Beyond If Beyond If

How Drones Are Guiding Major Construction at U.S. Ports

What if we showed you how drones took flight to guide Jacobs and the Port of Virginia's construction progress on a major expansion to double capacity?

Port of Virginia cranes

In 2019, nearly 40 million flights took to the sky – demonstrating the new heights modern air travel has reached since the first documented flight in history, a short 12 seconds of airtime over 120 feet completed by Orville Wright in 1903.

While certainly most well-known for that flight, Wright also is one of the masterminds behind the humble beginnings of one of the most popular technologies of the current decade – unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), or drones. Wright and electrical engineer Charles F. Kettering developed the first functioning UAV, a 12-foot-long wooden biplane with a 15-foot-wingspan, carrying an 180-pound bomb, as part of a secret project during World War I.

According to estimates, drone technology today equates to global revenues of more than $127 million across business solutions ranging from  NASA exploring drone technology to visit Saturn’s moon, Titan, to Domino’s becoming the first company to use a drone to deliver pizza. Drone technology is touted for its benefits including advancing efficiency and productivity, lowering workload and production costs, improving accuracy and service and heightening security measures across society.

But what if we showed you how Jacobs harnessed UAV technology to deliver aerial construction progress images, reducing required data-processing time and allowing the Port of Virginia to make smart, real-time business decisions throughout a $320 million expansion project at the Virginia International Gateway?

  • 60

    acre expansion imaged by drone to track construction progress

  • 50 %+

    more images generated using efficient drone technology to enhance coordination and heighten safety

“Unmanned aerial vehicle technology is a fast, efficient and cost-effective approach to capture project construction progress. The data that this new technology provides allows for enhanced accuracy and effectiveness for project planning and scheduling.”

Calvin Woolson, PE, CCM

Jacobs Construction Manager

Reaching new heights

With the expansion complete, four inbound truck lanes have increased the terminal’s in-gate complex capacity by 30%; doubling the size of VIG’s stack yard and boosting its container handling capability by the use of the new automated stacking cranes; expanding the rail yard capacity and increased its efficiency by the use of state of the art CRMG cranes and welcoming the arrival of the largest-ship-to-shore cranes to operate at any U.S. port.

As part of our design and construction package, Jacobs delivered aerial images of construction progress each month throughout the entire program. Because traditional methods such as airplane or helicopter imaging can be costly and require longer data processing time, we elected to use an UAV, a Phantom 4 Pro drone from Da-Jiang Innovations (DJI) to collect data aerially. We used the UAV in conjunction with the Drone Deploy application to create a flight path and get an accurate survey of the site, and used Drone Deploy and the Environmental System Research Institute’s (ESRI) Drone2Map software for data processing and image generation.

Using the drone eliminated the need for expensive manned aerial vehicle imaging and reduced the time required to process data. In fact, drones are quicker than traditional topographic survey methods and can cover approximately 200 acres in one flight, collecting millions of 3D data points and providing the opportunity to gain more data than ever before since they can capture an unobstructed view of surveyed areas. Our drone imaging takes just about a day to process and send to external stakeholders – and we can even add oblique photos, video, 3D modelling and land cover acquisition to increase its value.

Because of the UAV’s efficiency, we’re generating over 50% more images, assuring that the team has the most up-to-date information every time, enabling them to make more effective business decisions using computer-aided design and drafting (CADD) overlays to point out discrepancies saving time, money and keeping the aggressive schedule on course. For example, the use of CADD overlay drone photos can enhance coordination of the construction with ongoing port operations and other contractors on site, which mitigates costly operational disruptions, heightens safety by increasing awareness to ever changing traffic patterns on site due to construction activities, allows for clear communications to the work force which eliminates rework, improves planning of the work which decreases the duration of the project and expedites the resolution of contractor disputes (claims) as a result of its capability to cost effectively document the progress of the work.

Interested in learning more about how Jacobs transforms intangible ideas into intelligent solutions for a more connected, sustainable world?

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