This web page is designed as a resource for Gannett Fleming employees and prospective clients who wish to learn more about Unmanned Aerial Systems - Drones - and their derived products available through the Gannett Fleming drone services. Our first drone was purchased in July 2016 to develop an understanding of the emerging Unmanned Aircraft Systems technology and prepare our staff with training prior to FAA policy changes at the end of August 2016. We currently have multiple employees certified through the FAA and cleared by the TSA to fly commercially and are now pursuing use of the technology directly on Gannett Fleming projects.
Utilizing specialized post-processing software and custom in-house software, Gannett Fleming has developed a variety of 2D and 3D digital mapping products utilizing traditional photogrammetric methods and has achieved vertical accuracies within inches in open hard-surface areas.
With more than one million drones sold last year alone and regulations loosening, commercial operation will become commonplace within the next year. The keys to successful implementation of this emerging technology at Gannett Fleming are the products created, the efficiency with which they can be produced, and the value they provide to our clients.
The most common applications are basic photo and video collection; however, we have taken this further by providing the means to effectively communicate, share, and manage these large digital data sets derived from drones. As our client's trusted advisors, they will expect us to leverage this new technology and take such justified services to a new level. Some of the common applications of drones in the construction and engineering industry include:
- field investigations and site inspection, utilizing both photography and video;
- photogrammetric aerial surveys, creating high-resolution aerial imagery, highly accurate 3D elevation models, and 3D photorealistic models;
- change detection or monitoring applications, including 2D photographic or 3D volumetric, time-lapse animations; and
- improved safety and addressing some access constraints.
"UAVs offer disruptive opportunities for companies in the engineering and construction industries. They can dramatically extend human operations by enabling remote sensoring...offerring key benefits such as cost reduction, risk mitigation and quality improvements, thereby bringing a competitive advantage to their adopters.
"The drone is the tool of our future."
Mark Woodson, P.E., L.S., D.WRE, F.ASCE, 2016 president of the American Society of Civil Engineers
"Unmanned aerial vehicles will change the way engineers work."
"UAVs allowed us to do our job safer, more efficiently and significantly faster, saving our client time and money."
Steven Santovasi, Burns & McDonnell
Drone use on Gannett Fleming Projects
High-Resolution Aerial Imagery Comparison
The interactive map above shows high-res imagery on the left collected in August at a Dam northeast of Harrisburg. The post-processing took only a few hours most of which was computer processing time. By clicking on the slider in the middle, you can easily compare the level-of-detail shown by the drone on the left (2-inch ground resolution) versus the USGS aerial imagery on the right (1-meter ground resolution). Notice the spillway slabs that have been replaced since the July 2015 imagery was flown on the right. You can also zoom in and out to see the detail of the drone imagery. This 1-inch high-resolution image of the north building parking lot clearly shows the pavement markings and the ratchet tie-downs in the back of the truck.
Gannett Fleming North Building 3D Model
The interactive 3D model above of the Gannett Fleming North building was collected in July 2016. This data was collected in about 10 minutes and processing took only a few hours most of which was computer processing time. You can zoom in and out, spin around and flip upside down this model using any combination of buttons and scroll wheel clicks on your mouse. If you get lost, just hit the home button to return to the original view.
TechnologyWhat is a drone?
An unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), commonly known as a drone, as an unmanned aircraft system (UAS), or by several other names, is an aircraft without a human pilot aboard. The flight of UAVs may operate with various degrees of autonomy: either under remote control by a human operator, or fully or intermittently autonomously, by onboard computers. Their use is expanding in commercial, scientific, recreational, agricultural, and other applications, such as policing and surveillance, aerial photography and agriculture. Civilian drones now vastly outnumber military drones, with estimates of over a million sold by 2015. ~ Wikipedia
What drone does Gannett Fleming own and operate?
Gannett Fleming owns and operates multiple DJI Quadcopters.
What software does Gannett Fleming use for processing the data?
Gannett Fleming utilizes the Esri Drone2Map software for post-processing the drone collected photography and to generate orthophotographs and digital surface models in the Amazon Cloud. This software is tightly integrated with their cloud GIS platform called ArcGIS Online, which allows us to share these interactive and dynamic 3D products with anyone using a web browser. We have also deveveloped several custom software tools to support video animations and panoramic views.
ProductsWhat types of Products are Created?
1 - High-Resolution Imagery (orthophotographs) - Download an Example
2 - 3D PDF File - Download an Example
3 - Digital Surface Models and Hillshade - Download an Example
4 - LAS Point Clouds (see image below) - Download an Example
The above point cloud renders over 23 million XYZ points in natural color over a 41-acre project site. These drone-derived 3D point clouds can be further processed to create detailed bare-earth terrain models or used for vertical measurements in a 3D environment.
Frequently Asked QuestionsWhat does a drone do well?
A drone does the following things well:
1 - Provides a safe environment for Gannett Fleming field work.
2 - Collects highly detailed and accurate digital elevation data and aerial imagery
3 - Collects a highly detailed 4K video or 20+ MP still photos
4 - Creates products that can be used for engineering design (We have achieved one to 2-inch vertical accuracies in open areas)
5 - Can collect larger areas faster than traditional ground survey with much more detail, plus produce surface deliverables quicker
Source: Point of Beginning Magazine
What doesn't a drone do well?
A drone does NOT do the following things well:
1 - Create a bare earth digital elevation model in areas of vegetation or manmade features
2 - See through ground cover such as tree canopies
3 - Obtain extremely high accuracies less than a inch, however typically provides finer resolution, or more detailed data
4 - Replace the subtleties of what an experienced survey can learn from walking a site.
5 - Spend a long time in the air
Source: Point of Beginning Magazine
What is the accuracy?
A discussion on the accuracy of drone mapping could go on for pages. Simply stated though, the accuracy of a drone's products are a function of many variables including the camera, lens, mounting hardware, telemetry, altitude, image resolution, number of photos, overlap, atmospheric impacts, GNSS Satellite constellation, proximity to buildings, GPS Receiver, Differential GPS and Control points - just to name a few. However everyone still wants to know how accurate their products are. When discussing accuracy there are both relative and absolute accuracy considerations. The source of the aforementioned information does a good job of describing both. But if we had to be quoted, we'd say that the accuracy of a product with high accuracy ground control is on the order of inches in the horizontal and vertical. For the drone survey of the GF North Building, 8 checkpoints in open areas revealed differences anywhere from 0.05 ft to 0.19 ft.
Source: Drone Deploy
What is the precision?
The precision of your products also takes into consideration all of the items discussed in the accuracy question above. When thinking of precision (in many cases the detail of the products you get) it's easier to think in terms of a photograph or surface model where each pixel is representative of a certain size on the ground. The term ground sampling distance (GSD) is commonly used. In most cases we are achieving a GSD of anywhere from 1 to 5 centimeters depending upon the altitude of the flight.
What is the level of effort?
The level of effort required for any given job is directly related to the size of the area to be collected. But consider you'll need the certified drone operator traveling to and from the site as well as onsite for the collection and then some time to post-process the products.
How long will the drone fly?
This is currently one of the biggest limitations to drone technology today. Our drone has a flight time of almost a half hour, however to be safe we typically fly for 25 minutes or so on a single battery. Gannett Fleming has several batteries available for every project.
How large of an area can the drone cover?
The answer to this question is also dependent upon a number of items - Altitude, degree of overlap and the type of products you are trying to create, but a site that is anywhere within 200 acres is achievable.
How are the digital products referenced?
The products can be referenced to any horizontal or vertical coordinate system, but we typically set ground control tied to a state plane system with units in feet.
What digital formats are available?
We can provide imagery in a variety of formats such as tif, sid, png, and more, plus vector data in either a CAD or GIS format. 3D model formats include the I3S format and more using common ETL software.
How are other engineering firms leveraging the technology?
Here are some articles on how other engineering consultants transforming their business by using drones:
- Engineering, Inc.: Industry Drone Use Taking Flight
- 6 Ways You Could Use a Drone in Construction Projects
- Drones and Engineering
- How can drones transform construction processes?
- Four Ways UAVs are Transforming Design Build Industries
FAA ResourcesFAA Unmanned Aircraft Systems
The FAA offers a number of resources for Unmanned Aircraft Systems.
What rules govern how I can use the drone?
The Part 107 Summary offers a brief description of the rules governing drone operators
How can I become Certified?
The process to become a pilot is pretty simple and requires passing an exam and then being cleared by the TSA. Refer to this site for more information on the certification process, or this site. Here is a free video to teach you what you need to know to pass the test. Find a testing center here.