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Using UAS for Pipeline Projects

By Colliers Engineering & Design

Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), or drones, can carry scanners that perform safe, cost-efficient, and fast LiDAR data collection. UAS LiDAR systems are particularly useful for scanning pipeline projects because of its unique features: small, unmanned, and maneuverable. This is especially true when comparing it to using aerial LiDAR performed by using a manned aircraft.

First Thing’s First: Let’s Understand LiDAR

LiDAR, or Light Detection and Ranging, uses light in the form of a pulsed laser to measure distances from the scanner to what is being scanned. The LiDAR Sensor comprises a laser scanner, an Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) and Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) receiver.  LiDAR produces data that is both highly accurate and robust. The millions of points of detail it provides can be used for myriad purposes. This includes creating very realistic working drawings that negate the need for repeated site visits. Multiple models can be built for the same LiDAR data, and output options include bare earth point cloud, Digital Elevation Models for GIS, Civil3D Design Files, and many others. To scan large areas, the LiDAR sensor can be attached to vehicles such as trains, trucks, manned aircrafts, and drones. For pipeline projects specifically, UAS is an optimal solution.

So Why Use Drones for Pipeline Projects?

Different types of unmanned aerial vehicles

UAS have many major benefits as a LiDAR platform specifically for scanning pipelines because these projects can involve significant acreage and cross through private property. Conventional survey methods are limited by human capabilities, making them relatively slow and often not as economical for mapping the very large areas involved in pipeline creation and management.

Prior to the advent of using drones, manned aircrafts were the norm for projects such as these. However, collecting data using a drone is safer, faster, and depending on the project’s size,  much more cost effective than sending up an airplane. Another benefit of using UAS LiDAR is that they can fly lower to the ground around vegetation. This means it can access places that manned LiDAR cannot, like where tree canopy exists. This ability to fly around vegetation enables year-round collections, which means that jobs can be done in a more-timely fashion.

Drones provide an additional advantage: you can swap out the LiDAR equipment and use the drones to carry other sensors. For example, the health of invasive vegetation that might eventually compromise access to pipelines can also be detected when switching-out the LiDAR sensor for a thermal sensor. This can save time and money later. The more information you gather at one time about the surrounding environment the better.

Want to know more?

Watch our webinar to learn more about how UAS LiDAR works, and why it might be the best option for your project!

This article is part of our Webinar Blog Series. We turned directly to the experts who were excited to share their latest technologies, insights and strategies. If you have questions or would be interested in a Lunch and Learn about any of the topics covered, feel free to reach out to our presenters!

Want more information or a private presentation on this topic? Contact Pat VanHaverbeke at

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