Autonomous Aerial Surveying in Australia
Innovation in Flight
Monitoring environmental impacts throughout the project lifecycle is key to meeting regulatory requirements and potentially reducing significant financial obligations. The solar farm permit conditions allowed for reduced monetary installments to the government where minimization of impacts to vegetation could be demonstrated. To help the client obtain that benefit, CDM Smith’s team considered the best way to establish existing on ground conditions and track vegetation loss. Infrastructure specialist Taylor Oldfield and engineer Evan O’Brien took this challenge as an opportunity to innovate and within the surveying process. “Previously, this type of information was collected by personnel on foot and proved to be a costly, time consuming, tedious process,” said Oldfield. Recognising that fact, Oldfield and O’Brien turned to UAVs to improve the surveying process. “Using this technology, we were able to deliver high-accuracy, high-resolution deliverables to the client in a more timely and cost-effective manner than a traditional ground-based survey could provide,” said Oldfield.
Using UAVs, the team could provide the client with robust data in a timely and cost-effective manner. “We recognised a major discrepancy between the quantity and quality of data you can obtain by sending two workers into the field to survey compared to sending up an aircraft with Airborne Laser Scanning (ALS) capabilities, with little to no options in between. UAVs provide something between these two levels of data capture, which is appealing to those who may be working on a tight budget or don’t have access to an aircraft with ALS,” explained O’Brien. According to O’Brien, the UAVs also bolster safety, removing risks for workers in the field through a hands-off data capture method: “For those working in potentially dangerous locations, surveying using drones is a game-changer. Some tasks are not only time consuming, but dangerous. Using a machine removes the element of danger to employees.”
The UAVs O’Brien and Oldfield deployed collected detailed photographs that can be stitched together with photogrammetric techniques—or techniques that help make measurements using photographs—to provide a cost and time efficient method for tracking vegetation loss throughout construction. More than 4,000 photographs were captured and collected for processing to provide rich datasets to the client. Combined with highly accurate GPS data, the team created robust 3D models, including a detailed digital terrain model, that would not only be essential for monitoring vegetation loss over time but supplement both the design and construction phases of the project.
The barriers to owning and operating a drone have dropped significantly since they entered the market—and this project is evidence that you don’t need expensive technology to capture rich data.