What to Know About UAV Aerial Surveys
Aerial surveys are conducted more frequently than many realize, both by public and private entities. Government organizations will conduct aerial surveys for highway development, environmental reporting, civil engineering, general land surveys, and other major construction projects.
In the private sector, aerial surveys are increasingly being performed by Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). The benefits of UAV aerial surveys — including cost, speed, and safety — can easily be translated to public entities.
The Applications of Government UAV Aerial Surveys
Traditionally, aerial surveys were conducted by helicopter or by plane. These surveys can be expensive and always carry some risk, as all flights do. UAV surveys can be conducted with greater levels of safety and precision.
Fixed-wing UAVs perform very similarly to planes and can survey large swathes of land at a time.
Multi-rotor UAVs can hover similarly to helicopters. Their maneuverability allows them to access locations that would’ve been inaccessible to helicopters — such as the underside of bridges or the interior of caverns.
In addition to vastly improving construction and civil engineering, UAV aerial surveys can be used for:
- Environmental studies and environmental change assessments.
- Civil security and public safety.
- Detection and mitigation of damage following major weather events.
- Tracking of urgent events such as fire and flooding.
- Routine coastal surveying.
According to Rostock University, UAV aerial surveys can save money in both the forestry industry and the agriculture industry.
Low-cost UAV aerial surveys have been studied for everything from studying dynamic tropical volcanic landforms to the assessment of damage following hurricanes. But the most common government use for UAV surveys would be in construction.
The Cost Savings Associated with UAV Aerial Surveys
The more cost-efficient a government is, the better for the taxpayer. Government projects cost less, but money can be reallocated into other quality of life improvements.
Better UAV surveys can encourage better, more efficient, and cost-effective civil engineering programs, public transportation, and environmental waste management.
There are a few major ways that UAV aerial surveys can save the government money when it comes to construction projects.
Increased Accuracy and Precision During Surveying
UAVs fly lower to the ground than traditional, manned aircraft, creating higher resolution scans and, therefore, more detailed.
The more accurate the survey, the less risk there are of issues being uncovered over the project.
Most government projects are multi-million-dollar affairs, which can cost the taxpayer much more if they run over their deadlines or require additional (and unexpected) materials and labor.
In the past, surveys were often limited to being at a certain height. For both photogrammetric (photographic) and LiDAR (laser) surveying, this meant that there wasn’t always the necessary amount of detail.
Depending on the type of construction being done, a highly accurate, highly detailed model may be necessary.
Reduced Safety Risks, Insurance, and Permits
As UAV surveys are safer, they are inherently less expensive; a UAV survey doesn’t require the same level of permitting and insurance a manned aerial vehicle would.
With a UAV, a crash is a minor event that shouldn’t delay the project significantly. With a manned aerial vehicle, a single incident could drastically delay the project.
Every manned aerial flight needs to be taken more seriously than a UAV flight does. Consequently, UAV flights can also be deployed with far greater frequency — and at far greater utility — than human-crewed aerial flights.
At the same time, the enhanced monitoring provided by UAV surveying can also reduce risks throughout a construction project. Sites that have continual safety monitoring will naturally be more likely to following safety standards and regulations.
Consistent Monitoring for Development, Repairs, and Maintenance
UAV surveys provide a fast, affordable way to monitor the entirety of a construction zone. Any issues that arise will be noticed quickly, safety guidelines and regulations will be more strictly followed, and supervisors can be certain that the project is continuing as planned.
Even after the construction project has been completed, UAV surveys can be performed periodically for general maintenance purposes.
As UAV surveys are increasingly paired with sensors linked to the IoT, aerial surveys for maintenance are becoming more important.
Consider large-scale construction projects such as wind farms — in the past, technicians had to physically climb turbines to check their status. As UAVs enter common use, the entirety of a wind farm can be regularly surveyed without the need for technicians on the ground.
Detailed Modeling and Simulations
Following UAV aerial surveys, detailed 3D models and simulations can be completed to assess the project.
Not only can materials be costed out more effectively, but the consequences of the project on the surrounding terrain can also be explored.
UAV aerial surveys can be used to identify potential issues with light pollution or water run-off or to explore ways in which a construction project can be made to be more energy efficient.
In the future, these 3D models may even be used to restore existing construction projects in the wake of disasters.
By creating 3D models of new civil developments, the government can eventually make it easier to create disaster preparedness plans and other critical infrastructure items. Presently, 3D models are already being used to restore older, historic buildings, such as Notre Dame.
Once a construction project and its surrounding environment have been captured in 3D, the data is available and can be used forever.
Improved Environmental Assessment
Every government project needs to start with a comprehensive environmental impact study.
With UAVs, improved environmental assessments can be completed, even in areas that would normally be difficult to access.
UAVs can be used to thoroughly explore the areas around the construction project, simulate changes to the surrounding environment, and follow up on the environmental impact after the construction project has been completed.
When paired with advanced LiDAR technology, UAVs can even see through terrain that is covered in brush, consequently making it easier to assess any potential impact on the environment.
When it comes to installations such as pipelines, LiDAR technology and UAVs together can be used to identify issues such as the encroachment of surrounding plant and can mitigate any potential damage to the pipeline before leaks occur.
Faster Development (and More Reliable Milestones)
Apart from the other improvements, UAVs can save government entities money on construction projects by making the project itself faster and more reliable.
In the construction industry, some of the costliest issues arise from delays and re-works. The more accurate the survey is, the less likely the project is to have re-works. The faster the project is, the less likely it is to experience delays.
Altogether, this results in a project that operates far more smoothly and doesn’t have as many unanticipated overages. Not only does this save money, but it also saves on materials and waste.
In nearly every way, UAVs are preferable to manned aerial vehicles for aerial surveying. UAVs are also generally preferred to manned ground surveying, which can be both expensive and time-consuming.
As a new technology, UAVs are still being adopted within the government sector — but there’s no reason not to think that the majority of aerial surveying won’t be completed using drone technology in the future.
The UAV Industry Continues to Grow
The public and private sectors have invested $13 billion in drone technology, and it’s believed the drone industry will grow by 15.37% in the next five years.
Significant advances in drone technology have been made over the past few years — and both the private and public sectors are awakening to the benefits of UAV technology, especially in the case of aerial surveying.
As the technology improves, it will only become faster, more accurate, and more cost-effective. In the past, UAVs were held back by issues of range and battery power; these issues are being countered more significantly and substantially day by day.
By leveraging drone technology, government entities will be able to start construction projects faster, monitor them more thoroughly, and ultimately complete them both under deadline and under budget.
UAV surveys are, as a rule, faster, safer, and more accurate. And these are cost savings that will ultimately be passed down to the taxpayer. Hopefully, you now have a much better understanding of how they work.