New drone technology incorporated in WDT instruction

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Drone technology has taken off over the past several years and has proved useful in numerous commercial applications, including land plot surveying.

With the emerging technology, traditional surveying is becoming a thing of the past due to cost and time savings of drones.

"The cost of [drones] has come down so much that drone surveying is the reality for a lot of smaller firms,” said Todd Anderson, the computer aided drafting instructor at Western Dakota Technical Institute. "They can get into this at a relatively low price point. But the cost saving in terms of the man hours - both the number of people it takes to survey and also how long it takes them to survey a given plot of land."

The drone operator can plot an area to survey, and the drone will take pictures along a set route.

"The technology is actually photogrammetry,” said Anderson. “What it is doing, is actually taking aerial photography and converting it into 3-dimensional shapes. And so, as it flies, it is comparing what the ground looks like at any given point, which is tracked by GPS. And it can take that information, plug it into a super computer, and it can generate a digital terrain model that also has the aerial photography dropped over it. So it is a photorealistic, 3-dimensional model of the ground when you are all done." 

Although drone technology is becoming more popular, traditional surveying is not going away completely.

"There are still plenty of applications for where that level of precision and accuracy is required,” Anderson said. “But for a large number of surveys that are commonly being conducted using traditional methods - which is just a lot more labor intensive - is going to slowly, overtime, get replaced."

With businesses in Rapid City now using drone surveying technology, Anderson stressed the importance of keeping his students on the cutting edge.

"When our graduates leave here, they are able to supply our industry with the latest technology, with the latest skills that our industry needs, to stay ahead of the competition." 

Western Dakota Tech student Grayson May says fellow students are excited about working with the new technology.

"I honestly think it is really cool,” said May. “I have played a little a bit with some of the smaller drones, but the technology that these kind of drones have put into it - it makes everything easier. And just everything that we can do with them, is really impressive."

While surveying drones are currently being used in engineering applications, this technology could be used across commercial platforms in the not so distant future.

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