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AEC firms use aerial mapping to share in infrastructure funding

Nearmap aerial imagery is used as a basis for survey linework. Photo: Nearmap

Nearmap aerial imagery is used as a basis for survey linework. Photo: Nearmap

With Congressional approval of $17 billion in infrastructure funding, the largest single allocation ever, the scramble to win contracts is about to get red hot and AEC firms are gearing up. In this very competitive game, top engineering firms are relying on their experience, technology, business acumen and ability to execute.

Advances in aerial mapping play a key role in how AEC firms pursue these contracts. Savvy firms have been using this technology for years. Rather than rely on lower resolution satellite imagery or local drone imagery, they use wide-area-coverage aerial maps to clearly display the detail needed to plan and execute.

Over the past decade, maps made using aerial photogrammetry have played an important role in the AEC space. Using high-performance cameras, fleets of planes capture hundreds of square miles per plane per day, provided that the weather is clear. The imagery is processed and made available to engineering companies within days of capture, allowing them to see very clear imagery.

AEC organizations use different forms of aerial maps to evaluate sites, improve their survey designs, and build and maintain infrastructure (roads, highways, bridges, tunnels, overpasses, rail, airports, housing, commercial building development, water resources, parks, pavement and more). Imagine you’re a state or local government that needs to build a bridge, or a developer who wants to contract with an engineering and construction firm to build affordable housing. Why travel to perform time-consuming site evaluations when you can meet with engineering teams in your office and review hundreds of potential sites instantly using current aerial photos that show change over time?

The engineering teams point out elevation changes, the presence and height of vegetation, neighboring communities, bodies of water, ponding and more. They easily navigate from one location to another as you discuss where the entrance to the community could be, how the road network might be configured, and the proximity to retail, schools and healthcare. Within minutes you measure risk, understand the landscape, make decisions, and begin to estimate the project costs. Your teams collaborate, discuss the pros and cons, measure distances and navigate across the terrain virtually.

Aerial mapping provides a competitive advantage for AEC companies to win their fair share of the infrastructure bill. It also gives governments and developers the confidence they need to make the right decisions. Typically, this involves looking at sites from all angles. The classic form of aerial mapping used by engineers is a top-down perspective. Increasingly, these organizations have used oblique imagery captured at an angled perspective, which shows height.

Artificial Intelligence and Aerial Photography

Starting a few years ago, 3D imagery and digital surface models began to allow engineers to navigate through the imagery and query it based on elevation. More recently, aerial mapping has leveraged artificial intelligence (AI) to classify properties and the landscape. Do you need to see nearby construction sites? AI applied to aerial photography can do that automatically. This rich set of data includes attributes such as tree overhang, roof condition, roof material, building footprints, vegetation height, surface material, swimming pools and even solar panels.

The blend of all these imagery types and AI into a single solution makes everything discoverable. Users can search by address, city, location or point of interest. They can visualize the imagery along with lat/long coordinates and quickly switch from top-down views to obliques to 3D. As they learn more about the landscape, they begin to turn on AI attributes, gaining deeper insights.

Sometimes, the analyses go even further. Engineering organizations export the imagery to tools of their choice from such companies as Autodesk, Esri or Bentley Systems, use field-collected ground control points to ensure that it is survey grade, then use it as a base layer for their designs. They even create marketing presentations and video content to help them win the business. Current high-resolution aerial maps have become a cornerstone of how these organizations operate.

This approach provides unique advantages for engineering firms. For example, they can combine geospatial and construction datasets in a common operating environment to reduce complexity, streamline communication, ensure that all stakeholders are up to date, and check their progress toward meeting contractual obligations.

Planners have current, contextual designs and models to make accurate decisions about planning and development activities. They can view asset locations and conditions to facilitate maintenance and upgrades, leverage aerial maps inside other platforms to improve work orders and reduce field visits, and ensure regulatory compliance.

Whether it’s improving highway safety, constructing ferry terminals, improving transportation systems, developing land or building a network of recreational trails, aerial imagery provides engineering and construction companies with a competitive advantage to win new business, improve client satisfaction and meet growth targets. With $17 billion on the line, sophisticated firms are finding a way to secure their fair share of the pie.

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