Driving change: Drones for Surveying
Drones can do an awful lot: from taking photos and delivering packages to even replacing fireworks. But can they put an end to every driver’s dread? Yes, this week we’re talking how using drones for surveying can prevent potholes.
To say they are a problem is an understatement. Did you know that if you stacked the UK’s total number of potholes, you would reach a depth of more than 30 km? That’s nearly three times as deep as the Pacific ocean.
A pothole like that comes at a heavy cost. In 2019 alone, compensation and payouts to drivers drained council budgets by £2,810,306.
When the UK road network was first envisaged all those years ago, they probably were not expecting its maintenance would make the Forth Bridge feel like an easy bit of DIY. With more than 28,000 km of council-maintained A-roads in England alone, it is clearly a tall order.
To understand this problem better and look at how using drones for surveying can make a difference, let’s dig a bit deeper…
AA calls out councils on road maintenance
In October, the AA accused some councils in England of achieving “next to nothing” when it comes to maintaining the nation’s A-road network.
An analysis of Department for Transport (Dft) figures on maintenance revealed that just 0.6 per cent of roads were strengthened, while 2.0 per cent was resurfaced and 3.6% underwent a surface treatment.
The story does not improve with the nation’s council-maintained network of B, C and unclassified roads. Spanning 267,923 km in England, just 8,549 km underwent a maintenance treatment.
Two unitary authorities (UA) were singled out by the UA for repairing just a thousandth of their networks.
One repaired just 0.033 km of its 41.8 km of A-roads in 2018/19, while the other managed to treat just 0.073 km of its 55.8 km part of the network. Worse still, neither did A-road repairs in 2017/18, according to Dft statistics.
Fortunately, they are exceptions to the rule. The AA identified two top-leading counties. While Lincolnshire successfully treated 10.2 per cent of its A-roads in 2018/19, Somerset treated 13.5 per cent of its network.
The cost of the problem
With many predicting a bad winter, there’s a very real danger that some councils will face a “plague of potholes”. The risks attached with that are very high – for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers alike.
Nowhere is it costlier than with drivers. Potholes can result in costly damage to your tyres, wheels and suspension. The resulting compensation claims can drain a council’s finances.
… which brings us back to Lincolnshire, which the AA called a “big fixer”.
In Lincolnshire, the county council paid nearly £1.2 million in legal claims for pothole damage over a two-year period, according to a Freedom of Information request. The review included 384 personal injury claims and 4,726 claims for damaged property.
They are some huge numbers, but that’s not what is so impressive about Lincolnshire.
You see, while Lincolnshire spent a whopping £1.05 million in payouts in 2018, the council paid out just £130,000 in 2019.
While Lincolnshire, like many counties has suffered from chronic underinvestment by central government, has invested £38.5 million in proactive roadworks and just £3.6 million reacting to reports of highway damage. Let’s take a look at how using drones for technology can help other counties make a difference…
The technology driving change
When combined, these technologies are more commonly known as drone mapping. It’s helping private and public sector organisations around the world to successfully tackle an operational challenge.
Drone mapping makes it possible for teams to complete inspections faster and more frequently, while the outcomes are instantly and easily recorded in digital asset databases. The systems are always being updated, authorities are able to keep a watchful eye over the entire network, rather than simply reacting to its failings in an isolated manner.
A juggling act
Unlike repair and maintenance organisations which react to issues, infrastructure management agencies balance cost, risk and performance over the life cycle of a road network.
Their main goals are to keep the network performing at its best while minimising the risks posed to safety and the environment.
To do this effectively, agencies need to be informed of the asset’s current and future condition, as well as how it is actually performing – in real-time. Without this crucial information, how can you balance the cost against the impact?
Put simply: not easily. Performing periodic surveys and keeping an up-to-date database of roads, bridges and other bits of civil engineering on the ground is costly and time-consuming.
The most powerful tool in a surveyor’s toolbox
That is, unless your organisation has unlocked the potential of drone technology. The drones’ capture capabilities, coupled with the photogrammetry software to convert data into digital spatial models, has made it easier than ever before.
Surveyors around the UK are using drones to gather the data needed to make operations faster, safer and more cost-efficient.
To date, we’ve helped more than 1,000 organisations take to the sky. These big names, which include the likes of Costain, Pfizer and Can Group, have significantly improved their operational efficiency by adopting drone technology.
Why drones for surveying?
1. Happier road users, reduced disruption and lower costs
Traditional surveying methods require highways to be closed for several hours, disrupting the lives and businesses of road users. Typically a 10 km stretch of road can take 10 hours.
Drone-mapping missions can be completed in as little as 20 per cent of the time, without the need for closure and disruptions.
2. Smaller teams, smaller price tags
Having a bird’s eye view means surveys no longer need to be supported by large teams and expensive operators.
Instead, all that’s needed is a drone operator, a drone for surveying such as the DJI Matrice 200 V2 and a small team.
Ideally, a photogrammetry software expert would work with the team in the field. However, that doesn’t necessarily need to be the case thanks to the remote capabilities of software such as the Pix4DMapper.
3. Faster and more accurate
Traditional land surveying isn’t just time-consuming – it only accounts for assets within the team’s view at ground level.
Using a drone for surveying means the job can be done in a fraction of the time while providing the team with greater access, thanks to the outstanding visibility from above.
Land-based surveying can be challenging for access. Dense vegetation and complex topography are associated with increased operational risks for traditional surveying teams.
Rather than work around obstacles, surveying using a drone eliminates these potential threats to surveying operations.
No human error
Where humans are involved, human error can occur. When surveying discrepancies occur, it’s often due to carelessness, miscommunication, and/or fatigue.
By adopting drones for surveying, this danger can be eliminated. This is because there is no need for data entry. The smart software simply (and instantly) extracts the information it needs from images – including geo-tags to build models.
Kent takes to the skies: drones for surveying
In Kent, a local authority is trialling using drones for surveying on its road infrastructure. The pilot, which is funded by the Department for Transport and runs until November 2021, is being delivered by a highways and infrastructure specialist.
It’s hoped that using drones for surveying will enhance its service provision while keeping frontline staff safer than ever before.
Using drones for assistance with road investigations prevents the need for workers to be on site performing physical inspections while avoiding road closures.
Because they’ve upskilled the teams deploying the drones, it’s helped narrow the often-lengthy timeframe between an initial inspection and the completion of essential, remedial works using traditional surveying methods.
One of the biggest advantages of including drones within your road maintenance regime is that they can survey and record a huge area of the transport network from overhead in just a fraction of the time taken by traditional ground-based teams.
Advancements in drone camera technology mean users can rely on detailed images – accurate to within 5mm – taken from overhead and it’s allowed them to break new ground.
For the council, the pilot represents an “exciting opportunity” which will provide a greater understanding of roads and other assets. Prior to having this information at their fingertips, the council relied on reports submitted by road users online.
Drone-mapping for highway asset management
Using drones for surveying is transforming how highways and infrastructure maintenance is delivered in the UK, as well as creating opportunities for so much more.
That’s why we’ve heavily invested in the latest drone-mapping solutions and nurtured an environment where these revolutionary technologies can be integrated into the UK’s most complex highways and transport infrastructure programmes.
And it’s transformed the maintenance model to smart highway asset management, thanks to it allowing data-driven decision making and creating efficiencies.
Next steps: Self-repairing cities?
Here in the UK, there’s a major project underway using drones for surveying, which aims to create zero disruption from roadworks in UK cities by 2050.
A partnership between Leeds, Birmingham, Southampton and UCL, the project initially contains three aspects: “Perch and Repair” (drones performing repair tasks), “Fire and Forget” (robots housed in utility pipes with the aim of completing inspections and maintenance) and “Perceive and Patch”.
This last one is particularly relevant as it aims to employ an army of drones that are running diagnostics and inspecting roads, as well as repairing their defects.
Simply put, the idea is to improve the quality of life in UK cities by reducing the impact that infrastructure engineering has on residents, including reducing pollution levels.
Is it possible? Well, that answer is being tested at the University of Leeds. Working in partnership with UCL, they’ve created a large drone capable of scanning for cracks in the road surface, and then treating them with 3D printed asphalt. This prevents small problems from quickly developing into larger and more costly ones.
As well as offering pinpoint precision, the 3D printed asphalt was found to be up to 9 times more pliable than cast asphalt during testing.
In traffic-dense areas, the greater the pliability, the less likely that cracks will develop.
This means that repairs delivered by drone should last much longer than those using traditional methods and potholes should be remedied before they have an opportunity to develop.
Pleasingly, for road users, these road-repairing prototypes are – by design – far less disruptive. Works can be carried out in less than a minute – even at night.
Get the full 360° solution using drones for surveying
Our solutions are making it easier than ever before for councils to make the transition to smart infrastructure asset management. Completely bespoke to your needs and budget, these include our Complete and Professional plans which include everything you need. If you’re looking at using drones for surveying, check out our packages below.
Complete Surveying Package
This provides you with everything you need to introduce a UAV survey solution to your organisation.
The package includes DJI’s smartest flying camera ever, the Phantom 4 RTK quadcopter and controller, as well as the extra batteries you need to keep productivity high.
At Coptrz, we recognise that any technology can only perform as well as its users, so this package includes the training needed to succeed. As well as GVC drone training, this solution includes a Commercial UAV Survey course.
The Complete Surveying Package includes a 12-month Pix4Dmapper licence to enhance your mapping capabilities, as well as a 12-month Network RTK licence for remote access.
Professional Surveying Package
Engineered to help you collect more data-efficiently in large-scale surveying and mapping applications, our Professional Surveying Package features a Wingtra PPK aircraft, fitted with a Sony RX 42 megapixel camera and supported by a Pix4D Mapper one-year licence.
Training is crucial to helping you make the most of your UAV surveying investment. That’s why this package includes:
• Handover training
• Fixed-wing assessment
• PIX4D Essentials two-day workshop
• Commercial UAC survey course
• Operations manual support
Organisations choosing our professional package also benefit from lifetime access to Coptrz Academy.
As well as extra batteries, this package includes a protective hardcase for secure transport.
If you want to find out more about our bespoke surveying packages, contact our industry expert James Pick today.
Do you need a license to fly a drone UK?
Put simply, yes. Luckily for you, Coptrz is your one stop shop for obtaining your drone license, and we will get you kitted out with premium technology.
If you want to stand out from the crowd, you’re going to need a training provider that offers Drone Training, Global Qualifications and on-going support from industry experts from across the world.
Getting your GVC or A2 CofC with Coptrz Academy is a signal of intent. It tells the world that you’re a serious drone pilot who wants to be the best you can be.
You can download our training brochure here.
Are you ready to adopt drone technology into your organisation?
We are excited to see how the project develops, in particular how using drones for surveying can prevent potholes becoming an even bigger issue. We have a wide variety of commercial drones with differing capabilities, as well as the expertise to understand the aims and scope of your project and the drones that will be suitable.
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