Drone (sUAS) Technology offers Better Land Surveying, GIS Solutions

Environmental Scientist Mitch Larson pilots an unmanned aerial survey drone.

The land surveying profession has always relied upon the implementation of cutting edge technology and procedures to assist land surveyors with their work, from the earliest practical uses of trigonometry to the invention of precise measurement tools such as the solar compass, Vernier transits, Electronic Distance Measurement, high precision GPS, and Laser Scanning technology. Progressive land surveyors push technological boundaries to provide more accurate, efficient, and safer methods to find solutions to their client’s needs.

Traditional surveying tools.
Traditional surveying tools.

Wenck is leading the industry through our integration of aerial imagery obtained by small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS), commonly referred to as drones. Drone photography provides us with high resolution aerial images of many of our project sites which in the past would have required a photogrammetry company to fly the site with a full size fixed wing aircraft. The portability, ease of use, flexibility, and accessibility of drone hardware provides better imagery at a small fraction of the cost when compared to legacy photogrammetry methods.

The high-resolution imagery obtained by sUAS is used for detailed background mapping for many of our engineering and water resources planning projects such as was completed on a 240-acre development project in the south metro. If properly conducted, aerial imagery collected by drone has also replaced conventional topographic survey on many sites. Wenck has successfully completed topographic surveys via drone for several open pit mines, material stockpile sites, landfills, large watermain replacement projects, and other engineering design related tasks.

Drone Technology at Wenck
A drone shot of Lake Zumbro.

As with all tools, drones are not a one size fits all solution. It is important that the site conditions and end use of the data are taken into consideration while determining if it is the right tool for any project.

The ideal sites for drone surveys are:

• Outside controlled aeronautical airspace
• Away from populated areas
• On sites without heavy vegetation
• On sites that have ground survey safety issues

Environmental factors that prohibit drone surveys:

• High winds
• Precipitation
• Greater than 30% snow cover

Expected data accuracies (bare earth):

• +/- 0.3’ Horizontal and Vertical

Titan Mine: using a drone for site mapping, Little Mountain, Wyoming.
Titan Mine site mapping, Little Mountain, Wyoming.

These factors, along with many others, are evaluated by Wenck’s team of FAA Part 107 certified pilots during flight planning and again on site to ensure that the safety of the public and final data integrity is maintained. In the office, our technicians process the imagery and perform rigorous quality assurance protocols prior to exporting final data for use in our CAD and GIS deliverable production.

An additional benefit of utilizing drones to collect site data is especially apparent on sites with unique safety considerations, such as mines and landfill sites where on-going operations would typically need to be monitored or halted to ensure the safety of the surveying staff as they complete a conventional topographic survey.

Wenck’s Geospatial Team is continuously monitoring developments in hardware and software related to this new tool and have begun preliminary planning for projects utilizing other types of drone mounted sensors, such as thermal imaging cameras and LiDAR. These additions to our current suite of measurement tools will provide multiple options for obtaining the site data that our clients need to make informed and timely decisions on their projects.

Contact Chris Ambourn, LS – Geospatial Team Leader at 651.485.9876 or cambourn@wenck.com to learn if this tool can assist you with your next project.

About Wenck

Founded in 1985, Wenck operates both nationally and internationally providing holistic environmental, engineering, construction, and response solutions. We are your partner and advocate behind the scenes, with 275+ multidisciplinary technical experts championing all facets of your most essential business interests. With a passion for air, water, waste, land/natural resources, and infrastructure, we utilize our discrete expertise to ensure your organization is operational and thriving.

Wenck believes collaboration leads to innovation, so we engage the right internal experts and leverage strategic alliance partners to drive projects forward. We stay current on the latest technical details, regulations, and movements across all our market areas, managing the risk for you with economic efficiency in mind. And as environmental stewards, we value community and resilient ideals that result in shared success. Let us know how we can help you build a better planet.

Chris Ambourn

Wenck Author

Chris Ambourn

Professional Land Surveyor (MN, ND, SD, WI, WY)