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How McKim & Creed surveyors use drones to save time and money

Site Scan passes the test as a valuable, accurate surveying tool
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About McKim & Creed

Founded in 1978 in Raleigh, North Carolina, McKim & Creed is one of the top surveying, engineering, and geomatics firms in the United States. With over 400 employees and 21 locations across the country, the company has completed projects in over 38 states and can deploy data assets to any region in the US and beyond.

“We wanted to see if drones were ready to be deployed at scale on our surveying jobs.”

Christian Stallings, R&D Manager, McKim & Creed

Their Goal

Christian Stallings, head of R&D at McKim & Creed, set out to determine if drones could be an effective part of their surveying toolkit. He wanted to systematically test how drones compared to traditional surveying and LiDAR, and aimed to evaluate accuracy, cost, and ease of use. Stallings decided to put drones to the test on three real-world survey projects – a beach, a stone jetty, and a disposal site – to evaluate specific use cases for aerial data capture.

Site Scan as a Solution

McKim & Creed used 3DR’s Site Scan drone to data platform to fly drones autonomously on all three sites, and capture data with a Sony R10C camera. Once they conducted drones surveys, Stallings and his team processed the data in the cloud and generated planimetric and topographic maps, orthophotography, classified point clouds, DTM/DEM, and contours. To verify accuracy, they first compared the point clouds in Site Scan to blind checkpoints, then created a TIN model in LP360 – an extension of ArcGIS – to calculate the DeltaZ of each point. This is the same method used to verify LiDAR accuracy.

“Our goal is to have a standardized drone in every McKim & Creed surveyor’s truck.”

Christian Stallings, R&D Manager, McKim & Creed

Key Results

Site Scan proved to be a faster and cheaper surveying method compared to their current tools, while still maintaining high levels of accuracy. Stallings found that drones, depending on the project, costed approximately 30%–75% less than traditional surveying and 15%–80% less than LiDAR.

30-75%Cost savings with drones compared to traditional surveying
Traditional Survey

Traditional Survey

Drone Survey Data

Drone Survey Data

The camera also proved to be an important factor: its sensor size and lens distortion impacts absolute accuracy, and the Sony R10C had a 70% lower root mean square error compared to DJI and GoPro cameras. In other words, Stallings found that a point identified on maps and models with the Sony R10C was much closer to an actual point in the real world.

Drones also enabled McKim & Creed to collect and process aerial data faster regardless of terrain: some projects would be very hard, if not impossible, to survey with traditional methods. For example, the Eagle Island disposal site – one of the three projects Stallings flew Site Scan on – has very unstable terrain and quick-sinking mud. By flying drones, McKim & Creed was not only able to save time, but keep their team safe in the process.

Now that Stallings has proof of the effectiveness of drones on-site, the McKim & Creed team is starting to scale their UAV operations across the company. With the new Part 107 regulation making it simple for individuals to get certified as drone pilots, it’s now easier than ever for surveyors to take off with drones on-site.

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