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How Kimley-Horn Surveyed an Airport 5X Faster With Drones

Drones and airports usually don’t mix, but perhaps that’s about to change.

This past summer, there was a small black quadcopter buzzing above the runways and around the control tower at Front Range Airport outside of Denver, Colorado, capturing high-resolution images without disrupting the day-to-day operations of the airport.

This was yet another sign that drones—with their safe, automated flight paths—can be successfully integrated into controlled airspace, presenting big opportunities for surveying and engineering firms eager to make use of them at airports across the country.

Look no further than Kimley-Horn, a large design and engineering consultancy, who collaborated with the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) to perform this one-of-a-kind drone survey at Front Range Airport.

The goal: fast, detailed as-built survey and pavement inspections at Front Range Airport

“We needed an as-built survey of the entire airport, including our 200 foot control tower, along with precise inspections of the runways to spot any cracks or deformations,” said Dave Ruppel, Airport Director at Front Range. “We normally don’t have this kind of information available to us, and we thought that drones would be able to quickly and easily help us collect it.”

While commercial drones have been flown at a US airport before, this would be the first time that they’ve been used at an active airport to capture pavement distresses on the runways, taxiway aprons, and landside areas.

Kimley-Horn has an established drone program and performs aerial surveys on projects across the country. They saw an opportunity at Front Range to use a drone to speed up surveying time and collect far more detailed data compared to traditional methods. “As-builts and pavement management surveys are typically very manual, and requires spending significant time in the field,” said Edwin Tamang, Civil Engineer at Kimley-Horn. “On this project, it took a couple of our seasoned engineers about 10-12 hours to walk up and down the runways and inspect 60-70 units, looking for cracks, distresses, and structural deformations.”

The Kimley-Horn team performing manual pavement inspections for cracks and deformities

Not only is this time-consuming, Edwin noted, but it also requires putting engineers in the middle of an active airport, where they have to be mindful of safety and other risks. Kimley-Horn was looking for a way to speed up that process and make it safer, so their engineers could spend less time in the field and focus on analyzing the data back at the office.

The solution: capturing Front Range with 3DR Site Scan

Kimley-Horn is a long-time user of 3DR Site Scan, having already put it to work on a variety of projects. “We’ve had a great relationship and partnership with 3DR,” said John Heiberger, Engineer and Project Manager at Kimley-Horn. “Site Scan is one of the leading products in the industry. It helps us turn hundreds of high-resolution photos into orthomosaics, point clouds, and more, which has a lot of value to our customers.”

Surveying at Front Range was a new opportunity—and challenge—for their drone operations team. It was crucial that Site Scan worked seamlessly within active airspace without disrupting ongoing activities.

“While flying Site Scan”, said Bobby Valentine, Project Visualization Lead at Kimley-Horn, “Our team was out on the tarmac and communicating directly with the control tower. We were treated no differently than a manned aircraft. If we needed to let a plane go by while we were flying Site Scan, we could hit pause right in the middle of the flight and the drone would stop in mid-air. Then, we could resume the mission whenever it was clear to continue.”

“The thing that impressed me most,” Dave Ruppel said, “was the lack of any issues out there. It was very controlled, efficient process.”

Flying Site Scan on the runways of Front Range Airport

Perimeter Scan and inspection photos of the control tower

Bobby and his team used Site Scan’s Perimeter Scan feature—which is perfect for capturing vertical structures and façades—to survey the 200 foot control tower and create a rich, accurate point cloud. “I was impressed with how quick the workflow was, from collecting the data, processing it, and presenting it in a modeled, viewable format,” Edwin said.

They also used Site Scan’s Inspect Mode feature, and manually flew around the tower taking high-resolution, geotagged photos. They were able to capture parts of the 200 foot tower that would be impossible to reach without a drone. Site Scan made it possible to inspect the tower in just minutes, while keeping the field team safe on the ground.

High-resolution inspection photo of the control tower, taken by Site Scan’s 20.1MP Sony R10C camera

Survey of runways with ground control points (GCPs)

Kimley-Horn then performed an aerial survey of the runways and taxiway aprons, using Site Scan’s autonomous flight modes to quickly and easily capture the area and automatically process them into maps and models. With 57 ground control points set around the airport, Kimley-Horn took advantage of Site Scan’s new cloud-based GCP processing and used each of these GCPs to increase the absolute accuracy of their deliverables.

Kimley-Horn set GCPs (shown in white) across Front Range and processed them in the cloud in Site Scan

Key results

1. Detailed, accurate as-built of Front Range Airport

3D point cloud of Front Range control tower

After flying and processing the data, Kimley-Horn provided a number of deliverables to the Front Range team, including orthophotos of the entire airport, point clouds, and inspection photos from hard-to-reach places. This data will have tremendous value to CDOT and Front Range going forward, helping them plan any changes or renovations to the airport with up-to-date existing conditions.

“Now, we have the ability to take this data and build off it,” Dave Ruppel said. “Whether it’s for runway extensions, taxiway rework, or something else, we now have this up-to-date as-built data on file. We don’t have to go back out and collect this level of detail for a very long time.”

Despite the scale of this project—creating an orthomosaic and 3D point cloud of a runway that’s over a mile long—Kimley-Horn was able to achieve impressive accuracy figures. By flying at 200 feet, processing with GCPs, and measuring accuracy with 5 checkpoints, they earned horizontal accuracy within 0.06 feet (1.8 cm) and vertical accuracy within 0.16 feet (4.8 cm).

Not only does CDOT have this data for their records, but it also has immediate value. As Ruppel said: “Site Scan allows us to easily identify problems or changes that we might not see otherwise.”

2. Runway pavement management done 5X faster in the field

By flying Site Scan over the runways to identify cracks and deformations, Kimley-Horn enhanced their pavement management workflows, improved safety, and saved hours in the field collecting data.

With Site Scan’s Sony 20.1MP R10C camera, they were able to capture the runways in incredible detail: “By flying Site Scan at a 50 foot altitude,” Edwin said, “we were able to achieve a resolution of 1 hundredth of a foot. Ultimately, being able to see that level of detail can make the difference between identifying a small crack or a key, structural deformation.”

Orthophoto of taxiway with resolution of a hundredth of a foot (0.01 feet), collected by the Site Scan drone for pavement inspection

“Now, our team can interpret and understand the data back at the office, instead of doing this in the field,” Edwin explained.

“With Site Scan, we were able to achieve a resolution of 1 hundredth of a foot. Ultimately, being able to see that level of detail can make the difference between identifying a small crack or a key, structural deformation.”

— Edwin Tamang, Kimley-Horn

Next steps

“It was important to show the positive use cases of drones at an airport, and this certainly is one,” Ruppel said. With organizations like Kimley-Horn and CDOT showing what’s possible, safely integrating drones into controlled airspace is becoming easier and more common than ever before.

Kimley-Horn, for its part, continues to find new projects where the aerial view of a drone can make a big impact and create high-quality deliverables for their clients.

“Drones have transformed our industry,” Bobby said. “They are helping surveying, construction, and engineering firms improve the way they collect data, manage their projects, and more. With their speed, low cost, and safety improvements, drones have quickly become a crucial tool—and we’re only just getting started.”

The post How Kimley-Horn Surveyed an Airport 5X Faster With Drones appeared first on 3DR Site Scan - Commercial Drone Platform.

How Drones Made Earthworks 10X Faster on Qatar’s Orbital Highway

There’s a construction boom taking place across Qatar, and Arcadis is helping make it possible. The global engineering consultancy, which has over 27,000 employees based in 350 offices across the world, leads infrastructure development projects across Qatar, helping the country meet ambitious construction goals for the 2022 FIFA World Cup™ and for its 2030 National Vision.

Arcadis recently had the opportunity to put drones to work on a project of a massive scale: Contract 2 of the Orbital Highway in the city of Doha, a 14-lane road with 5 vehicle lanes and 2 dedicated truck lanes going in each direction. The Orbital spans 46 kilometers in total, and construction will be finished in 2018.

Arcadis was the lead designer of the Orbital, but their emerging drone operations presented a new business opportunity for this project. Their client, Qatari Diar Vinci Construction (QDVC, a joint venture company between Qatari Diar and Vinci Construction Grands Projets), wanted fast, accurate volumetric calculations for the earthwork spread throughout the entire roadway. “Our main deliverable for this project was volumetric calculations,” said Paul Kawuma, Innovation and Infrastructure BIM Manager at Arcadis.

Putting drone surveying to the test

Arcadis is a pioneer of using drones for engineering purposes in Qatar, and they thought that the size of the site and specific goals of the project would be a perfect fit for a drone survey. However, in order to win the project to survey the whole highway, they first had to prove that that they could get accurate volume calculations from drone surveys compared to traditional methods.

They chose a 3-acre area which was representative of the rest of the site, and performed a test survey with both methods. Arcadis decided to use the 3DR Site Scan drone data platform, with its high-resolution 20.1MP Sony R10C and Autodesk integration, in order to bid on this project.

As Paul said, “When we were preparing the business case and looking for a drone solution, Site Scan stood out compared to alternatives. We liked how easy it was: we could trace the area to survey using the tablet, then the drone will fly itself and capture the images. We could then upload the images directly from the drone to the cloud—which plays a key role in streamlining the drone to data process—and they start processing into orthomosaics and other deliverables automatically. Even though we were just starting out with this new technology, it was easy to get into the workflow.”

Ultimately, the traditional survey took 3 hours, while the drone survey took just 20 minutes. The drone captured substantially more data points too: while the traditional method captured 197 points, Site Scan was able to capture 1,539,964 points. As the profile line shows, this created a major difference in the level of detail:


The elevation profile based on drone data was far more accurate, given that Site Scan collected millions more points than traditional surveying

Because volume measurements were the initial focus, relative accuracy was most important, rather than the absolute location on Earth. That’s why Arcadis decided to compare data that Site Scan processed without the use of ground control points, even though they would have helped improve accuracy even further.

The sheer volume of points sampled by Site Scan also helped deliver more accurate earthwork volume quantities compared to a traditional survey:


Site Scan delivered more accurate fill volume quantities because it captured more points than the traditional survey

Exceptional client outcomes: 3DR Site Scan with ground control points

After successfully demonstrating how much faster and more detailed their drone surveys were, QDVC gave Arcadis the go-ahead to use Site Scan to capture the Orbital Highway.

With certified drone operators and a fleet of Site Scan units, they started their work by setting ground control points in order to improve accuracy of their end deliverables. They flew automated nadir surveys with the drone, uploaded the photos to Site Scan Manager, then entered, tagged, and processed ground control points in the cloud. Cloud-based GCP processing is one of Site Scan’s newest features, and it’s far simpler and more efficient than alternative GCP workflows.

In total, the Arcadis team created 34 unique drone maps—known as orthomosaics—using Site Scan’s multi-engine processing capabilities. They then exported their drone data into LAS and TIFF files, and used them to generate raster data and their surfaces in Civil 3D, in order to produce volumetric calculations.

Orthomosaic of the Orbital Highway project, captured and processed with Site Scan

Key results

1. Survey and measure earthworks 10X faster

To perform a topographic survey of their test site with a drone, it only took the Arcadis team approximately 20 minutes in the field. Given that it would take 3-4 hours to perform a traditional survey of the same site, Arcadis proved that it can survey approximately 10X faster with a drone. They were able to maintain this level of productivity throughout the entire Orbital project. By speeding up their surveying workflow with Site Scan, Arcadis was able to deliver their volume calculations much faster than usual, helping their client keep the Orbital Highway project on schedule.

As Liam Kirk, Business Director at Arcadis, said: “In the market we’re in, we’re realizing that drone surveys can be done 10X faster than traditional topographic surveys. While we continue to work with licensed surveyors to collect control points and validate accuracy, the drone is a great addition to our platform.”

2. Improved survey and volume measurement accuracy

Not only were they able to survey faster, but Site Scan helped create more accurate deliverables compared to a traditional survey. As Paul said: “The drone data was more accurate than a traditional survey when it comes to working on volumes, because it catches more points. This gave us a really dense point cloud compared to the 5 meter grid (separation of points) that we usually get with a traditional survey. This made our client far more comfortable deciding to go with the drone, and ultimately it delivered the results we needed: they were able to use this detailed data to make better, more informed decisions about the project, identify issues and risks quicker, and get a better understanding of future challenges they may face on the project.”

Setting ground control points and processing them in the Site Scan cloud had a significant impact on absolute accuracy: it helped Arcadis georeference their orthomosaics with extreme accuracy and ensure they reflected reality as closely as possible.

Arcadis set ground control points throughout the highway, and processed them in the cloud in Site Scan to increase the absolute accuracy of their deliverables

3. Important project insights, all on one platform

Paul and his team also made use of Site Scan’s in-browser suite of engineering tools—such as measurements, contours, elevation models, and the cut and fill map—to better understand the topography of the Orbital project.

“As Site Scan continues to add to its suite of tools for analyzing drone data, it’s really become like Civil 3D in the cloud,” Paul said. “For example, I find the elevation model helpful for understanding drainage and runoff areas. With Site Scan, we can get this type of information much faster and with far greater detail than a traditional survey.”

“The elevation model in Site Scan is helpful for understanding drainage and runoff areas” — Paul Kawuma, BIM Manager, Arcadis

“When it comes to ease and efficiency, drones are taking surveying to a whole new level.”

— Liam Kirk, Business Director, Arcadis

Next steps

After successfully using Site Scan on the Orbital Highway project, the Arcadis Qatar team is now actively scaling their drone operations and identifying new projects where Site Scan can make an impact.

“When it comes to ease and efficiency,” Liam said, “drones are taking surveying to a whole new level.”

The post How Drones Made Earthworks 10X Faster on Qatar’s Orbital Highway appeared first on 3DR Site Scan - Commercial Drone Platform.

Get Automated Accuracy Reports With GCP Checkpoints

Now that you can process your drone data with ground control points (GCPs), you can achieve horizontal and vertical accuracy down to 0.25 inches. It’s important to know exactly how precise your georeferenced deliverables are, so today we’re introducing ‘checkpoints’, which are now available in Site Scan.

Checkpoints aren’t processed along with regular GCPs: they’re independent points that allow Site Scan to automatically determine the accuracy of your georeferenced data products.


To set checkpoints, users can simply click a tagged GCP until it turns into a red checkmark

Checkpoints are a part of our Lightning GCP workflow, which is the fastest way to enter and tag ground control points in the cloud. You can turn a GCP into a checkpoint by just clicking on it, and Site Scan will automatically use that point to measure the accuracy of your deliverables. Ultimately, your accuracy figure will represent the distance, horizontally and vertically, between the checkpoint before and after it was processed.

If you use ground control points in your workflow, this is a crucial capability: now, you can know exactly how precise your drone maps and models are. If you have any questions or would like to learn more, please fill out our contact form and one our product specialists will get in touch.

The post Get Automated Accuracy Reports With GCP Checkpoints appeared first on 3DR Site Scan - Commercial Drone Platform.

3DR and Global Aerospace Partner to Provide Enterprise Drone Insurance

We’re committed to helping companies of all sizes start and successfully scale their drone operations. We know that there are a lot of factors to consider when bringing drones into your projects, especially for larger enterprises who are aiming to reduce risk and ensure compliance.

That’s why effective drone insurance is a must-have for many businesses, and today we’re excited to share that we’ve partnered with Global Aerospace and Harpenau Insurance, who together will offer comprehensive drone insurance options to Site Scan customers. Global Aerospace, the underwriter, is a leading provider of aerospace insurance, with nearly a century of experience working with the aviation and space industries. Harpenau Insurance works directly with 3DR customers to provide Global Aerospace insurance to policyholders. They have agents you can contact directly for exceptional service, and can turnaround a quick and accurate quote for your aerospace operation.  They can also provide quotes for all other required coverages for your business needs.   “We couldn’t be more thrilled to kick off this partnership and make enterprise-ready insurance available to 3DR’s customers in the construction and engineering industries,” said Evan Garmon, Commercial Agent at Harpenau.

What’s included?

The main coverage for drone operators is for legal liability and physical damage. At minimum, legal liability coverage is for the cost of property repair and injuries to people caused by an accident on-site. Coverage can be accessed in a self-service portal, where customers can choose between different options and coverage levels and then get a personalized quote within one to two hours on average.

There’s additional coverage available on the drone insurance policy, if appropriate for your business, including: personal injury (invasion of privacy), non-owned liability (crashing someone else’s drone or a rented drone), medical expenses, premises liability, and damage sustained from any malicious acts.

You can also get coverage for the drone itself, which covers the cost to repair equipment or to cover the total loss of the platform, payload, or ground equipment.

Additional resources for 3DR, Global Aerospace, and Harpenau Insurance customers

There are a few additional benefits to this coverage, including a number of free resources for policyholders:

Visual Line of Sight Standard Operating Procedure, developed exclusively for Global Aerospace customers by the Unmanned Safety Institute.

An Introductory Guide to UAS Emergency Response provided by Global Aerosoft’s SM4 Safety Program Partner, Fireside Partners Inc. This resource is designed to provide drone operators with general post-accident emergency response planning considerations.

Best Practice Guide to Prevent Against Claims of Invasion of Privacy. This document has been designed to help commercial and recreational operators understand key risks and develop procedures appropriate to their operations.

Want to learn more? Check out our drone insurance page or visit the Global Aerospace & 3DR web portal to get a free quote for your business.

The post 3DR and Global Aerospace Partner to Provide Enterprise Drone Insurance appeared first on 3DR Site Scan - Commercial Drone Platform.

New in Site Scan: Ground Control Points

When it comes to drone data, there’s a single metric that matters: accuracy. You want your drone maps and models to capture reality as closely as possible, so you can depend on them and make critical decisions for your business.

Today, we’re thrilled to share that we’re giving a big accuracy boost to your drone data: ground control points are now available in Site Scan!

Ground control points (GCP’s) are easily-identifiable markers on the ground of your jobsite that can be used to ‘georeference’ your drone maps and models. By supporting ground control points in Site Scan, we’re making it possible to increase the absolute accuracy of your drone data and deliver a better finished product.

Processing with GCP’s in Site Scan offers industry-leading precision: while flying at 100 feet with the Site Scan Sony R10C and using GCP’s, you can achieve horizontal accuracy of 0.25 inches and vertical accuracy of 0.25 inches.

This is a major development of how drone imagery is turned into actionable data: with this release, Site Scan is now the only end-to-end drone data platform with cloud processing for ground control points.

Comparing two geo-referenced orthomosaics that were processed with GCP’s


“Ground control points are a game-changer for Site Scan. Now, I can easily tag and process GCP’s in the cloud, and deliver my clients more accurate drone maps and models than ever before.”

— Chris Swigert, Liberty Excavators


Introducing Lightning, the fastest GCP workflow available

Lightning, the fastest GCP workflow on the market

As part of this launch, we’re also introducing Lightning, the fastest and easiest ground control point workflow on the market. Now, with Lightning’s intuitive user experience, you can enter and tag GCP’s 5X faster than alternative workflows. Forget having to worry about slow, inefficient GCP processes: Lightning makes it easy for you to create deliverables that you—and your clients—will love.

Looking for a Site Scan demo? Contact us to speak with a specialist. They’d be happy to answer any questions you may have about the workflow, pricing, and more.

The post New in Site Scan: Ground Control Points appeared first on 3DR Site Scan - Commercial Drone Platform.

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