How International Collaboration Empowers Unmanned Aircraft Systems Technology Integration

With the rapid acceleration of unmanned aircraft innovation, one of the challenges WSP is addressing through a global collective is to make sure the benefits of the technology are safely used to their maximum potential for clients.

WSP leaders around the globe convened at a high-level forum in early 2018 to discuss unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) technology and its impact on the firm’s businesses. The group also formulated strategies to build and strengthen relationships across WSP and find ways to create and maintain consistent company-wide awareness of UAS technology, to promote understanding of the firm’s capabilities, and to capitalize on industry trends.

This forum of experts held quarterly meetings throughout the year to discuss a variety of topics, from specific-use cases to business development activities. Forum participants represented various regions and businesses: United States (Advisory Services, Transportation and Infrastructure, and Water and Environment); Canada (Geomatics and Environment); and Australia/New Zealand (Transportation and Infrastructure).

Consistent with WSP’s new 2019-2021 strategic plan, the forum participants addressed several objectives, including clarification of procedural considerations and potential risks when deploying UAS technology, identification of ways to improve and bring consistency to business practices at WSP when using UAS technology, establishing effective communication channels across borders and sectors, and delivering advisory and technical solutions based on sound deployment strategies informed by key stakeholders.

Achieving these objectives will enhance WSP’s collective services to its clients and strengthen the firm’s risk management practices for operating UAS technology on projects.

Recognizing the rapid emergence and proliferation of this technology in the markets WSP serves, forum participants eagerly used this forum as an opportunity to share and provide feedback on program maturation, effective practices, risk mitigation and resource utilization. The principal efforts of the forum in 2018 were to gain an understanding for the operational and programmatic environment within each region/sector and to form collaborative relationships.

Looking ahead to 2019, the forum will focus on bringing awareness and attention to consistent policies and procedures for UAS operations by WSP UAS pilots and our supply chain to limit corporate risk exposure in legal areas as well as our reputation. Also, this forum will capitalize on the fact that many clients are reaching a point in their use of UAS where they are now seeking expert assistance from established consultants such as WSP to implement this technology in their daily operations.


The WSP global forum is finding ways to deliver advisory and technical solutions based on sound deployment strategies.

Better Perspective

WSP provided guidance to the Federal Highway Administration for effective use of geospatial technology for highway construction, including digital construction inspection tools to verify a contractor’s work in accordance to contract requirements. Specifically, UAS technology was studied from a benefit/cost and remote inspection perspective, as well as the implementation and management of a state transportation UAS program.

WSP has also incorporated the use of UAS technology as a valuable tool for bridge inspections, project modeling, mapping and other use cases where aerial views provided enhanced perspectives.

For instance, UAS technology was used for the inspection of the four-lane, 7,353-foot-long Jamestown Verrazzano Bridge. WSP utilized UAS technology to map all 23 of the main structure concrete piers in great detail, and the photographs were then compiled using a computer program to produce 3D models.

WSP provided aerial photogrammetry modeling service with UAS to the Connecticut Department of Transportation for the deteriorating Walk Bridge Replacement Project. The WSP geospatial group dispatched a team of laser scanning technicians and UAS pilots to collect high definition terrestrial laser scan data and high resolution aerial imagery.

Additionally, WSP provided biannual aerial mapping services to Waste Management of five landfills throughout New England, generating accurate contour maps and orthophotos of the landfills; delivering images, videos and CAD drawings to the client that were superior to conventional techniques.

WSP also worked with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to provide aerial imagery and video captured using a UAS to aid in the inspection and reporting of the interior and exterior structural deficiencies of the historic Hudson & Manhattan Railroad Powerhouse. This information helped engineers assess areas that need to be stabilized so the client can implement a plan of action to rehabilitate the building.

WSP provided videography service for operation of track construction machine on a three-mile section of rail between New Haven and Hartford, Connecticut to produce public engagement materials on behalf of Connecticut Rail and the City of Hartford.


Aerial innovation has implications for construction, e-commerce, traditional ground transportation operations and regional planning.

An Overview

Some of the participants shared their observations about the UAS forum and how it will enhance WSP’s services to its customers.

“The establishment of this forum was a timely and much-needed initiative to facilitate regular knowledge sharing of this developing technology among a diverse group of individuals throughout many regions and sectors of WSP, said Matt Bacon, who represents the U.S. region on the committee along with Jag Mallela, Darren Hardy, Adrienne Lindgren, Greg Reynolds and Abhishek Bhargava. “As our clients navigate the uncertainties with integrating this technology, drawing from our global expertise and resources will better position WSP as elite consultants.”

“As UAS regulations change, innovative uses of UAS technology emerge, which creates significant opportunities for WSP,” added John Tang, who represents the Canada region on the committee along with Michèle Laflamme and Sébastien Fortin. “Through this forum, WSP is able to adapt quickly through a strong bench of global resources and determine the best equipment and practices to implement.”

“The opportunity to interact with our peers around the globe and learn from their experiences with drones/UAS is highly valuable,” said David Stewart, who represents the Australia/New Zealand region on the committee along with Caileb Baildon and Harry Follas. “It allows us to consider new areas of services based on what our overseas colleagues have tried and to learn from each other. This is a fast-changing space; hence, this is another very valuable way of helping us to stay at the forefront of the engineering UAS services market in our region.”

WSP’s commitment to UAS technology is part of its goal to help clients create a world that is Future Ready™—thinking beyond the conventional and prepare for the changes and challenges the world will face, and improving the overall quality of life through information, thoughtful solutions, and approaches that will have a positive impact on our environment.

By tapping into WSP’s vast knowledge and experiences of unique regulatory constraints on UAS technology around the globe, national and international standards development activities, and economic challenges/drivers of integrating UAS technology, forum participants are empowered with global insights that help shape UAS integration activities on national, regional, and local levels. Effectively, this approach is bringing a global scale of expertise to WSP’s local customers.

Jon Gustafson is a civil integrated management consultant with WSP USA in Minneapolis and is facilitating this global forum on UAS technology. He is a strategic advisor on deploying geospatial technology to WSP sectors and end markets. He also serves as a steering committee member of the American National Standards Institute Unmanned Aircraft Systems Standardization Collaborative, helping to drive national unmanned aircraft systems integration efforts.

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Unmanned aircraft systems are providing numerous benefits to government and civil organizations, including surveying and mapping, structural inspections, and arguably sooner than later, cargo deliveries.

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