- Associated Press - Monday, May 30, 2016

GILLETTE, Wyo. (AP) - Campbell County surveyors are hoping to buy drones to help do the job.

Unmanned aerial vehicles could save taxpayers thousands of dollars a year, some county officials say.

Tony Knievel, chief surveyor with the Campbell County Department of Public Works, told county commissioners recently how drones can be used for surveying work. The applications include route and site planning and aerial photography.

Drones are beginning to be used in a number of industries, Knievel said. Besides landfill and road surveys, aerial views are useful for coal mines, construction projects, rooftop inspections and parking lot surveys.

Surveyors also are starting to use drones for route planning. The device can be flown over a proposed route and record imagery and topography, Knievel said. The time and effort required to capture the same information on the ground is much greater, the Gillette News Record reported (https://tinyurl.com/hye78xk).

Flying over a proposed route with a drone allows surveyors to see things like changes in vegetation that could be missed during a ground inspection.

Agricultural applications also are being discovered, with unmanned aerial vehicles providing a view of crop conditions, acreage and even an analysis of vegetation types. Knievel first started using a drone for agricultural surveys.

“The agricultural side of it is blowing up,” Knievel said.

There are a number of benefits for the county in using aerial imaging solutions. These include economy, safety, efficiency, rapid workflow and versatility, Knievel said.

The cost benefits for the county by using drones for surveying are significant, he said. The cost of the annual aerial inspection of the landfill has risen from $5,315 in 2010 to $9,961 in 2015. That price continues to increase about 5 percent a year.

The cost to buy a good-quality drone can run from $1,300 to $30,000, Knievel said. He added he has seen good results from a $1,300 model.

Using a drone for aerial surveying also requires software to analyze and assemble the hundreds of photographs taken during a flight. The software can be licensed for $3,500 per year or bought for $8,500 with an annual license fee.

The total cost for the county to start using drone technology for surveying would be between $5,000 and $40,000, depending on hardware, Knievel said.

For a $7,000 startup cost, or less than the county now pays for one aerial survey of the landfill, the county could survey the landfill quarterly and use the equipment for additional tasks, Knievel said. The savings would increase the second year.

Commissioner Micky Shober recently expressed reservations about the county operating its own drone surveying program. “Sometimes we don’t have to have the latest, greatest technology,” he said during a budget meeting.

Shober advocated getting quotes from private surveyors. He said he would rather give them the business than have the county get into using drones for surveying.

Shober said he received quotes of $1,500 per survey.

Commissioners postponed making a decision about buying a drone until they learn more.


Information from: The Gillette (Wyo.) News Record, https://www.gillettenewsrecord.com

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