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Drone tech wins New Civil Engineer prize

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The latest in drone survey technology has emerged supreme in a special innovation prize.

Hosted at New Civil Engineer’s UK Rail Conference, two presenters were given 20 minutes to present an innovative idea to drive efficiencies in the rail sector.

Industry judges awarded first prize to Bechtel virtual project delivery (VPD) integration specialist Marvin Johnson for a talk on “efficient use of linear drone data”.

“We’re on a path of innovation, as many companies are, but we’re trying to do something different in terms of drones,” said Johnson.

In field trials, the VPD crew of drone pilots, surveyors and field engineers send out unmanned flights, take control points, collect data, and return to land.

But Johnson said the real innovation came as GPS-enabled tablet computers are adopted, reducing the need to travel back and forth to update as-built survey drawings.

“Fly a drone over a corridor drawn up in Google Earth, bring that data back, put it into your design tools of choice, and quickly do a feasibility design,” said Johnson.

”It can speed up the process, giving engineers access to progress on their desktops.

“So you’ve done your first scan, you begin works, and you do it again. And you can have that cycle repeated and repeated.

“We asked: why don’t we get our field engineers taking this information out into the field, showing it around, and using it more regularly?”

The mobile technology could be useful for emergency situations, for example floods, requiring rapid deployment, Johnson said.

And while there obstacles, such as vegetation, prevent total accuracy from drones,  Johnson believes that as technology improves, the survey quality will as well.

“We just know there’s going to be a productivity gain there. It’s just a matter of a softly-softly approach in trials and getting people comfortable with using this technology.”

The runner-up prize went to Atkins’ “Future Signalling” work, which digitises elements of level crossings to improve reliability, safety and renewal costs.


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