by Joseph Duff  |  Infrastructure Specialist


Once upon a time, design took place on a table at a 45-degree angle. Paper, vellum, erasers, compasses, and T-squares surrounded the Architect or Engineer that tirelessly worked to create their designs. If a change needed to be made, the rework, in some cases, took almost as long as the original design process. This way of creating design plans or blueprints worked for centuries.

Then came the computer, and with it CAD. CAD gave Architects and Engineers the ability to design virtually. And while CAD decreased the amount of time required to change a design, it was still a very manual process.

Then BIM and the Cloud came along. And they shifted the paradigm.

BIM gave designers the ability to apply design criteria to parametric virtual objects that would coordinate, communicate, and check themselves against that design criteria and each other. Meanwhile, devices began shrinking while storage, processing power, and design capabilities continued to grow. Now, mobile devices have enabled us to take our designs wherever we go, thanks to the Cloud. The Cloud is giving us the means to connect with each other in ways we never imagined 20 years ago while giving designers the ability to store, process, render, and collaborate anywhere in the world from any device at any time.

Fast forward just a few years, and now we’re experiencing a transition to designing around drone capabilities. Drones give designers the ability to see site conditions early on in the conceptual design stage of their projects. With Cloud technology, Drone image captures can be stitched together to produce a single aerial ortho picture; coordinate zones can be assigned within the photo and the whole ortho picture can be placed into Autodesk design software. This allows you to better understand what the current conditions of the site are, eliminating the need to drive around and take pictures with a cell phone.

Once point cloud processing is complete, you can harvest many different types of file formats from your design software, including OBJ and FBX files. Bringing point clouds into your design software allows the designer to look at the existing building structure, and make additions or extensions of the building by butting your parametric BIM objects directly against the point cloud. Greater accuracy is at your fingertips without having to send your interns on site with a notepad and tape measure.

Keep in mind that this photogrammetry software and technology isn’t replacing the roles and responsibilities of a land surveyor. Drones merely augment their workflows by adding a new tool on the front end of the design process making the land surveyor’s work more efficient.

Another great thing that drones can be used for are building inspections. Instead of risking employee safety by having them climb ladders, using cranes, or other means to inspect not easily reached parts of the exterior of a building, use a drone. Drones can inspect and document roofs for damages or other potentially hazardous conditions.

Drones provide great QA/QC for construction sites, allowing architects to stay on top of what is happening through frequent image and video captures. This will allow you to see how the project is progressing without you having to be there, and gives you the ability to check for materials management and job site safety.

Admittedly, the technologies we use daily are constantly evolving, and that sometimes makes it difficult to keep up, not only with your project but with what’s evolving in the field. That’s really where your business partnership with ATG takes flight. ATG is here to help augment your workflow with services like drone flights and quickly pushing the data point cloud back to you so you can immediately drop it into your workflow, keeping you billable and your project deliverables on track.


Joseph Duff is an Infrastructure Technical Specialist for ATG USA, Inc., in North Little Rock, Ark. A surveyor at heart with a mind for civil engineering, Joe provides technical assistance, pre-sales technical proof, business process analysis, software training and implementation, product demonstration, and other technical business services to civil engineering firms, heavy highway construction, and land surveying companies who fall under the broad umbrella of the civil/infrastructure industry.