drones for surveying and engineering ventures, contact a member of the team at Engineering Surveys & Services.

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