Olsson Associates

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Olsson’s ACEC Colorado Engineering Excellence Award highlights win-win scenario

Friday, November 13, 2015

Mary Sullivan, Communications

Collaborative, personal, and innovative" were just a few words used by Fruita, Colorado, City Engineer Samuel Akins to describe his experience working with Olsson on the city's Kokopelli Trail Survey Project, which used an Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) in an innovative way. Akins wasn't alone in his opinion when Olsson's work on the project won an American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) Engineering Excellence Award for the Colorado region.

This is the first time in ACEC of Colorado's 45-year history that it has given an Engineering Excellence award to a UAS project.

Olsson’s win began with the city’s desire to connect its residents with the Western Slope and the world-class Kokopelli Trail network, a special spot for cycling enthusiasts with its sweeping landscapes and extensive mountain trails. The city also had goals to generate tourism and economic diversity through its focus on health and the outdoors with the trail connection. However, they ran into trouble when trying to find funding for the project.

City officials expressed their frustrations to Wyatt Popp, an Olsson project manager who worked closely with the city on other projects. By coincidence, Olsson was looking for opportunities to test its new Unmanned Aerial System (UAS), and Wyatt arranged for Olsson’s UAS team to meet with the city to discuss its needs.

The agreement that came out of the meeting benefitted both parties: the city hired Olsson to stake survey control points, which Olsson then used to guide its UAS on a pro bono aerial survey of the entire project area. Olsson was able to do a “pilot study” for its technology, while the city saved thousands of dollars in survey fees, which will be put toward the future design and construction of the trail.

“UAS allows Olsson to augment existing survey and inspection workflows, providing more accuracy and increased coverage in a shorter period of time while increasing the level of safety for ground personnel,” said Jonathan Harris, Olsson’s UAS program manager. Olsson uses UAS for a variety of services, spanning many of its practice groups. Applications include aerial inspection, photogrammetric survey and light detection and ranging (LiDAR) survey, wildlife monitoring, and architectural pre-visualization.

The trail survey was performed in June 2015 and involved a flyover of the five-mile project area, during which the UAS recorded georeferenced photos that were reconciled with ground coordinates and other control points to ensure accuracy. These data were then used to generate 3-dimensional photogrammetric pointclouds, aerial ortho photography, and a movie of the flyover, allowing the city to easily reference the project area in multiple ways.

Olsson’s deliverables were also made available to the city in an editable format to help officials plan for the next phase of the project. Unlike the deliverables produced by a typical ground survey, pointclouds enable the user to not only view and interact with the environment but also to manipulate it. Trees and other items “in the way” can be removed, and designs can be overlaid to show a 3-dimensional version of the final product. The surveying was described as “accurate down to fractions of inches.”

“We consider the Kokopelli Trail Project to be a collaborative, successful effort between two entities exploring new territory,” City Engineer Atkins said. “We’re working together toward a common goal. [Olsson’s] innovative UAS technology brought extra value to our project by performing an in-depth survey that required less manpower and fewer resources than a traditional ground team. Our project has benefitted greatly from Olsson’s level of engagement, collaboration, and time taken to ensure we received a workable product for our future designs.”

The ACEC rates Colorado’s engineering firms with a panel of industry professionals who gauge each project on the following criteria:

  • Uniqueness and innovative applications
  • Future value to the engineering profession
  • Perception by the public
  • Social, economic, and sustainable development considerations
  • Complexity
  • Successful fulfillment of client’s/owner’s needs, including schedule and budget

Only the regional Grand Conceptor and Engineering Excellence Award project winners may advance to the national ACEC competition, which will be held April 19, 2016, in Washington, D.C. Olsson will be submitting on the national level for the first time in company history, competing against companies across the country, and continuing the push for the UAS team’s visibility in the market.

Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) image of survey points

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