unmanned aircraft systems map installation assets, maximize efficiency



VICKSBURG, Miss. (Feb. 26, 2018)–Jenny Laird, Thommy Berry, Kenneth Matheson, Elizabeth Lord and Robby Boyd, all of the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center’s Environmental Laboratory, utilized unmanned aircraft systems to conduct an infrastructure inventory and assessment of the ERDC-Vicksburg installation, part of a collaborative effort with ERDC’s Directorate of Public Works and the Installation Support Division.

“The ERDC-EL utilizes various UAS to conduct thermal imaging for wildlife surveys; we also use laser scanning (LIDAR data) for making 3D models of buildings and the ground surface; and we utilize multi- and hyperspectral sensors for measuring the health of plant life,” said Laird, UAS program manager. “This is a facilities management application of the UAS technology: for this application, the UAS will collect high resolution photographs to create an overall orthomosaic image of the entire installation, along with thermal imagery for energy assessments — such as detecting excessive heat loss in buildings.”

The project is being coordinated by Richard Matkins, ERDC’s asset manager. “I am so excited about the project: this is something that was 18 months in the making,” he said. “We’re collecting high-quality geospatial data on all real property assets within the ERDC-Vicksburg’s 700 acres.

“The UAS team is mapping the entire station for future master plans and site surveys — everything from light poles to underground utility access hole covers. One dimension of the project is to assess the condition of the roofs; the easiest way to accomplish this is to fly over them. We’re minimizing risks associated with employee safety and exposure — it’s also less time consuming to utilize the UAS for this effort instead of traditional site survey methods.”

The project was initiated to fulfill a requirement for the BUILDER™ Facility Condition Assessment of roof inspections. “It evolved that we needed a current geospatial data set and a Spatial Data Standard for Facilities, Infrastructure, and Environment data model for the entire installation; I then became aware of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Common Operating Picture requirements and other directives in programs such as BUILDER™ and Facilities Equipment Maintenance — so we’re leveraging data and conserving dollars by using this data to satisfy all our requirements,” Matkins said.

“The SDSFIE sets the standard by which the GIS data for the installation must be populated to support the uCOP, BUILDER™ and FEM Headquarters program data requirements.”

The uCOP stipulates that the Commanding General of the Corps be able to access GIS data about Corps assets to ascertain mission readiness in the event of a catastrophe.

The need for accurate installation GIS is recognized Department of Defense-wide. “UAS provide us with tremendous geospatial data-collecting capabilities that we haven’t had before,” said David LaBranche, geospatial information officer for the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Sustainment. “It’s not only more efficient and cost-effective to collect asset data this way, the information is more timely in the event of a disaster. The goal all along was to use geospatial technology to accurately count what we have — but UAS can also provide data that makes daily use of assets more efficient and effective — plus I love that the data can be standardized per the SDSFIE so it’s interoperable across the Department.”

The UAS takes thousands of images of the installation in three different ways and a computer will later stitch them together to make one large, final product. “We’ll have 3D images when we’re done,” Laird said. “Then we’ll do a digital walk-through and label everything, including the power poles and transformers.

“Once the images and measurements are integrated into a single product, the UAS team has the capability to measure assets, such as the diameter of a telephone pole conductor, for the customer — although that service wasn’t included in this project. Once you have the data, there is just so much you can do with it.”

Gregg Waterman and Mike Channell of ISD secured funding for the project. “ISD has an interest in getting accurate information about our facilities; it will give us usable information for our future planning,” Waterman said.  

“This project is a strategic and tactical milestone for ERDC’s facility maintenance program,” Matkins said. “As funds become available, we will expand the effort to all the other ERDC sites.”

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