Two construction employees looking at an UAV

Mortenson Construction finds success with UAS technology on the jobsite

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Mortenson Construction is one of the nation’s top builders and a company known for using leading-edge technology. Earlier this year, the company seized the opportunity to test UAS technology as a way to improve on the traditional surveying process.

Seeking a Better Way
From bridge inspection to agricultural scouting to disaster response, curious and innovative professionals, across numerous industries, are discovering the practical business benefits of drones. Taylor Cupp, Assoc. AIA, LEEP AP BD+C, is one of these people.

As Project Solutions Technologist for Mortenson, Cupp is involved in several types of projects and, throughout the years, has always looked for ways to be more efficient and effective on the jobsite.

In March of 2016, Mortenson began a project with a longtime solar client. The scope included a site prep phase that called for moving of 750,000 cubic yards of earth. Because of the large amount of earthmoving involved, the density of survey data, delivery timeframe, and data collection time were all concerns.

Another challenge: existing vegetation and other site characteristics would limit on-foot and vehicular access to certain areas for staking, further compromising the data accuracy of the overall site. Cupp knew there had to be a solution.

Diving Into Drones
Flash back a few years, a friend of Cupp’s was showing off his new drone.

“I remember thinking about all the possibilities I could see it having on the jobsite,” Cupp recalled.

Fast-forward to the 2016 solar project, and this was a chance to put that hunch to the test on the site prep survey work.

Mortenson already had a relationship with RDO Equipment Co., so Cupp knew RDO Integrated Controls offered drones and expertise in UAS technology. He reached out to General Manager, Adam Gilbertson who was excited for the opportunity to show Mortenson a drone.

Gilbertson and three of his colleagues joined Mortenson on the project site to begin the experiment.

Put to the Test
Mortenson relied on machine-controlled site grading for a quality check. Initial survey work was done to establish control. Then, it was time for the drone to take flight.

The drone flew the site five times, with each flight lasting 36 minutes. In total, it generated approximately 2 billion data points at a density of 2-centimeters per pixel. According to Cupp, this was an “astronomically” denser amount of data compared to the terrestrial method, which pulled data points at only every 10 to 15 feet.

Aerial imagery was gathered and processed with photogrammetry technology to generate topographical data of finish grade and rough grade of the site. Thanks to the quick turnaround of the drone, Mortenson was able to collect and analyze the data that same day.

With Flying Colors
In comparison to the terrestrial survey method, the drone showed topo density improvement of 300 times, an 84% topo accuracy improvement, and a 40-hour time savings.

While Cupp says these metrics were crucial in proving the value UAS technology brings to the jobsite, the real value came from something immeasurable.

“Where we saw the major value of UAS was in the real-time assessment and availability of data,” he said. The technology feasibly allows information to be captured throughout the life of the project. The constant flow of information enables more informed decision-making and adjustments by the team. It also allows consistent and frequent progress tracking.

He added that he’s very optimistic about the FAA’s new Part 107 rules for commercial drones making the use much more obtainable for companies looking to leverage the potential of drones on construction sites. One has to wonder if drones in general are on the path to becoming less of a luxury and more of a standard tool in every company’s toolbox. If you ask Cupp, Gilbertson or any of their colleagues, the answer is a resounding, “Absolutely.” 

Want to put UAV solutions to the test on your next project? Contact the RDO Integrated Controls team.