Drones Raise the Bar for Roadway Pavement Inspection

Aerial imagery replaces boots on the ground and cuts field time by 60% for civil engineering firm Bolton & Menk

Assessing the condition of roadways has historically been a time-sink for the engineers responsible for prioritizing what to fix, and when. Now, rather than relying on cumbersome ground-based surveys and outdated aerial maps, project teams can use drones to capture real-time imagery that yields a treasure trove of actionable data

Bolton & Menk is an engineering, planning and consulting firm.

Engineering and Consulting firm Bolton & Menk realized the benefits of drone data after recently completing a major roadway pavement analysis for the city of Elko New Market, Minn. The firm’s decision to use a DJI Phantom 4 drone on the project paid big dividends. In fact, using a drone powered by DroneDeploy’s enterprise platform reduced the firm’s time in the field by about 60% — while also collecting data to create high-resolution imagery that will be used by the city for years to come.

Drone Maps Provide High-Value Data for City Officials

Bolton & Menk gathered imagery to evaluate the deterioration of pavement across 26 miles of roadway infrastructure. The data helped the engineering team recommend a construction and maintenance timetable based on a real-time assessment of existing road conditions.

A member of the Bolton & Menk flight crew preparing for takeoff in the field.

The project was completed in 18 flights by the two-person flight crew, along with spotters to ensure that the bird was in the right place at the right time. The team used DroneDeploy’s Linear Flight Plan app to plan flights across the whole city.

“The linear flight planning functionality eliminated a lot of complexity for our team,” said GIS project manager Nick Meyers. “We were able to plan and map long stretches of roadways in minutes.”

A section of the city mapped with DroneDeploy. Cracking along the roadway is clearly present in the high-resolution drone map.

It took two days to fly and capture all the data needed for the project. In contrast, it would have taken a week to traverse the 26 miles by car and on foot using the traditional method. Flying the drone also reduced the need for “windshield” surveys using the PASER scale: a spreadsheet-heavy solution for estimating road pavement conditions. Instead, the Bolton & Menk team used DroneDeploy for data collection and processing — and packaged the data for integration with GIS applications used by office staff to generate condition ratings.

A close up of “alligator cracking” seen throughout the city’s roadways. Cracking like this needs to be evaluated to determine a maintenance timetable.

Replacing boots on the ground with drone surveys dramatically improved Bolton & Menk’s workflow.

“DroneDeploy automatically added a lot of information into the database,” Nick says. “We could update or modify as needed, and then just run a script at the end. No more cumbersome process of using multiple excel sheets to make calculations.”

Moreover, GIS Technician and UAV Services team member Kyle Mullen adds, the drones collected much more data than windshield surveys — and much faster. “A lot of times, windshield and ground-based surveys don’t give as complete a perspective as you get from aerial imagery,” he says. “And going out and measuring on foot is extremely time-consuming.”

But drone imagery has value beyond just saving time and money. Kyle adds that city officials were so pleased with the imagery that they made requests to use the deliverables in other projects outside of the roadway analysis immediately. The city plans to use the data for future utility infrastructure planning.

Compiling Accurate Data and Measurements. Fast.

Bolton & Menk used real-time drone imagery to compile accurate imagery and measurements for analysis. It took the engineering team just one day to process the drone images. What’s more, DroneDeploy also supported exporting the data using the ArcGIS Online Web Tile Layer app, which enables users to seamlessly generate template links for maps to use as web tile layers.

The Bolton & Menk team exported data collected and processed in DroneDeploy to its GIS software for further analysis.

The maps provided a granular level of detail and documented every inch of the 26 miles of roadway. Using DroneDeploy also yielded more precise measurements than ground surveys could, giving both the engineering team and the city a better quantitative perspective on the condition of the pavement. This analysis makes it easier for city staff to analyze the data and prioritize roadway maintenance over time.

Better Collaboration Using a Platform Built for Teams

Bolton & Menk chose DroneDeploy because they wanted a single cloud-based solution to use across their team in offices throughout Minnesota, Iowa, and North Dakota. Between their UAV Services, GIS, and Municipal/Civil Engineering workgroups, the team handled everything from flyovers and mapping to analysis and reporting through DroneDeploy’s centralized enterprise dashboard and admin panel.

The firm also wanted a scalable solution with the option for implementing an enterprise-level API.

DroneDeploy’s admin panel — available with the Enterprise Plan — makes team management simple. Set user roles and permissions, and assign missions to pilots on your team from a central location.

For Bolton & Menk, DroneDeploy improved efficiency reduced the cost for data acquisition and, most importantly, enabled them to deliver a more thorough and complete analysis of the pavement conditions in Elko New Market. In the long run, that will translate into better road maintenance at a lower cost for the city. That’s an excellent thing for both taxpayers and drivers who depend on well-maintained roads for safe travel during Minnesota’s famously snowy winters.

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Alex Admin

Passion for planes, flights, aeronautical engineering and eager to share my knowledge and related areas of interest.

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