UAS Flight Log
Using Survey123 to perform UAS preflight checklists and track UAS flight projects
By: Josh Shelton, GIS Manager, Pend Oreille County, Washington
Eric Roth, County Surveyor, Pend Oreille County, Washington
Sometimes the most elegant solutions are the simplest. This was the thinking behind using Survey123 to transform what was a pen and paper menial task into a more efficient, portable and user-friendly digital workflow.
In this article, we will discuss our motivations to use Survey123 at Pend Oreille County to support UAS (Unmanned Aerial Aircraft) operations. We will also share details on our implementation, approach to engage with stakeholders and lessons learned.
Understanding the need and benefits of using a UAS in Pend Oreille County
Pend Oreille County, Washington is a scenic rural county in the northeastern corner of Washington state nestled against the state of Idaho and Canada. Pend Oreille County encompasses approximately 1500 square miles of lush coniferous forest and is divided by the Pend Oreille River, a major tributary of the Columbia River.
Pend Oreille County utilizes UAS primarily for gravel pit & stockpile quantity calculations. The benefit here is that our crews spend a third less time collecting data than it would take utilizing conventional survey methods. We also use UAS for roadway pre-design topography maps, bridge inspections, flood tracking, and land slide tracking. By using UAS for these situations, our personnel can operate the equipment from a remote location keeping them safe and out of harm’s way.
UAS launch site prior to flight
Eric Roth, Pend Oreille County
Unlocking the potential of Survey123 – Empowering our Users
Being a rural county and an organization with less than 200 employees, at the Pend Oreille County GIS group we are constantly trying to think outside the box when it comes to improving workflows while maintaining our need to be fiscally responsible for our constituents.
In an effort to better facilitate collaboration and information sharing, the Pend Oreille County GIS staff formed an internal GIS user group in 2009. This group discusses new technologies, showcases new projects and shares ideas empowering our users to improve the way they work with GIS.
This is exactly what happened when the GIS Department showcased Survey123 to the group for the first time. We discussed the power and simplicity of Survey123 and showcased how easily smart forms can be created without the need for advanced GIS or developer skills. When our county surveyor saw the technology he immediately began thinking of ways he could leverage Survey123 to improve his own workflows. This ultimately led to the creation of the UAS Flight Log.
FAA regulations mandate that all UAS (Unmanned Aerial System) pilots perform and document a thorough preflight check on their equipment and surroundings. UAS flight logs must also be documented.
Commonly, preflight checks and flight logs are manually recorded on paper. Completing these paper forms is cumbersome and can lead to errors and even data loss. There are several reasons why Survey123 smart forms are a natural replacement for obsolete paper forms:
The nuts and bolts of our survey design
The survey was developed entirely using the Survey123 web designer at survey123.arcgis.com. The basic premise was to take the preflight checklists already being performed and recreate these in the survey. The added benefit here is that one could integrate post-flight observations as well as log our flight location and record the event with photos. The survey design is split into 4 logical sections:
For those of you interested in seeing what we've done, here is the XLSForm.
Using UAS for road and bridge inspection
Eric Roth, Pend Oreille County
Lessons Learned and next steps
From a GIS management perspective, the ability for our non-GIS personnel to develop and put into production their own data collection tools has been essential to success. Inspiring and empowering county personnel to implement GIS technology for their own needs has allowed GIS personnel to focus efforts on other tasks which help our organization improve the information, tools, and services we provide and utilize. It’s been said that necessity drives innovation and in this case the need to simplify a simple redundant workflow is proof that there is room for improvement in the seemingly most simplistic of tasks.
The use of Survey123 for UAS operations validated major benefits.
Not only were we able to achieve our goals but we’ve helped reduce the time it takes to prepare and perform a flight. We can now get up to date imagery of our public works projects, use the imagery in conjunction with Drone2Map to calculate volumes of sand and gravel piles before road projects and in preparation of sanding roads in the winter. We’ve also helped to improve the safety of our employees by using the UAS to perform inspections on bridges that are often difficult and unsafe to survey manually. This critical return on our investment has helped to solidify the sustainable use of UAS technologies in our everyday workflows. Talks are currently underway to expand the use of UAS technologies to other departments in the hopes that it will add further improvements to our workflow processes.
Josh Shelton is the GIS Manager for Pend Oreille County in Washington state. Josh has been doing GIS and supporting the county for over 11 years. Pend Oreille County GIS supports all county departments and strives to help empower people to use GIS technologies to better themselves, the organization and the communities in which we live. Josh loves the outdoors and has an enthusiasm for technology, it’s this passion and drive which enables him to continually push the boundaries and think outside the box providing technologies and solutions to county personnel and their constituents.
Eric Roth is the County Surveyor for Pend Oreille County. Eric has been a licensed surveyor in Washington state for over 15 years and has been working for Pend Oreille County for the last 3 years. His love of surveying and technology led him to create the first UAS program in the county. Since the program’s inception, Eric has been working on ways to make the program more efficient, safe and cost effective.
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