Flying high – drones are on the way up

31 July 2018

Drones are fast becoming a cheaper, accurate and less time-consuming method of collecting data and assessing projects. And as technology improves, their applications are endless.


Christopher Bowles

Managing Consultant
T: +1 (703) 5162375

By Andrew Somerville

Drones seem to everywhere these days – from children’s toys to delivering parcels. But they are in fact not a new phenomenon. Unmanned aerial vehicles were actually in action as far back as the First World War. And during the Vietnam War, they were used on a large scale for reconnaissance purposes. But in recent years, as technology has improved and costs have fallen, drones are becoming increasingly ubiquitous in commercial and hobby pursuits.

Ramboll has been using drones since 2016, and in the US we have a range of different craft and a number of certified pilots. According to Chris Bowles, Managing Consultant at Ramboll Environment and Health in the US, drones offer a number of advantages. “By allowing us to work remotely, drones can reduce health and safety risks,” he says.

Cost and time savings are also major attributes he points out. “Drones allow us to collect very high-resolution imagery for example. Previously, this would have required using manned planes, which is much more expensive and time-consuming, and of course not so practical for many projects.” 

Jacob Ranjan Kier Christensen, a Ramboll drone pilot in Denmark agrees. “They do not require as much time and money as a helicopter, and it is possible to get video footage much faster than if you were on foot,” he explains. “They can also fly in places where you can’t go yourself and provide the client with an overview that is impossible to get from down on the ground.”

Keeping an eye on vegetation

Some jobs are tailor-made for a drone’s unique capabilities. In the US, Ramboll is using them to manage and monitor wetlands. “Wetland vegetation reflects visible and infrared light differently,” says Chris Bowles. With a drone’s infrared cameras “we can take advantage of this to differentiate between vegetation types, in order to identify possible wetland areas or to track the intrusion of agricultural fields into wetlands or undisturbed areas.”

This solution is also extremely practical. “With drones we can easily and automatically identify low-lying areas and wetland vegetation, replacing an on-the-ground investigation by a field ecologist, which would have required several days of effort,” he says.

There are limits to their use however, including height and time restrictions. In the US for example “drones can only be used at heights of up to 120 metres, and during daylight hours and not above people or public areas,” says Chris Bowles.

Endless potential

And what of the future? As sensor and sampling technologies improve, drones will open up new possibilities. “They will enable us to collect remote sensing data more frequently and inexpensively than was previously possible,” he emphasises. “Our colleagues in Finland are already using them to monitor traffic conditions, improving our knowledge of transit systems.”

“Drones will certainly change the way Ramboll does business as the availability of remote sensing data reduces the use of modelling in some scenarios,” says Chris Bowles.

One thing seems certain. No matter where they fly, drones are here to stay.


Ramboll uses drones for a wide range of applications:

• Constructing 3D models of buildings and sites
• Creating highly detailed topographic maps
• Monitoring for changes in site conditions
• Estimating the volume of excavated material to be removed from a site
• Preparing detailed aerial imagery as orthographic and oblique photos
• Recording high resolution video
• Detecting bare soil and areas inundated with water
• Assessing the health and types of vegetation present at a site. 

Ramboll Group A/S

Ramboll Group A/S
Hannemanns Allé 53
DK-2300 Copenhagen S
Tel:+45 5161 1000
Fax:+45 5161 1001

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