The UAS technology director and research scientist was the featured guest on the National Society of Professional Surveyors Radio Hour.
Dayton, Ohio (June 25, 2018) — Aaron Lawrence, the Woolpert unmanned aircraft system (UAS) technology director and research scientist, was the featured guest on the National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS) Radio Hour today. The show is hosted by NSPS Executive Director and longtime Professional Surveyor Curtis Sumner.
Lawrence is a geographic information systems professional with 18 years of mapping and cartography experience, who oversees the development and application of UAS across multiple markets at Woolpert. He was among the first group to pass the Federal Aviation Administration’s Part 107 Remote Pilot in Command Exam to fly drones commercially in 2016, and continues to mentor the growing ranks of UAS pilots within the firm.
During the NSPS Radio Hour, Lawrence talked about the scope of this technology and how Woolpert serves several industries, each of which has varying needs that can benefit from UAS integration.
“We’re an architecture, engineering and geospatial (AEG) company, and we have a fleet of surveyors and UAS pilots spread out across the country,” Lawrence said. “Each market has a different comfort level with UAS. The Energy market, for example, has been pretty accepting of UAS; but for our work with the DoD (U.S. Department of Defense), there are more regulations and restrictions about when, where and how you can fly. It’s more of an implementation, engaging stakeholders early and making sure we can address their concerns.”
He said Woolpert’s role is often to understand the project objective, control the project and collect the data as necessary. The firm’s pilots conduct everything from tower inspections to wildlife monitoring to construction monitoring to traditional orthophotography updates.
“We’ve been doing photogrammetry work since the 1960s, so UAS came natural to us,” he said. “We started flying with film when smaller sites were relatively cost-effective. As we switched over to digital cameras, we focused more on larger acquisitions since the digital camera was not cost effective for small-scale mapping—flying counties that are 400 square miles as opposed to college campuses that are two square miles. Now with UAS, the digital camera is again cost-effective and we are collecting resolutions not realized before.”
Lawrence added that, typically, firms buy an unmanned aircraft vehicle (UAV) for commercial use before they realize the scope of the process, including the FAA’s rules and regulations.
“We’re on the bleeding edge; we learned the hard way, but are happy to share,” he said. “Some firms are operating without the Part 107 license or under the 333 Exemption, which are required. We were the first surveying and mapping company to get a 333 Exemption in 2014.”
He said the FAA’s rules regarding UAS are subject to interpretation and are being stretched in multiple directions.
“One of the Part 107 rules is not to fly over people, or non-participants. But we’ve been flying over people in a manned aircraft for 50 years, so that’s a hard pill to swallow,” Lawrence said. “But we build a risk matrix and develop a strategy in the best way we can to still accomplish the mission. Sometimes that involves closing down a road or notifying neighboring property owners.”
Sumner asked whether Woolpert provided advisers to assist with these rules and varying applications. Lawrence said the firm often consults clients on implementing UAS into their operations.
“We can do all ends of the spectrum: fly for them, scale up, walk them through what they can and can’t do, system selections, (etc.),” Lawrence said. “Right now, we’re working with the Savannah airport operations, guiding them through the process from flying to risk mitigation strategies. Eventually, we’ll hand the UAVs off to them.”
Lawrence said the future of UAS is always developing and expanding, but at the forefront are integrations with asset management systems, the addition of lidar sensors to a high degree of accuracy, providing quick and ready data to supplement and update earlier data acquisitions, and cloud-based data that provides a digital record and is accessible to all stakeholders as a project develops.
“Every advancement in technology impacts 10 other things, and the rules also are changing all the time,” he said. “We have a whole staff paying attention to all that, knowing what’s going on, interpreting that and passing it along to our clients. It’s all about the data—the highest resolution, most accurate data—and UAS complements existing data really well. It’s just a tool to do a job quicker, faster, better.”
This broadcast will be shared on the show’s online archives as soon as it becomes available.
The NSPS Radio Hour is the only national radio broadcast dedicated to the surveying profession. The show’s purpose is to respond to industry challenges presented by new technologies, governments and activities by providing a forum for its members to share knowledge and advance their common interests.
Woolpert is the fastest growing architecture, engineering and geospatial (AEG) firm in the country, delivering value to clients in all 50 states and around the world by strategically blending engineering excellence with leading-edge technology and geospatial applications. With a dynamic research and development department, Woolpert works with inventive business partners such as Google and Esri; operates a fleet of planes, sensors and unmanned aircraft systems (UAS); and continually pushes industry boundaries by working with advanced water technologies, asset management, building information modeling (BIM) and sustainable design. The firm, which is among the ENR’s Top 100 Design Firms, supports a mission to help its clients progress and become more progressive. For over 100 years and with 25 offices across the U.S., Woolpert serves federal, state and local governments; private and public companies and universities; energy and transportation departments; and the U.S. Armed Forces. For more information, visit woolpert.com or call 937-531-1258.