The impact unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) is having on utility asset inspection and management has been considerable in recent years, and their impact will continue to grow considerably, says Mark Limbruner, President of the Geospatial Information and Technology Association North America (GITA NA).

Mark Limbruner

Mark Limbruner

Mr Limbruner was recently in Australia for Locate16, the national conference of the spatial and surveying industries of Australia and New Zealand. We caught up with Mr Limbruner to discuss the role UAVs have to play with utilities, and the evolution of the international GIS industry.

What are the biggest developments in GIS internationally?

At this point I truly feel that UAV technology is creating the most change within the utility and infrastructure sectors. Low cost UAVs are revolutionising the utility inspection field, as well as providing low cost site location and right of way reconnaissance.

How will UAVs impact the way utilities operate?

Use of UAVs will significantly reduce the man hours on various projects, especially the siting of new facilities and projects. Many more hectares or kilometers can be researched or scouted in one day in comparison to a “boots on the ground” approach.

What are the biggest benefits UAVs will offer utilities?

I’d say cost savings! Surveyors on the ground for early scoping tasks are quite expensive, if a firm can leverage UAV technology early in the project it will provide significant savings.

How will UAVs impact the way data is attained, analysed and distributed?

Speed is the greatest impact. A project manager can have a large area flow in the morning, get the data back by noon, and be analysing potential options before close of business.

Limbruner

Will UAVs impact the community?

Yes most definitely, the public is going to have to adjust seeing UAVs doing a bit of early survey/reconnaissance work.

However, I feel that going forward over the next few years, the public will be more welcoming of drone technology, especially as they (or more likely) their children start using UAVs as a hobby or pastime.

Will these developments influence the utility­-to­-customer relationship?

In the long run, yes. But we will see this in terms of better thought out and designed projects. In addition the use of UAVs for security and inspection of gas and electric right of ways will provide an enhanced level of safety to the public.

What are the biggest challenges facing GIS in today’s market?

I’d say staffing reductions. Infrastructure firms, including utilities, really need to develop, educate and maintain their geospatial staff. I’ve seen an alarming trend of GIS staff being subsumed into engineering or information technology departments.

I find this alarming as a proper mapping staff really needs to stand alone to support those disciplines, not become a cog in those departments.

How do you see the industry overcoming these challenges?

The rank and file GIS practitioners really need to be advocates for their own position within organisations. This includes staying up to date with the latest technology, trends, and management styles. Stay ahead of the curve; anticipate your (in­house) clients’ needs and the drive to merge and subsume GIS will fade away.

How has the GIS industry evolved over your career?

I’ve been doing mapping, CAD and GIS for over 34 years, and the change in technology and the tools we have at our disposal has been amazing.

In the end though, it comes down to creating an accurate picture for our clients – whether they be utility companies, exploration firms, or government agencies–using maps, data and analysis. I’ve gone from using pen and ink on Mylar, to using UAVs to do my job, so it surely isn’t boring!

For more information on GITA NA and the geospatial industry in the US, Mark can be contacted at [email protected].

Lauren brings a fresh approach to content. While she’s previously written for publications as diverse as Australian Geographic, The Border Watch and Girlfriend, she’s found her true passion in her current role as an editor in the world of energy and infrastructure trade magazines.

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