SenSat | Smart Motorways

SenSat is a full-service drone-to-BIM provider.

The experienced team of operators planned and coordinated the aerial drone survey, from risk assessments to permissions and permitting. Full Risk Assessment Method Statements (RAMS) were completed in conjunction with on-site teams, and permissions and documentation were vetted prior to flight. UAV flights over live highways are typically not permitted by UK government.


Drone to BIM: M1 Smart Motorways

Nearly four million drivers use England’s motorways every day, and that number is only expected to grow.

Kirsten Ingeneeger

10.5.2017 // 4 minute read

The Project

Nearly four million drivers use England’s motorways every day, and that number is only expected to grow. Knowing economic growth is restricted by motorway congestion, Highways England developed a Road Investment Strategy in 2014 outlining their long-term plan for building a smart and sustainable road network in England.


The M1 motorway was identified as a critical scheme of this strategy. The route is highly congested with unreliable journey times at busy periods, exasperated by further growth at East Midlands Airport. By upgrading it to a Smart Motorway, congestion can be alleviated - and with it, economic constraints for the country. Costain Galliford Try was appointed to the project, and work on the 12 kilometer stretch of junction 24a - 25 began in March 2017.


Smart Motorways, also referred to as controlled motorways, are when active traffic management techniques are employed by motorway operators to increase peak capacity and smooth traffic flow. This means motorways can be improved without the cost and physical implication of actually widening them. Electronic motorway signage is used to alter variable mandatory speed limits, close or open hard shoulder lanes, and meter ramps via queue detection during peak travel periods. CCTV is also used to assist in the safe management of these motorways.

The Flight

Costain Galliford Try commissioned SenSat to provide a full topographical 3D survey of the in-progress project for use in asset modeling and stakeholder communications.   


However SenSat has secured exclusive Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) exemptions for such operations. Additionally, SenSat has CAA permission to fly extended visual line of sight (EVLOS), three times farther than standard commercial operators. These exemptions allow the project is be completed as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible.  


The data capture covered approximately 15 kilometers and was completed in just 3.5 hours.  All SenSat operators are CSCS qualified to work on live construction sites, and bring a thorough understanding of photogrammetry to the job allowing them to capture the most accurate data possible with the equipment. Data collected has a guaranteed accuracy of 50mm with further accuracy attainable given expertise and good flying conditions.

Drone to BIM

Within just 5 days, SenSat delivered an engineering-grade 3D model of the project on Mapp - SenSat’s cloud-based online software. Additionally they received orthomosaic imagery, densified 3D point clouds, and elevation and surface model datasets.


What would normally have taken them weeks via traditional survey methods, drone captured data accessed on Mapp allowed them to obtain more powerful information at both a lower cost and rapid turnaround. Costain Galliford Try used SenSat's 3D models as the basis for CAD designs, cropping sections of the model to be exported into third party CAD software. Such CAD designs can be superimposed back into Mapp to be reintegrated with the rest of the 3D model.  

With Mapp, engineers, BIM technicians and project managers have a 360 degree view of the project, where they can track and assess progress by simply logging on to the site. They can now complete measurements, tag and annotate issues, and communicate directly with team members to follow up on tasks.  Additionally, Mapp enables Costain Galliford Try to work in a Common Data Environment aligned with their BIM strategy.


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