How PBS Engineering Used Drones to Lower Job Risks

Marketing Intern at Skyward

PBS Engineering and Environmental Inc. provides professional engineering, environmental, industrial hygiene, planning, and surveying services throughout Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. Like any engineering company, safety is one of their top priorities on the job site—especially because their projects often involve accessing hazardous areas. PBS Engineering wants to avoid as many potential liabilities as possible, while still delivering high-quality, professional results.

PBS established a drone program to gather better data and eliminate risk to their workers whenever possible. They’ve successfully used drones for applications including aerial imaging, orthomosaics, 3D modeling, aerial video, and virtual inspections, and they’re continuing to expand their operations into even more uses.

Earlier this year, PBS was contracted to provide a topographical survey of a road along the Snake River in Asotin County, Washington—a winding road at the base of a series of steep cliffs. Another engineering firm would then use the data gathered from the survey to design road improvements, including widening and adding retaining walls.

PBS was tasked with mapping the existing conditions of the road and the cliffs, including rock overhangs that would potentially need to be excavated. They were also asked to provide 4K video of the rock face for analysis by an archaeologist, so that any Native American petroglyphs on the cliffs would not be endangered or destroyed by construction. They needed to keep workers out of harm’s way from falls, rockslides, or other dangers while still gathering the data they needed.

Instead of using a ground-based LiDAR surveying system, as would have been typical for this kind of operation, PBS opted to conduct a drone-based aerial survey to accomplish the same task. That way, none of the crew had to climb along the cliffs with surveying equipment; instead, they could safely operate the drone from a secure location. For the archaeological analysis of the cliffs, PBS employed drones as an alternative approach which not only produced full-resolution images of the cliffs, but also went beyond mere video footage—the drone data could be organized to provide exact GPS coordinates for any findings on the cliffside.

PBS used a senseFly eBee fixed-wing drone, which used terrain-following features, ground sensors, and pre-cached elevation data to conduct a safe flight. After using Skyward to check the airspace, PBS conducted a total of six flights between 200 and 400 feet above ground level to collect mapping data. They then manually flew a multirotor drone along the cliff to capture footage for the archaeological inspection, closing out their operations by logging their flights in Skyward.

Using the data they gathered, they constructed a 3D point cloud of the entire hillside, including detailed information on the contours of the terrain. They were also able to deliver super high definition photography of the cliff face for analysis. (You can see some of the raw footage here.)

In addition to getting great results, PBS made gains in time, personnel requirements, and safety. The on-the-scene work took only a few hours and required just three people: a pilot and two field surveyors. And no one had to walk along or beneath the cliffs—an especially pertinent safety benefit, since a minor rockslide landed on the road while PBS was on site. Because they opted to use drones, no one was put at risk in a potentially dangerous area.

To learn more about PBS’s drone program and use cases, and to hear more about how drones can improve safety on the jobsite, check out our upcoming webinar, Risk to Reward: How to Transform Your Drone Program Into a Safety Asset. Derrick Westoby, UAS Program Manager at PBS Engineering, will be on hand to share insights for managing a safe drone program across a wide variety of operations. Joining him from the Skyward team will be Chief Pilot Tariq Rashid and Senior Manager of Strategy Matt Fanelli, who will discuss safe procedures, as well as Skyward’s involvement in developing the FAA’s LAANC—an avenue to more accessible commercial drone airspace.

We’ll give tips and advice for managing a safe drone program and discuss how to work with risk managers and legal teams. There will be plenty of time for Q&A with all the panelists, so bring your questions about UAS and risk reduction.

We hope to see you there!