Topographical surveying is increasingly high-tech, and many modern innovations help construction professionals save time and money. Here’s a look at some of the latest fascinating developments and their potential benefits.


Drones Improve Safety and Accuracy of Construction Surveys

Traditional methods of topographic surveying can prove extraordinarily time-consuming, especially when mapping large sites. However, companies increasingly utilize drones to help with the task.

One recent success involved a construction contractor depending on drones to survey a copper mining site in Arizona. One of the most challenging tasks was to check the largest pit wall face for signs of deterioration, sloughing or movement. Another obstacle was that the pit’s highwall was more than 2,000 feet tall, and surveyors could not safely survey it from the site’s benches.

The company chose a fixed-wing drone that took 3D images of the pit wall during several flights. It collected about 2,400 pictures per trip. People working on the mining project then used that data in collaboration with mining professionals to assess how to manage risks like falling debris as the construction progressed. Besides showing crucial details about the mining pit, the drone also gave better visibility across the project’s span.

Using drones can help construction professionals get reliable images, especially when sites pose dangers that might make the surveying data otherwise dangerous to obtain. However, they must take the time to understand which gadgets on the market are best suited for their needs. For example, a drone’s battery life and the collected images’ resolution could be two primary factors that help someone decide whether to select a particular model.


Laser Scanners Give Dependable Information Without Delays

People in the construction sector and other industries that may require surveying are always interested in speeding up their processes without compromising accuracy. 3D laser scanners can meet that aim. They allow scanning an area with a laser beam to create a point cloud from millions of pieces of spatial data. The information gets processed almost instantly, and the results often provide more clarity than other methods.

Besides letting surveying professionals capture data quickly and accurately, this technology can play a vital role in preserving some of the world’s most treasured historical sites. One 2010 project involved a professor and historian capturing 1 billion data points over five days for France’s Notre Dame Cathedral. More recently, people involved in restoring it after part of the landmark building caught fire used that laser scanning data to guide their efforts.

When surveyors use 3D laser scanners, they can save even more time by using specialized tools to draw repeating patterns and reduce the labor needed for preparing the data. That means professional surveyors can devote more of their work hours to examining the outcomes of their topographical analyses rather than getting the information formatted for use.

An analysis of the terrestrial laser scanner market examined the outlook for 2020-2027. It anticipates a total global value of $6.12 billion by the end of the forecast period. Such a change would represent a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 8.25%.


Today’s Technologies Automate Tedious Surveying Tasks

Inspectors who conduct manual topographic surveys may snap hundreds or thousands of photos in a given week. After that, they must organize and file the images via a method that’s easy to interpret for actionable insights. Some construction companies use various tools to automate parts of the process.

construction layoutA company called OpenSpace created a device that mounts to a person’s hard hat and takes 360-degree images while they walk around a site. Those pictures get automatically mapped to a site’s floor plan, meaning users can more quickly understand how a particular image relates to space and time.

Moreover, Boston Dynamics — which developed a robot dog named Spot — teamed up with developers to create software that teaches the machine to autonomously move through a site. Making that happen could free humans from considerable manual surveying, giving them more time for other tasks.

Such efforts are in the early stages, but they reveal what’s possible. People in the surveying sector should keep an eye on how things develop. As more companies experiment with bringing robotics to the task, it should become more apparent whether such attempts will become feasible soon, or may not happen for years.


Bringing Technologies Together to Improve Accessibility Mapping

Light Detection and Ranging — often referred to as LIDAR — uses light to measure distances. It functions underwater and on land, but topographic LIDAR surveys require using a near-infrared laser. Each setup includes a laser, a scanner and a platform-mounted GPS receiver. Pointing the laser at a target’s surface causes a reflection of light back to the LIDAR equipment. Sensors record specifics about the reflected light to measure the distance traveled.

A new project at Northern Arizona University (NAU) concerns the use of LIDAR to improve surveying for an accessibility map of the campus. People will be able to use it to determine the best routes for wheelchair users or people who want to avoid stairs.

Scott Nowicki is the lead research and development scientist at Quantum Spatial, a geospatial data firm helping with the initiative. He stated, “This project developing a uniquely detailed high-resolution model of the exterior campus environment will provide all students, staff and visitors with a valuable resource to help them easily navigate the sprawling campus.”

The project relies on LIDAR as well as some of the other technologies discussed here. People from a couple of the departments on campus will assist Quantum Spatial by using LIDAR, while the company will supplement that data with laser scanning and drone-collected details. The first phase of the map will bring all that information together to give path-of-travel and slope specifics to viewers.

Team members plan to create a second version of the map to complement assistive technology tools, such as screen readers. The level of detail in this map could also guide future construction projects. For example, it could reveal where accessibility efforts fall short and ensure that all new buildings have accessibility requirements addressed from the start rather than later.


The Evolution of Surveying

This overview reveals how technologies are rapidly altering the ways surveyors do their jobs and the average time required to complete them. These improvements will not take humans out of the picture, but they could shift their workloads and cut down on errors or repetitive work. When that happens, surveyors become more productive and their clients come away satisfied.

surveying with a total station