The rapid pace of urbanization during the twenty-first century has left urban planners with a challenging task. While data on populations, landscapes, and urban infrastructure is more available than ever, verifying and synthesizing that data for use in planning is a complex and time-consuming endeavor.
Unmanned aerial vehicles, more commonly known as drones, offer a viable and practical solution for many of the problems faced by modern urban planners. They are an efficient and effective tool for gathering the data that is needed to make informed urban planning decisions.
Gathering Accurate and Extensive Data
The data required for urban planning must be comprehensive and detailed. The geospatial data that planners need to work with includes information on building and land quality and features. How buildings are built, how they are used, and when they are most actively used are all factors that need to be considered when determining changes in urban environments. Effectively using open land requires an understanding of its topography, the natural resources it can provide, and its accessibility.
By giving urban planners access to 4K images and video, drones allow for detailed data to be collected that goes well beyond what is provided by resources like physical maps, contour maps, and Google Maps. The precision with which drones can be piloted and their compact size allow for images to be captured from virtually any angle, providing a view of all facets of architectural and natural features. By incorporating geotagging with images and video, drones allow for the data they collect to be used to create geo-referenced 2D and 3D models.
Gathering Data From Hard to Access Areas
Most urban areas include locations that are challenging to approach, whether because of a concern for safety, a lack of public accessibility, or logistical obstacles. Drones provide a solution to all those concerns.
Drones allow for vertical takeoff and landing, which means they do not need a runway. They can be launched from and return to areas like rooftops or sloping terrain. In addition, they are piloted remotely. By doing away with the need for an onboard pilot, drones can be smaller, lighter, and used in a wider variety of situations.
Drones also provide a solution for urban planners who must gather data in dangerous environments. This could include natural areas like rivers or wilderness where topography or wildlife is threatening. It also allows for gathering data in dangerous urban areas, such as high traffic areas or areas where hazardous materials may be in use.
Gathering Environmental Data
As urban spaces expand into natural areas, planners must make assessments regarding the natural features that are present and the natural resources that are available. When equipped with multispectral sensors, drones allow for a wide range of natural data to be collected and analyzed. This can include topographical information as well as information on resources like water that exist underground.
In areas where vegetation is present, multispectral sensors can detect whether vegetation is healthy or unhealthy, which can provide clues on the quality and make-up of soils. Multispectral sensors can also alert planners to the existence of wildlife, even when video or photos are captured in the dark.
Gathering Updates Throughout Planning Process
Because urban planning can be a lengthy process that requires input from a wide range of constituents over a long period of time, updating information during the course of a project is often necessary. Drones readily facilitate this.
Once an initial investment is made, the costs associated with reusing drones are relatively small. They are durable, powered by rechargeable batteries, and require little prep time before being used. Whether being used to confirm that data has not changed or to gather new data in areas where changes are known, drones are highly useful for providing updates for ongoing projects.
Empowering Effective Public Engagement
Providing the public with information on the scope and impact of projects is a critical component of urban planning that is often under-appreciated and under-resourced. It not only gathers important feedback but also encourages public buy-in and support.
By providing urban planners with quality, engaging, and accurate video footage, drones give urban planners a powerful tool for developing more impactful presentations that allow the public to better understand and appreciate the motivation behind projects and the work that they will involve. When information can be presented in a more meaningful way, projects can move through public engagement phases in a way that better serves both the planner and the people who ultimately will be affected by the project.
As urban spaces grow, they inevitably become more complex. Because the pace of urban development is ever-increasing, urban planners must take advantage of resources that can help them to streamline projects and shorten timelines. Drones promise to become an invaluable tool for accomplishing those tasks and one that will be standard in the field of urban planning.
Dr. Shaun Passley holds numerous masters’ degrees from DePaul University, Benedictine University, and Northwestern University and has a Ph.D. in Business Administration. In addition to founding ZenaTech, he is also Chairman & CEO of Epazz, Inc. – an enterprise-wide cloud software company — and the manufacturing company Ameritek Ventures – a manufacturing company. ZenaDrone is an entirely bootstrapped venture that is aiming to help the agri-sector in Ireland close its emerging labor gap through automation.