How aerial imagery helps construction, engineering, and architecture firms keep up with urban sprawl

“Urban sprawl” is a phrase that’s top of mind for just about anyone who touches urban development: builders, planners, architects, engineers, infrastructure managers, local governments, and environmental analysts, to name a few. ABC has recently reported on the issue of how Australia is going to keep up with the demand for more houses, schools, and transport alternatives. With Australia’s greater capital cities adding 2.9 million people over the last ten years — accounting for 77% of Australia’s total population explosion — the question of how our built infrastructure will keep pace is an urgent one.

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If ever there was a siren song calling the name of the construction industry, it’s urban sprawl. The industry is well-positioned to take on the challenge: according to StartupAUS’s recent report on ConstructionTech, “construction employs 1.1 million Australians — more than five times as many as the mining industry” and accounts for 8.1% of the nation’s GDP. And with innovations in safety, BIM, machine learning, and 3D printing, the ACE sector is creating the technological capability to capitalise on the opportunity.

The potential financial impact of technological innovation in construction is also enormous: StartupAUS notes that “BCG estimates that global full-scale digitisation in nonresidential construction could lead to annual cost savings of US$0.7-1.2 trillion (13% to 21%) in the engineering and construction phases … Extrapolating to the Australian construction sector, the potential added value increase could be $25 billion year on year within the next decade.”

It naturally follows that the fastest-scaling construction, engineering, and architecture companies are adopting technology to streamline their workflows, maximise resources, and capitalise on the rich opportunity generated by population growth. One such technology is achieving wide adoption across the ACE vertical: aerial imagery.

In particular, Nearmap’s aerial imagery has become an integral part of the workflow for 14 of Australia’s top 20 construction companies (by revenue), providing a reliable source of unbiased truth about what’s happening on site. With high-resolution captures of 88% of Australia’s population up to six times a year — covering more than 535,000 square kilometres — Nearmap allows ACE businesses to instantly understand what’s happening on their sites and make data-driven decisions that have a measurable impact on efficiency and outcomes.

Aerial imagery plays a specific role during each part of the building development lifecycle.

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  • Stakeholder: Property developer
  • Job: Research potential properties to acquire for creation of assets — schools, parks, houses, government buildings.
  • Nearmap insight: Pan and zoom around an entire block, neighborhood, or city to find a tract of land that suits the initial project criteria. Measure size of parcel, slope, and heights of surrounding buildings and objects. Understand the context of the property: nearby schools, parks, transit hubs, shoppings centres, existing infrastructure, and vegetation.
 A multi-use area in Penrith, NSW, captured on 20 January, 2018.

A multi-use area in Penrith, NSW, captured on 20 January, 2018.


  • Stakeholder: Environmental consultants, architects, utility planners, engineers
  • Job: Understand the economic, environmental, infrastructural, and design suitability of site.
  • Nearmap insight: Overlay initial design over Nearmap imagery to visualise how it will fit into its surroundings . Measure ground slope, building heights, areas, and radius. Understand road access points. Overlay ABS data to understand demographics of area. Overlay property data to determine economic feasibility. Evaluate electrical and wireless networks. Measure potential solar irradiance output. Provide evidence of feasibility to local council authorities with exportable, annotated, and georeferenced maps.
 Bulimba, QLD, with estimated property value data overlaid. 

Bulimba, QLD, with estimated property value data overlaid. 


  • Stakeholder: Contractors.
  • Job: Present a competitive bid.
  • Nearmap insight: Create an accurate, compelling application with supporting imagery that’s up to date — and 80% higher resolution than standard commercial satellite imagery. Illustrate the different stages of the construction project to give the client confidence that their decisions are based on the reality on the ground. View current site access for heavy vehicles and materials delivery, and understand real-time obstacles (don’t design around a tennis court that was razed four years ago).
 The progression of the Perth Stadium project.

The progression of the Perth Stadium project.


  • Stakeholder: Architects and engineers.
  • Job: Design the asset.
  • Nearmap insight: Overlay your design on real-world imagery and visualise in both 2D and 3D. Make accurate initial site measurements, and validate measurements that were made on site to avoid multiple revisits. Measure heights of surrounding buildings and estimate line of sight for views from top floors and roof. In a BIM model, examine level of detail to understand textures, angles, shapes, and exterior built features of surrounding buildings. Estimate building materials requirements and manage stakeholder engagement. Plan crane design, clearance, and placement.
 A simple structural figure visualised in the context of Nearmap's 3D textured mesh. 

A simple structural figure visualised in the context of Nearmap's 3D textured mesh. 


  • Stakeholder: Construction companies, contractors, project managers, engineers.
  • Job: Build it!
  • Nearmap insight: Consult frequently updated imagery to allow iterative design as the project evolves. Avoid costly rework by viewing what’s happening on site, without having to drive out to the field. Plan delivery of building materials as access points shift throughout the project. Meet new utilities, logistics, and planning challenges. Support progress reports and validate measurements. Audit contractor work to validate project milestones. (Is that perimeter fence really 750m?) Dispute damage claims by referencing historical imagery. Revisit the site from your office as many times as you like, and discover insights that are harder to find in person.
 An ongoing construction site in Waterloo, NSW, captured on 15 March, 2018. 

An ongoing construction site in Waterloo, NSW, captured on 15 March, 2018. 


  • Stakeholder: Property management companies, local government councils.
  • Job: Maintain buildings, adhere to environmental standards, detect weather- or human-inflicted damage, estimate repairs, design new infrastructure.
  • Nearmap insight: Understand both today’s truth as well as the site’s history using Nearmap’s historical imagery archive. Evaluate the need for capital improvements. Use imagery for polished marketing and communications. Assess feasibility for new infrastructure. Monitor the building facade. Share information easily with LGAs and utilities providers.
 The recently completed new Royal Adelaide Hospital in SA, captured on 16 January, 2018.

The recently completed new Royal Adelaide Hospital in SA, captured on 16 January, 2018.

See how these construction, utility, and architecture firms rely on aerial imagery to power them through the development lifecycle: