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Top 5 Uses For Drones in Engineering and Ecology

March 1st, 2018 by Eileen Pannetier


Over the past few years, drones have evolved from something under every Christmas tree to a valuable tool and investment for civil engineers and environmental scientists.  The use of drones in engineering is expanding rapidly as the accuracy of these tools increases and as costs go down.  There are still barriers to using drones, including the time necessary for pilot training, the technical challenges and software expertise required for post-processing drone imagery, and a lack of uniform standards for products.  EagleEye AeroboticsTM, a subsidiary of Comprehensive Environmental Inc. (CEI), has met these challenges to provide industry-leading drone services, including the top five uses described below.

  1. Investigations of Large or Inaccessible Sites

Large and/or inaccessible locations such as deep woods, expansive wetlands, densely vegetated stream corridors, and salt marshes are ideal for drone investigations. In just a few hours, drones can provide high-resolution imagery for areas that would take days or weeks to assess on foot.  For example, locating beaver dams throughout an extensive stream system can be done quickly and easily with a drone. A sediment plume degrading a river can be rapidly tracked back to its source, such as an unstabilized soil stockpile, helping to speed up mitigation efforts and minimize habitat damage. Big storms may cause an unknown amount of erosion and damage, but drones can be used to quickly assess large areas and prioritize response actions.  As with any technology, there are limitations, but investigations suddenly become quick, effective, and geolocated for easy and precise repetition.



  1. Topographic Survey and Other Maps

Drones can provide significant time and cost savings when compared to traditional land topographic survey techniques. Topographic data from drone surveys are joined into a seamless 3-dimensional reconstruction of the ground surface.  The use of ground control points ensures vertical accuracy in the reconstruction.  The topography includes the ground terrain as well as above-ground features such as buildings and treetops, which can be removed from the reconstruction if necessary.  It’s easy to create videos, orthomosaics, GIS shapefiles, or AutoCAD 3D files with the right software.  Drones provide exceptional imagery resolution -- typically about 1 inch per pixel (depending on flight altitude). For more detail on this subject, feel free to check out our white papers here.

  1. Repetitive Mapping

The precise repeatability of a pre-programmed drone flight path allows for efficient, identical surveys of the same area over time.  This is a huge advantage for monitoring progress and providing as-built surveys for construction sites, documenting the spread of algae blooms, mapping changing flow patterns in streams, or any other time-based variable. The reduced cost in manpower is potentially quite large in comparison to a survey crew doing the same thing repeatedly. 

  1. Ecological Investigations

When paired with the right ecological science expertise, drones are a powerful tool for ecological assessment and mapping, including the specific services listed below. For these services, data derived from EagleEye drone imagery is combined with field services and analyses by CEI’s wetland scientists, biologists, Certified Lake Managers, or other qualified technical staff.

  • Freshwater Wetland Assessments
  • Coastal/Estuarine Habitats
  • Vegetation Community Mapping
  • Algal/Cyanobacteria Bloom Assessments
  • Forestry Investigations
  • Invasive Species Investigations
  • Shoreline/Bank Erosion Inspections
  1. Infrastructure Inspections

Drones have proven to be a tremendous asset for civil infrastructure inspection services, including but not limited to the infrastructure categories below.

  • Water Tanks:  Inspection of the exterior of a water tank can now be done quickly with a video of a drone flyover - much easier and safer than having someone climb the tank for inspection. Services include annual and monthly tank inspections, conducted in accordance with state requirements (not including required internal inspections).
  • Stormwater Infrastructure:  Services include post-processing of drone imagery of stormwater infrastructure for data analyses, including quantification of maintenance issues such as sediment accumulation, erosion surface areas, extent of surface vegetation, etc.

For more information, contact Eileen Pannetier at epannetier@ceiengineers.com

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keywords: drones, mapping, engineering, survey, inspection, ecological

Posted in the categories Drones, Surveying, Technology.