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It’s a Bird.. It’s a Plane.. It’s Urban Systems’ new… Drone?

Jingjing Dou – Geomatics Project Associate and UAV Pilot
When Jing-Jing Dou was a little girl she never imagined where her career would take her. Today she is a Geomatics Project Associate with Urban Systems, and one fascinating part of her job involves piloting some new survey-taking, footage-capturing drones that we’ve recently purchased. These days if you look up (way up), you might just see a survey drone piloted by Urban.

We began using our first drone in May 2016, and the team responsible for it underwent rigorous training. Transport Canada has strict regulations around putting a drone into commercial use, and the team had to send all drone pilots to ground school to learn about weather patterns and airspace rules.

“We got radio operator certificates too, because most of the time we are flying pretty close to an airport,” Jing-Jing explains. “As part of our work we need to talk to the tower, monitor the frequency and talk to other pilots. It was a real learning curve at first.”

“No two days of this work are ever the same,” Jing-Jing adds. “My team is always trying new things. We’re always pushing the boundaries of possibility and creativity. When I come in to work each day, I never quite know exactly how to do my job – I’m constantly learning because the technology is constantly evolving.”

Here is a video of the Rogers Center in Edmonton, all footage captured by our drone and the footage was edited by our own team.

Meredith Bryan, a Land Surveyor in Alberta who has been with Urban for three and a half years is also involved in the drone program. “UAVs and other forms of remote sensing are truly the way of the future for surveying,” she says. “I can only imagine they will play larger and larger roles in the work we do every day.” 

Safety First

In addition to providing additional service options, the use of drones also adds a safety and efficiency element. For example, in a recent project involving volume calculation of a pile, rather than have a surveyor climb up and measure a lot of points manually with a GPS, a drone pilot was able to simply fly the machine over the pile and do a calculation very quickly and safely.

Looking Ahead

Today Urban has six certified drone pilots, three from Edmonton and three from Calgary, and team members continue to push the boundaries of this exciting field.

Jing-Jing says that some people ask if Urban plans to replace traditional surveys with drone surveys, and the answer is no. The drones are simply a way to add another level of accuracy, to take beautiful aerial footage and to help out when traditional survey work might be dangerous or impractical.

“We wanted to improve our current survey practice to give our clients the most up to date choices and options. We wanted to get into the UAV business because it’s where everything is going now.”

Meredith Bryan, Land Surveyor and UAV Pilot
Meredith says that she believes drones are the way of the future, and are an exciting tool with many possibilities. “There is a lot of excitement in the industry right now about UAVs, and I enjoy having the opportunity to stay in the forefront of that.  There are so many wide-ranging uses for this technology and I feel it just opens doors for our company as a whole. Plus, playing around with remote controlled toys for work is always a bonus!”

JingJing recently attended a virtual reality conference and says she believes that more tools and technologies will keep coming.

“This is a field developing so quickly, with so many exciting possibilities. We are trying new things every day. In the future I can see us working with such a variety of clients, for example architects, who we could help so much with different workflows. It’s both challenging and exciting when you get to build a bridge between this new technology and our client’s workflow.”

When it comes to this new branch of services at Urban, the sky is truly the limit.

Check out another project where we’ve utilized our drone to showcase a futuristic look for the community of Carrington, a new development in North West Calgary that will house approximately 60,000 people and include a commercial centre and school when it is completed.

The Urban UAV team in Calgary obtained video footage over a two month period of the first phase of Genstar’s development. We worked with our in house graphic designer to produce a video that would not only provide information about the community, but assist potential buyers with truly seeing how the community will look and feel once it is completed.

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