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From Light Detection & Ranging To Unmanned Aircraft Imaging And Beyond

Remote services and aerial photogrammetry are changing the face of engineering and surveying as we know it. Traditionally, every task required several employees on-site, taking photos and measurements, making observations, and manually recording and reporting this data. Today, not only is it possible to send observations digitally, but in many cases, employees can remain at safe, remote locations while unmanned aerial systems (UAS) perform the close-up work.
In this article, we take a deeper look at LiDAR and its role in these types of surveying projects and how this technology works with aerial photogrammetry to create layers of vital imagery.  

LiDAR Explained

LiDAR stands for Light Detection and Ranging, and the use of LiDAR in surveying is often called LiDAR mapping, though in some academic circles, it's referred to as LADAR or laser altimetry. The overall concept is similar to radar in that signals “bounce” off objects to sense them. However, instead of using radio waves, LiDAR employs pulses of light. These light pulses and how they interact with the environment create incredibly accurate, detailed 3D representations of objects and landscapes, from the precise contours of a coastline to the structure of a bridge. 
LiDAR is classed as an "active system" sensing technology because the devices that collect data points also provide the required energy to do so. As LiDAR pulls its energy from the lightwaves it produces rather than relying on natural or ambient light, data can easily be collected at night, offering a tremendous advantage in terms of saving time and money. LiDAR images are often publicly available, allowing designers and architects to assess sites accurately as they create their own virtual models of buildings and infrastructure.

Aerial Photogrammetry

Aerial photogrammetry simply means figuring out the dimensions of objects or landscapes from above. Leveraging aerial technology such as drones creates a safe and innovative way to bring together coordinates, planimetric features, and graphic representations of potential engineering project sites. ES&S InnoSurv employs aerial drones to fly over physical environments and capture thousands of images, which are used to create precise 3D models that help architectural engineers, surveyors, and construction experts avoid unwelcome surprises later.

Tasks that Benefit from LiDAR and Aerial Photogrammetry

Most surveying and engineering projects can benefit from remote analysis, but some tasks are ideally suited to these specific technologies:

Community Management

Drones can take photos from all angles of buildings within a neighborhood to check details like roofing issues and utility lines. They can also access small or inaccessible spaces to provide data on potential maintenance requirements. This can help community planners work on infrastructure management, upgrades, or even projects such as constructing additional buildings on college campuses.
Detailed Data Collection
When a project needs a high volume of precise data, UAS can be the answer. If a busy road intersection requires maintenance or assessment for potential change, one of the drones can collect detailed, granular data from curb lines for the existence and position of power lines or light poles. Drones are also ideal for calculating the volume of earthworks at construction sites, allowing contractors to manage movement more efficiently.

Utility Management

Water pipes and wastewater systems, such as sewers, are often inaccessible or dangerous, unpleasant environments. Physically surveying these areas is no longer necessary with remote surveying via drone. LiDAR imaging can create such detailed images that engineers can accurately assess cracks, wear and tear, or the dimensions of an area to be used for new utilities without being physically present on-site. 

Key Advantages of UAS and LiDAR

Of course, the fewer employees you have to bring on-site, the easier it may be to manage costs and your bottom line. But there are several key advantages to remote surveying beyond the financial implications.


Drones can get into inaccessible spaces and survey areas that are too high or too deep, or that might put team members at risk of falling rocks or other hazards. Using a drone to assess the aforementioned busy intersection, for example, reduces the risk of injury or death by road traffic accident for dedicated employees.


UAS can collect and deliver data far faster than individual employees working manually. Drones cover extensive areas quickly, and they don’t need to take breaks. LiDAR imaging allows civil engineers to assess a site without visiting, reducing costs and travel time, speeding up the design process and allowing clearer communication with contractors.


UAS can continuously collect and store data for engineers to assess as needed. If more data is required, simply do another run with the drone. Engineers can work with one set of data while collecting a second, making projects run faster and more effectively.


Quickly integrate your site data with BIM modeling projects to create accurate, workable representations of the functional and physical characteristics of any site or existing building project. LiDAR helps provide multiple perspectives, which is ideal for long-term projects or creating multiple possible plans for a potential project site.

Final Thoughts

UAS provide many advantages for all kinds of engineering projects: LiDAR produces incredibly large cloud points of data that become detailed images, ideal for overlaying with BIM models to ensure that the design is suitable for the site. Aerial photogrammetry enables engineers to quickly capture large volumes of data, establishing a repository that becomes a vital resource they can refer back to again and again without booking multiple physical sites visits. 
ES&S InnoSurv brings exceptional expertise to any surveying project, quickly determining the appropriate technologies for each task and helping you execute those tasks efficiently and effectively. Consult Engineering Surveys & Services to learn more about finding a customized solution to your project needs.

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