Planning and Building Transportation Infrastructure with Drone Insights

August 12, 2020

It’s no secret that the heart of American infrastructure needs a well-designed, thorough upgrade. With a host of projects built in the 1930s and ’40s – a result of President Roosevelt’s New Deal – some of the U.S.’s critical infrastructure remains outdated and unequipped to handle the demands of today’s population. Even a more “recent” project like the Interstate Highway System was commissioned back in 1965, leaving decades of little improvements. In fact, the American Society of Civil Engineers reports that to repair the state of the current U.S. infrastructure by 2025, approximately four trillion dollars needs to be budgeted - a figure unable to be met by the public sector alone.

Which begs the question: how will these necessary improvements be made? Deloitte reports that private engineering and construction firms could take the bulk of these projects, paving the way for the most substantial infrastructure investment in U.S. history. These private partnerships with the U.S. government provide an opportunity to use smart technologies - such as drones - to reduce cost and improve efficiencies. While these technological advancements would be highly unlikely to be provided by municipalities, private firms are already using them to reap their benefits. Below are some of our most pertinent use cases tailored for civil engineering infrastructure jobs.

Civil engineering projects like roads, bridges, and highways are expedited with drone technology.
Drones simplify engineering processes like site planning and design visualization.

Planning and Designing

As with any project, a survey will first need to determine the scope of work. Flying a drone to accomplish this results in quicker, more accurate estimates that can then be turned into better bids, planning, and design visualizations. Instead of spending time on the ground, billable hours can be spent conceptualizing these issues. Because of the frequency at which infrastructure investments are given, making sure designs are sustainable is a top priority. By using DroneDeploy software, 2D maps, elevation models, and the ability to overlay design plans are helpful for site planning and logistics decisions.

Engineers can use side-by-side comparisons to track site progress.
DroneDeploy has specialized tools for infrastructure projects.

Building Infrastructure

Once the initial plans have been set, users can conduct inspections and document results within the DroneDeploy app. Utilizing the Inspection Workflow allows engineers to streamline processes and view sites in high-resolution detail, with a plethora of tools to measure, label, and review target areas. With collaborative communication methods like the @mention feature, visibility is paramount across teams and subcontractors.

Volume, earthworks, and stockpile measurements can also be accomplished in-app. Other notable features include the cut/fill elevation tool for figuring out appropriate grading and side-by-side comparisons to check the progress and completion of the grading project. In civil engineering projects, specifically transportation, these insights are beyond critical.

Tunnel projects repeatedly go over budget - at a rate of 35%.
Providing a referenceable dataset is helpful for continued project maintenance.

Maintaining Projects

Because of the consistent, precise maps workers obtain throughout the project lifecycle, commissioning and handover are simplified. Users can select from a variety of reports to share with stakeholders, including Enhanced Progress Reports and Annotations Reports. These reports visually document the status of a project’s progress and provide a referenceable dataset to owners for continued maintenance. Having this kind of technology on hand is much more reliable than satellite imagery, and will make the next infrastructure project that much easier.

In just a few years, drones and other robots could be building our cities. To make these significant investments worthwhile, it seems prudent for private organizations to invest in drone data as a reliable surveying and inspection tool. No matter the stage of development, the minute details given by drones remove thousands in labor costs. And this is a large sum - as McKinsey reports, the average rail project goes over budget by 44.7%, bridges and tunnels 35%, and roads at 20%. With so much at stake, one can no longer rely solely on traditional construction methods.

If you’re interested in learning more about drone solutions in engineering, read our eBook on inspection documentation, or watch our webinar on drone use throughout construction stages.

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