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Unmanned Aerial Systems


The use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or “Drones” is changing the way in which many disciples collect field data. Few more so than land surveying. Ragan-Smith’s Reality Capture Group is using UAVs on a weekly basis to monitor sites, provide topographic mapping, volumetric analysis, slope monitoring, and more. For times when speed trumps accuracy or the asset can only be seen from above, few systems deliver a better product than UAVs.

Grading Quality Control

The low cost of topographic surveying via UAV allows clients to map at intervals that were previously cost prohibitive. One of those times is after grading is complete but before construction begins in a given phase. We can then compare the grading design to the actual conditions post grading. We then overlay the lot lines and can provide spot elevations per lot to verify that layout will conform to design.

Volumetric Surveys

Another excellent use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) is the performance of Volumetric Surveys. The use of a UAV dramatically decreases the time necessary to collect the information about the product piles while removing the need to actually climb or occupy any positions on the piles. Both of these reduce the risk of an accident while onsite. The faster collection times also reduce the down time of staff that need to be moving materials around onsite. Lastly, the airborne platform means that the sensors can collect the entire surface of the top of the pile. This is typically not the case if the top of the pile has not been graded smooth. Faster, safer, and more cost effective; it doesn’t get much better than that!

Site Visualization

Pre-visualization is now standard when it comes to communicating a designer’s vision to others. Whether it’s an engineer showing a new intersection design to a planning department or an architect helping their client through zoning, designers spend a lot showing how their design fits into the rest of reality. With those design now existing in 3D modeling applications, we can use UAVs to collect data that can be converted into a 1:1 scale, photo-realistic, 3D mesh (.obj file). This file can be imported into any standard animation or modeling program and used as a backdrop when rendering stills or animations of your design. It’s much more realistic than mocking something up in SketchUp and can be a real difference maker when it comes to communicating your design intent to non-professionals.