Burns & McDonnell, an architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) firm based in Kansas City, Mo., says it now has certification from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Transport Canada to fly drones for commercial use.
According to the firm, in addition to capturing high-resolution images and sweeping video, the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) use remote sensors that focus on specific parts of the light spectrum to collect valuable data that can identify vegetation health, wetland areas, surface temperatures and more. That information can help produce detailed design, construction and planning aids – from 3D modeling and thermal imagery to wildlife and cultural monitoring.
“We used UAVs when installing more than 200 miles of transmission lines in Canada through extremely rugged terrain and brutally cold temperatures,” says Steve Santovasi from Burns & McDonnell. “In the past, engineers would have to physically walk the route to gather those precise measurements and data. Using UAVs allowed us to do our job safer, more efficiently and significantly faster, saving our client time and money.”
Burns & McDonnell is also partnering with researchers from universities to study how drones improve project and operational efficiency. The firm says it is currently reviewing a case study with a major utility to inspect five of the most critical areas of the project: transmission lines, distribution lines, substations, power plant boilers and landfill mass.
“UAVs will help reduce the need for many environmental permits,” adds Santovasi. “Getting such a permit can require a major effort and impact the progress of a project. Now, for example, a UAV can quickly collect data over a wetland area without setting a foot on it. You could also identify a remote nest without disturbing its inhabitants or bringing in heavy equipment to see if it is active. These UAV workflows result in saving a substantial amount of time and money.
“I think we’re at a tipping point in our industry with UAVs. It’s the equivalent of going from a shovel to a bulldozer,” he notes. “UAVs will play a key role in helping our clients in achieving innovative design build projects faster, safer and more economically than ever before.”