Drones Changing The Game For Topographic Surveying

Nov 06, 2017

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Drone technology is becoming a common element in any surveyor or site manager’s day-to-day toolkit. This is ushering in a new era in topographic surveying—enabling the capture of detailed site maps, including ground contours and existing features of the earth’s surface, at a fraction of the time and cost of traditional methods.

Easy and legal: drone surveying is now within everyone’s reach

In countries around the world, government regulators are making it easier and easier to get certified to fly drones on worksites. This fact, combined with the availability of increasingly affordable and easy-to-operate commercial-grade drones means sites can now complete a topo survey in less than an hour, and have the processed data in their hands, ready for analysis, within 24 hours.

Drone data is already being used in many land development projects, from the early stages of planning and designing land subdivisions, through to pre-construction assessments, progress tracking and final ‘as-built’ surveying.

Civil contractors are among the earliest adopters of drone technology, and they admit that drone-captured data—used in combination with ground control systems like AeroPoints and cloud processing software like Propeller—has given them a quicker, easier and safer way to produce digital terrain models and aerial sitemaps than the methods they used before.

Calculating the return on investment

Using conventional GPS and Total Station surveys, it can still take a lot of time to cover even a small site—and then there’s the office time to process data into final linework and surfaces which adds even more time to the project timeline.

When you add this to the fact that conventional surveying costs around $125/h, it’s clear that traditional methods just aren’t feasible for regular coverage of large sites.

Using drones in conjunction with cloud processing software like Propeller is empowering site personnel to carry out accurate estimations, track progress, and make important decisions based on timely, reliable data. This can save a major civil construction project literally millions of dollars.

Better insights from rich, visual datasets

Unlike traditional topographic survey data—which is basically a set of linework—drone survey deliverables include an orthophoto, a contour map, a digital terrain model and dense point-clouds. The result is a highly accurate and richly visual dataset, ready for analysis.

conventional topographic surveying deliverables
A sample of conventional topographic survey. Source: accuratemapssurvey.com

 

drone topographic surveying
Various drone survey deliverables for the same site. From the top left corner: an orthophoto, a point cloud, a digital terrain model and a contour map.

 

A shared view means everyone is on the same page

Equipped with Propeller, virtually anyone on a jobsite can access and use drone topography data on-demand. Shared securely across the project team, Propeller datasets can be used to document how a site looks before earthworks start, and track every step of progress along the way.

Simple tools give everyone the power to map, measure and analyze

With easy-to-use inbuilt tools to measure and annotate datasets, stockpile volumes can be accurately measured in under a minute and haul road grades can be measured in seconds.

Using a surface-to-surface comparison tool, the actual site terrain can be compared to the design file to easily see where material should to be added or removed. The Propeller timeline slider makes it easy to visually track changes in specific areas, or across the entire site, to ensure that the project is on track for successful completion.

Overlaying boundaries linework over an orthophoto allows to check that the construction works stay within the defined area and avoid legal issues.

 

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