Big Data Is Reinventing Construction Surveying

Updated: October 19, 2020

Big Data Is Reinventing Construction Surveying

The construction sector was not among the early adopters of big data technology. However, many entities within it are getting on board with using it — particularly for surveying. Construction professionals know the importance of making accurate calculations and staying under budget. However, even the most experienced people among them can’t notice every bit of information that matters.

Big data platforms handle incredible amounts of information, and they help people spot patterns they may otherwise miss. The relevant benefits to the construction industry concerning surveying technology include:

  • Reduced human error
  • Greater efficiency
  • Improved security
  • Enhanced management
  • Better safety

Combining Drone Data With Earth-Moving Software

Construction companies need effective ways to capture information before importing it into big data analysis tools. Many of them choose drones. The rise in popularity for that kind of equipment also led software manufacturers to investigate how their products could cut out unnecessary steps.

In one example, a software title from a Belgian company specializes in tools to help with earth-moving surveying needs. It allows importing drone-collected images into a computer-based product and making quick comparisons between multiple drone surveys in seconds. 

Users can also click on objects in the environment seen on the software screen — such as bulldozers and excavators — that could otherwise skew calculations. Another feature allows focusing on a small area and verifying whether the quantity of dirt removed so far matches the amounts someone made within official records or invoices.

Working with data like this allows companies to reduce the chances of inaccurate estimations and calculations that slow down the surveying process or interfere with project timelines. Moreover, tools like this enable bringing drone data into tools people already know and can access. This advantage means they usually don’t have to spend a substantial amount of time learning a new program.

Customizing Surveying Products to Meet Needs

One of the primary perks of big data software is that it draws conclusions from information much faster than humans could alone. Construction professionals have chances to shorten timeframes even more by utilizing the automated capabilities of drones.

Taylor Seabaugh is the product manager of Kespry, a company that offers advanced drone systems. He believes the future of drone usage will become even more automated than it is now.

Seabaugh explained, “The industry has evolved from, ‘How do we fly drones?’ to  ‘How do we automate the flight?’ It’s a process of going up the stack of automation — from automating the flight to automating the photogrammetric processing. Now, we’re really getting to that next layer of automating the analytics. Reaching the full evolution in this field to finish vision is where the market is going.”

People can already use geofencing features so that drones only fly within defined areas. Choosing between drones built to handle different sized projects is another way to achieve optimal results. Because models have various speed and battery life capabilities, selecting the right one — whether a construction site comprises 12 acres or two — is crucial.

Paying attention to the ratio of data capture to data processing matters, too. Fortunately, many of today’s solutions are so robust that major processing slowdowns do not happen, even when working with vast amounts of data.

Mapping Difficult-to-Access or Dangerous Places

Big data and drones can also move surveying technology forward by aiding people via greater ease of access. Many surveyors find mobile 3D mapping a viable and effective approach, particularly when getting to a site becomes prohibitively cost- and time-intensive.

Using a drone allows surveyors to assess areas located on treacherous terrain or otherwise too hazardous for a person to reach on foot. A professional could program the drone to fly over the designated area and collect the desired information. Next, the individual could use big data software to analyze the captured material without ever putting themselves in life-threatening situations.

Avoiding danger also took on a new meaning due to the coronavirus pandemic. Most authorities eventually cleared construction professionals to carry out essential work, meaning they could reopen with precautions. Site crews must maintain adequate distances from one another, and they may don masks as part of their required attire, for example.

Many industries — including energy and oil and gas — began depending on drones to handle inspections several years ago. Company decision-makers realized that such an approach kept more humans out of harm’s way. Doing that could become more common in the construction industry, too. Imagine a scenario where someone can oversee a project without being on the site, thereby staying free from a COVID-19 infection risk.

Making Data Immediately Accessible

Collecting drone data quickly becomes a useless exercise if construction professionals don’t know how to turn it into a useful format. One Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company filled that void. Its program automates the processing of 20 million data points taken from drone images. People can then rely on those insights for better decision-making and improved visibility.

The drones equipped with this company’s technology fly over a site and make a “point cloud” of stitched-together image data. A proprietary machine learning algorithm combines with the machine vision capabilities of the drone.

During the aerial data processing, the information gets turned into the user’s choice of formats. Then, people can immediately start working with the data and gaining insights from it.

Having the information readily available also allows teams to make proactive choices and minimize threats to safety. If aerial data shows infrastructure dangers or terrain issues that could put people at risk, project managers can choose how to deal with those problems before catastrophes happen.

The ability to access data quickly assists during pre-construction phases, too. For example, a client could see various possibilities for a project with digital mapping software. Then, a company could use big data software to calculate the various aspects affecting budgeting, timeframes and other characteristics that could make a person choose to move ahead with one approach versus another.

Surveying Technology Supports Success

Whether you have used high-tech solutions like those described here in your work yet or not, expect to do so frequently as options improve. Surveying was once an extremely time- and labor-intensive task, but using drones makes it much faster and more accurate.

Moreover, adding big data into the mix helps professionals reach conclusions with more confidence while understanding which choices they could make to cause better outcomes. Thus, these technological applications bring cost-effectiveness, efficiency and improved safety to sites that decide to use them.

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Originally published on October 19, 2020

About the Author

Wendell T. Harness

I’ve been building online properties since the late 1980’s and transitioned to web design in 1999. I formed Harness Media in 2005 to help businesses grow through online marketing. I also talk to cats in a silly voice.

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