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How Drones Make Topographic Surveys 6X Faster

Headquartered in Gainesville, Texas, All American Surveying (AAS) is a full-service survey firm run by Jake and JT Thompson. They were recently contracted with all of the survey work for a 90-acre residential development project in Texas, and found a number of opportunities to drive significant value for their client by using drones as a topographic survey tool.

AAS was brought into the project on a few occasions: first, they were initially tasked with performing pad and road grade verifications and delivering a cut-and-fill analysis, which would be used before the earthwork contractor started their work. Then, once the earthwork contractor completed their work and brought the dirt to grade, AAS was brought in again to survey the site to verify the work had been done as planned.

Their goal

“Given that this is a 90-acre site, a traditional survey would take 2 to 3 weeks to do,” Jake said. “Our client wanted to survey the site in a much shorter timeframe, and we wanted to offer them a way to do that.”

For AAS, the large size of the site—and the fact that it was groomed earth with no vegetation—made using a drone a perfect fit. “Drones are increasingly our go-to tool for topographic surveys like this,” Jake said. “We knew that it would help us survey the site faster, so then we focused on finding the right one for our needs: we needed a drone solution that had the level of accuracy to satisfy not only our own criteria, but also the standards of the Registered Professional Land Surveyor (RPLS).”

The solution: 3DR Site Scan

Jake and his team decided to use 3DR Site Scan to perform the survey work. The simple workflow in the field, cloud processing, and accuracy were all important factors in their decision. “At the time, the Sony R10C camera had just been added to the Site Scan drone,” Jake said. “We tested it, and found that it was incredibly detailed and accurate. We knew that Site Scan would pass the criteria of our Registered Professional Land Surveyor (RPLS). We did a lot of verification between conventional survey and what Site Scan offered, and we felt that the R10C camera provided survey-grade accuracy that wasn’t available in other UAV solutions. We were confident in it, and we felt that the RPLS was more than confident in signing and sealing these deliverables as well.”

In order to improve accuracy even further, AAS set 5 ground control points throughout the whole site and used them to georeference their orthomosaic, which was processed by Autodesk ReCap within Site Scan Manager:

Key results

1. 6X faster time to survey deliverable

Speed was a priority on this project, and with a drone, AAS was able to deliver. According to Jake, it would have taken about 18 days to perform a manual survey of the 90-acre site, process the data, and finalize the deliverables. With Site Scan, they were able to cut this process down to just 3 days, making their drone survey workflow 6X more efficient than traditional surveying.

2. Detailed cut-and-fill analysis and comparison

For AAS, surveying speed wasn’t the only benefit of using drones on this project: with a drone, they were able to collect millions of points and capture their site in greater detail than ever before. As JT said, “With a conventional survey instrument, we’d typically capture the four points of the pad and one in the middle, and create a cut-and-fill analysis to compare the existing elevation with the target elevation.” With Site Scan, he said, “We were able to collect way more points, and provide data on anything in between: dips, humps, stockpiles, and more. With the drone, we found areas with excess dirt in areas we couldn’t have found conventionally.”

“With the drone, we found areas with excess dirt in areas we couldn’t have found conventionally.” — JT, All American Surveying



Cut-and-fill analysis using drone data

3. Saving their client over $100K and earning repeat work

While AAS was initially contracted to perform survey work, their client ended up using the drone data for project management and billing purposes as well. In fact, the data was able to save their client over $100K when in a dispute with an earthwork subcontractor, which also earned AAS extra business on the project.

Here’s how: as Jake said, “Our client was upset about how some of the earthwork had been performed—they didn’t think it was done properly. The contractor said they had moved a certain amount of dirt, and gotten everything to subgrade, but in reality, they hadn’t gotten it to subgrade, and they hadn’t moved as much dirt as they said they had, despite providing a full invoice.”

Without proper documentation, there was no way for their client to prove that this work had not been completed properly. Their client was stuck—until they saw the drone data. AAS flew the site on December 12th, and then a month later on January 12th for verification, and compared the difference in earth moved compared to the contractor invoice. They identified a big discrepancy—over 250,000 cubic yards of dirt that had been moved incorrectly—and used the point cloud data to prove it.

“Our client could then could show this to their subcontractor, get them to finish the work as planned, and get them to pay for half of the survey cost and reduce the invoice. This saved our client about $100,000, probably even more.” For survey firms like AAS, this ability to verify performed work quickly and cost-effectively is opening up new opportunities for repeat surveys. “Now, our clients can bring us in and monitor their project as often as they want to,” JT said.

“Drones are making topographic surveying simpler, easier, and faster than ever before.” — Jake Thompson, All American Surveying

Next steps

Drones have enabled AAS to perform topographic surveys faster, cheaper, and safer on a variety of projects. A major benefit for them, though, isn’t just the drone: it’s the software they use back at the office, Site Scan Manager, to analyze the data they collect, share it with stakeholders, and make decisions.

With the new Site Scan Manager, Jake said, “being able to fully manage projects and have access to my data anywhere has been priceless. I can collect data, and then in minutes I can get the raw data for different stakeholders to view, and then within a day I can get the rest of the information in detail.”

Going forward, now that they’ve established drones as a survey-grade tool, AAS plans to incorporate them on a number of new projects and win new business. “Site Scan has had a big effect on the work we’re doing,” Jake said, “It’s making topographic surveying simpler, easier, and faster than ever before.”

The post How Drones Make Topographic Surveys 6X Faster appeared first on 3DR Site Scan - Commercial Drone Platform.

Introducing Perimeter Scan, Our Newest Flight Mode

What if your drone could not only do topographic surveys, but also help you model your structure as it’s actually going up?

For construction and engineering professionals who have been using drones on-site, this capability has been out of reach for too long. While drones have proven to be effective at capturing top-down imagery and data, but it’s been more difficult to capture data of the side of a building, making the resulting point cloud not nearly detailed as it needs to be for ongoing modelling and as-builts.

We set out to fix that, and today we’re excited to announce the result: perimeter scan, our newest flight mode in Site Scan Field. Perimeter scan is designed specifically to capture façades and vertical structures, making it easy to collect better data in the field and model your project from start to finish.

The workflow is simple: first, select the area you want to cover, and Site Scan automatically generates your flight path. The drone flies autonomously at 3 different altitudes and a number of gimbal angles, collecting rich, detailed data.

This helps you create point clouds and meshes that accurately depict taller structures and multi-story buildings. Our customer, Argyle Asia, used the perimeter scan feature for a recent as-built project, and they made their workflow 5X more efficient. Here’s how.

It can also be used to collect volume data on stockpiles, do better inspection surveys for dams and power lines, capture existing conditions for design and renovation projects, and much more.

Perimeter scan is the first of its kind in the commercial drone industry, enabling construction and engineering professionals to capture a whole new dimension of the jobsite. Learn more:

Want to see the whole workflow? Read our knowledge base article, which shows how to fly a perimeter scan flight from start to finish.

The post Introducing Perimeter Scan, Our Newest Flight Mode appeared first on 3DR Site Scan - Commercial Drone Platform.

Drones Are Making As-Builts 5X More Efficient

Drones have become an essential tool throughout the lifecycle of a construction project. However, one area where they have sometimes fallen short is in conducting as-built surveys. This is for a simple reason: drones have been designed to effectively capture imagery and data from the top down, but not from the side. Surveying a groomed site for pre-construction, for example, is far easier than trying to capture taller, finished structures—the flight is more complex, and requires the correct altitudes and gimbal angle in order to ensure accuracy.

We cracked that code with perimeter scan, our newest flight mode. Perimeter scan is a first for the commercial drone industry: it enables automated scans of vertical structures, collecting far richer data than ever before. We’re excited to share how Argyle, one of our customers, has already put perimeter scan into use on one of their projects, saving significant time on-site and creating an impressive, BIM-ready deliverable.

The goal: fast, accurate as-built survey of mixed-use property

Argyle Asia is an integrated firm based in Southeast Asia that does real estate investment, property and infrastructure development, and design and construction delivery. James Hadden, Director of Property Development & Construction Management Services, led this project and set out to perform the as-built survey at a group of mixed-use buildings in Kuala Lumpur.

Argyle’s goal was to fast-track the collection of as-built data that could be used in the design development of the property assets. Since the client had limited historical records and had very little architectural drawings, Argyle needed to collect an accurate as-built for design.

The site itself also presented a number of challenges when performing a traditional survey. For example, it was densely populated with large trees that were in close proximity to the structure, making it difficult to capture the points on-the-ground. Also, the architectural features and alignment of the buildings required additional time to survey. “There’s also the disruption to commercial and residential tenants to consider,” James said, “in addition to the operational safety risks of a manual survey.”

Because of these factors, James thought that capturing the site with a drone would be a great alternative. However, Argyle needed a drone solution that would make it possible to scan the façade of the buildings without any gaps or major inaccuracies.

The solution: detailed 3D models using perimeter scan

Fly-through of the mesh in Autodesk ReMake

Fly-through of the mesh in Autodesk ReMake

Argyle decided to use the perimeter scan flight mode on Site Scan to capture the property and create a photorealistic model. He set 5 survey control points to lock in the survey data with the orthomosaic and point cloud, and then performed the flight. “In terms of workflow, it took minutes to set up the UAV and run the survey—it was fast, reliable, efficient and the registration of the scan was great.”

The polygons above the site represent the locations of the photos taken by Site Scan. The perimeter scan algorithm automatically calculates the best places to take photos, in order to capture the entirety of the site and ensure the resulting 3D model is accurate.

Given the complexities of the site, it was vital to capture the parts of the building that would be difficult to capture on the ground. “The drone worked well with getting into the confined spaces that I didn’t think would be possible to capture,” James said. “It picked up faces on the building that I thought would be obscured by the trees or the shadows.”

Point cloud of the site with a focus on Block B & C of the mixed-use development

Point cloud of the site with a focus on Block B & C of the mixed-use development

Key results

5X production of georeferenced CAD files

For James, the saved time and reduced manpower required on-site is one of the biggest benefits of perimeter scan. “A traditional as-built survey for this project could take 3-4 weeks with additional manpower, and that’s just for the survey,” he said. “Then, it may take 2 ½ weeks to interpolate the survey notes and prepare the CAD as-built survey and Revit model. In total, it would take approximately 7 weeks—49 days—to deliver Revit and AutoCad drawings.”

“I think perimeter scan is the first of its kind. No other drone solution provides the ability to autonomously scan vertical structures at this level of detail.” — James Hadden, Argyle

By collecting drone data, James said, “we are now in a position to provide that deliverable much quicker. In this project, we scanned the site, processed the data into a geotagged orthomosaic and point cloud, and converted them into CAD-friendly files in under 3 days. Then, about a week later, we finished the georeferenced CAD and Revit drawings, taking a total of just 10 days.”

This time difference—going from approximately 49 days to just 10—represents a near 5X increase in time to deliverable on this project. “While each as-built survey is different, and has its own unique time constraints to consider, there were considerable time savings by using a drone on this project,” James said.

BIM-ready 3D models

Traditional as-built data is usually kept in a spreadsheet, making it difficult to visualize and integrate with BIM workflows. As BIM continues to make its way into the AEC industry, this lack of 3D as-built data is starting to present some difficulties.

Case in point: In Europe, as-built BIM models are soon to be required in all construction projects. However, according to a survey in the JB Knowledge 2015 Construction Technology Report, less than half of U.S. companies would be able to comply with this as it stands.

Collecting drone data—especially with flight modes that are designed specifically for scanning vertical structures, not just topographical surveys—makes this easy. James was able to create rich 3D point cloud and meshes, and could use them to easily identify the infrastructure features of the building, which could then be incorporated in the 3D model for BIM integration. “We were able to run that survey, register the scans, and start modelling and taking the sections within hours of having done the scan.”


“With the point cloud tools in Revit,” James continued, “I could take sections of the building, establish the profiles, and start drawing perimeter walls and detailing windows. The beautiful thing about a project like this, for example, is that the windows are fairly standardized. This means I can create them in Revit as a family in the library, then easily use that for the other windows.”

What’s next?

Now that this kind of data collection is possible, James is looking at different ways in which it can be used to drive value in his projects across Asia. For example, he would like to collect indoor laser scan data of the site, and integrate it with the point cloud in order to get a complete model of existing conditions.

“I think perimeter scan is the first of its kind,” James said, “no other commercial drone solution provides the ability to autonomously scan vertical structures at this level of detail. I look forward to continue on even bigger, more complex projects in the future.”

The post Drones Are Making As-Builts 5X More Efficient appeared first on 3DR Site Scan - Commercial Drone Platform.

Meet The All-New Site Scan Manager

When we launched Site Scan just over a year ago, we set out on a clear mission to be the leading drone data platform for AEC professionals across the world. A year in, it’s been remarkable to see how our customers—including established firms like PCL Construction, Kimley-Horn, and McKim & Creed—have made use of Site Scan on their jobsites and pioneered brand new ways to put drone data to work. For starters: they’ve used it to design new bridges, survey inaccessible terrain, build artificial lagoons, QA the concrete construction process, and much, much more.

Site Scan Manager, our web application, has played a crucial part in these projects. We’ve been working on making the platform even more powerful, and today we’re excited to mark another step in that journey: meet Site Scan Manager 3.0, the best Site Scan yet.

Take a tour and see what’s new:

Simple, intuitive interface

We’ve re-designed the interface to make Manager simpler and easier to use, with improved workflows for accessing your project and job lists, toolbar, and sidebar. Now, it’s easier than ever to manage your jobs, add annotations, and more. Check out this quick overview to see what’s possible:

Monitor site progress over time

Need to go back in time? No problem. Now, you can easily navigate to any job and watch as the orthomosaic transitions seamlessly from date to another. From there, it’s just a click to add CAD overlays, zoom in on details, and more.

Volume measurements

Measuring stockpiles by foot can be time-consuming, dangerous, and costly. Now, you can fly a drone over your aggregates in minutes, and then measure volumes directly within Site Scan Manager. Just tap around your area of interest, and Manager will automatically calculate volumes in cubic meters and cubic yards using our lowest point method. It’s a fast, accurate way to manage your resources, making earthworks projects simpler than ever before.

PDF Export

Need to quickly share your orthomosaic, overlay, or measurements? Use the new PDF export feature to download the information you need, and then easily send it to send to your team and other stakeholders.

But that’s not all…

There’s plenty more features in the new Manager: we’ve added guided workflows, for example, which are an educational resource that help you get the most out of the product. Later this week, we’ll be sharing another big announcement about our latest improvements—want to stay in the loop? Follow us on Twitter and keep an eye out for our next release!

Want to learn more about the new Site Scan and how you can use it on your next project? Contact a specialist to set up a call.

The post Meet The All-New Site Scan Manager appeared first on 3DR Site Scan - Commercial Drone Platform.

3DR Featured in Harvard Business Review

We’re excited to share that 3DR CEO, Chris Anderson, has published the feature story in the latest edition of the Harvard Business Review. His story, Drones Go To Work, charts the rise of the drone economy, and explains how they have quickly matured into an enterprise-ready technology that’s being used in construction, engineering, and more.

Here’s an excerpt: “The drone economy is real, and you need a strategy for exploiting it. Here’s how to think about what’s happening—and what’s going to happen. We’ll start back at the construction site, a work environment in desperate need of what drones can provide.

The construction industry is the world’s second largest (after agriculture), worth $8 trillion a year. But it’s remarkably inefficient. The typical commercial construction project runs 80% over budget and 20 months behind schedule, according to McKinsey.  

On-screen, in the architect’s CAD file, everything looks perfect. But on-site, in the mud and dust, things are different. And the difference between concept and reality is where about $3 trillion of that $8 trillion gets lost, in a cascade of change orders, rework, and schedule slips. Drones are meant to close that gap.

Mistakes, changes, and surprises are unavoidable whenever idealized designs meet the real world. But they can be minimized by spotting clashes early enough to fix them, work around them, or least update the CAD model to reflect changes for future work. There are lots of ways to measure a construction site, ranging from tape measures and clipboards to lasers, high-precision GPS, and even X-rays. But they all cost money and take time, so they’re not done often, at least not over the entire site. With drones, a whole site can be mapped daily, in high detail, for as little as $25 a day.”

Read the full story in HBR >

The post 3DR Featured in Harvard Business Review appeared first on 3DR Site Scan - Commercial Drone Platform.

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