DIY Rapid photo survey of entire neighborhoods

08-28-2015 11:43 AM
Occasional Contributor
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Technology advances so quickly that it's mind blowing sometimes. Look at the proliferation of drone technology, for example. In June of this year (2015), Amazon formally asked the FAA for permission to test their commercial drones for use in delivery of packages in 30 minutes or less. Personally, I don't think I'd mind having my veggie burrito delivered by a friendly drone. Just kidding, kind of.

For sure, there are societal concerns that have to be addressed when any new technology is introduced. Issues of privacy, safety, security, and even social equity, come to mind. The recent incident of drones flown by hobbyist's shutting down airspace above forest fires resulted in the stopping of aerial bombardments of fire retardants is a good case in point.

Navigating these issues will be tough, but soon enough, laws and regulations will catch up with the new technology, and then, the proliferation and use of UAV's will skyrocket, just like GPS did. There are lots of positives to be gained in the planning discipline, when this happens. For example, we should be able to use UAV's to rapidly conduct condition assessments of neighborhoods and inventory assets, just like they are doing for ranches, wetlands, natural areas, and mining operations now.

There are a number of other ways to do massive condition assessments and asset inventories using lasers (terrestrial LiDAR), cameras, and other sensors mounted in vehicles. If you have the right budget and need, that's the way to go, and there are a number of commercial providers to help. But now, there is a DIY method you can use to collect photo surveys of entire neighborhoods or districts. (I just saw a demo of it in a briefing here at Esri, and that's what inspired me to write this piece. It was released just this month, Aug 2015.)

If you haven't seen it, there is a new ArcGIS for Local Government app called Photo Survey that you can use with any number of GPS-enabled camera types that will allow you to set up your vehicle to rapidly conduct a photo survey of entire neighborhoods, districts, or even whole cities. It is pretty slick, and something most GIS folks could set up for any number of field crews in your department or local gov.

Photo Survey is a configuration of ArcGIS and a JavaScript application that allows you to conduct focused property surveys and publish street-level photo collections that can help you identify blight, damaged structures, construction activity, code violations, whatever you want, really. You can easily set up your own survey template to meet any of your needs, and share the surveys internally or with the public for comment using Story Maps or other web apps.

To find out more, I'd start with the Photo Survey overview page. Follow this link right here ( Get started here, and by the time drones are approved for use, you will be a pro at conducting your own photo surveys and you can easily migrate those skills right over to drones. Just kidding, kind of.

Explore, have fun, and I still look forward to the delivery of my veggie burrito by drone.

About the Author
Geodesign advocate, geographer, writer, musician. Interested in designing livable, sustainable, resilient communities. Currently, I'm the Industry Manager for Community Development at Esri, covering geodesign, urban and regional planning, economic development, sustainable development, and smart cities.