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Drone Technology

Elevating Workflow with Drones

Shawn Cox, Civil Engineering Technician

I have always been a big fan of photography, electronics and aviation. I’m awed by beautiful aerial images but I’ve never quite had the funds in my photography budget to pull the trigger on that new Bell 407GPX Helicopter. So, the next logical and affordable step was buying a drone. In early 2016 I purchased my first drone, the Autel X-Star Premium, a beautifully designed orange quad-copter that has lovingly been nicknamed the “Flying Pumpkin” by the drone community. I was hooked by recreational flying and aerial photography right way. In June, 2016, the FAA released “Small Unmanned Aircraft Regulations (Part 107),” and for the first time there was a path to commercial drone use in the United States. Shortly after the release of Part 107, Autel Robotics ran a promotion to show their aircraft in commercial drone use. They offered to reimburse the expense of the Part 107 test to anyone who owned one of their drones. I was already interested in taking the exam, but this motivated me to get it done before the promotion ended. I promptly signed up for a class in preparation for the exam and in September, 2016, I took the Unmanned Aircraft Airman Knowledge Exam at Millard Airport and passed! Since passing the exam, I have been working with E&A to integrate drones into our workflow. Drones at E&A are used for more than pretty photos, they have proven to be useful tools in surveying, mapping, volume calculations and inspections.  Sites that were previously challenging are now manageable.  By utilizing drone data, we can now produce preliminary surveys, grade checks and volumes efficiently with minimal operational interference and minimal processing time. In just a few days, we can have a digital 3-D model of the topography and can immediately start generating volumes, surface and get straight to work engineering answers. I’m also working with other departments at E&A to capture photography of potential sites for development, construction or wetlands and to apply many other ideas that present themselves daily. This technology is moving at a rapid pace and it’s an exciting time for E&A to be a part of it.   Images:  Drone-generated 3-D models of a coal pile’s volume and the topography of a park improvements site, an aerial of a new gas station with a green roof and an aerial of Westside High School’s softball complex.