UAS use on Colorado city project lands firm engineering award

By Ann Bailey | November 19, 2015

For the first time in its 45-year history the American Council of Engineering Companies of Colorado has given an Engineering Excellence award to a UAS project. The engineering group recently presented Olsson Associates with the award.

The engineering firm, which has 28 offices in eight states, including Grand Junction, Colorado, used a UAS to survey a proposed trail in the town of Fruita, Colorado.

Fruita city officials wanted to connect its residents to the Kokopelli Trial network, a world class system, but didn’t have the funds to survey it. When an employee of Olsson Associates, who had worked with city officials on other projects learned about the challenge they were facing, the two groups decided to work together.

Olsson Associates uses UAS for variety of services, including aerial inspection, wildlife monitoring and architectural pre-visualization. The company was looking for an opportunity to test new UAS when a member of the city of Fruita staff expressed frustration about not having the funds to pay for a survey it wanted to have conducted on a five-mile section of land that would connect to the Kokopelli Trail.

The Kokopelli Trail is popular with hikers and outdoor enthusiasts so getting the survey done was key to the City of Fruita’s economic development, said Marilen Reimer, ACEC Colorado’s executive director.

“That’s why this trail system is extremely important to the community. It’s going to bring more tourism and economic benefits by completing this connection to the trail,” she said

Olsson Associates offered to do the survey pro bono, saving the city $20,000 in fees. The engineering firm conducted the survey in June 2015. Olsson and Associates delivered the images and videos to city officials in a form they could edit to help them plan for the next project phase.

The aerial survey was preferable to a typical ground survey because pointclouds enable the user to view and interact with the environment and manipulate, if needed, Olsson Associates said. Trees and other objects in the way can be removed and designs can be overlaid to show a 3-D version of the final project, the firm said.

 “It worked out for both partners,” Reimer said. The public-private partnership between the city and Olsson Associates was beneficial to both of them, she said. Using UAS allowed Olsson Associates to try out its new technology and the city of Fruita got a survey that is important to its economy development conducted at no cost, Reimer noted.