By switching to ArcGIS Online, we were able to provide our client with a highly intuitive, visual, and accurate way of managing, monitoring, and making the most of their investment in the construction of this new community.
How GIS and Drone Imagery Boosted Construction Management Efficiency at La Cima
Developers behind the planned community, La Cima, leveraged ArcGIS Online and Esri partners to create a construction management system for the project.
Natural Development Austin LLC, La Cima development.
Developers behind the sprawling 2,400-acre planned community La Cima needed a point-of-reference solution to provide reliable data; construction validation tools; high-resolution imagery; and near real-time viewing, sharing, and analysis capabilities throughout the construction project life cycle.
Esri partners TexianGAS and Eos Positioning Systems collaborated with the developer and TXDronePics to create a construction management system leveraging ArcGIS Online, unpiloted aerial vehicle (UAV) imagery, Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) hardware, and monthly high-resolution orthomosaics.
La Cima is halfway through development and construction is ongoing. Three geospatial apps are helping La Cima developers build homes and ensure future success for planned projects such as a new school and commercial spaces.
Located between San Antonio and Austin, Texas, is the sprawling 2,400-acre community of La Cima. This planned community in San Marcos emphasizes small-town charm with big-city conveniences. The residential development consists of 2,000 single-family lots—and offers a range of amenities such as community recreational fields, a recreational center, a 45-acre park, playscapes, a community pool, hiking and biking trails, and a fire station. The community has plans for a future commercial center and an elementary school.
Construction for La Cima broke ground in April 2017 and is ongoing. Residents living in the community have already helped it earn several accolades, including a “Top Place to Retire 2017” by Where to Retire? Magazine and is the 10th most relaxed small city in America by Movato blog (2015).
Given La Cima's comprehensive project scope, ongoing construction, and immense site, it was critical for the developer to have management and communication tools. Staff needed to be able to quickly understand and provide on-site visibility for stakeholders operating from remote locations.
Geospatial and imagery technologies have been valuable to the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry. The La Cima project provided a unique opportunity to build a system combining imagery from UAVs and data accuracy from GNSS receivers to share and view with stakeholders using geospatial mapping technologies.
The La Cima developer first brought on TXDronePics—an aerial drone photography company based in Wimberley, Texas—to capture UAV imagery of the construction site weekly for progress images. Realizing the company could do more with the imagery data, TXDronePics approached Esri partner Texian Geospatial & Asset Solutions LLC (TexianGAS) to create a geographic information system (GIS)-based construction management system leveraging ArcGIS Online, the cloud-based GIS software as a service from Esri. To ensure image accuracy, TexianGAS connected with another Esri partner, Eos Positioning Systems, to utilize Eos Arrow Gold GNSS receivers to set ground control points (GCPs).
By combining these technologies, La Cima's construction management system would enable staff to share information—the project's imagery, computer-aided design (CAD) data, and as-built data—with stakeholders while also offering construction validation tools. Moreover, the system would serve as a point-of-reference solution, providing tracking and analysis capabilities throughout the construction project's life cycle.
Since the beginning of the project, TXDronePics has captured UAV imagery of the construction site weekly, emphasizing currently or previously active construction areas. At the end of the month, TexianGAS collects the images for the entire site and processes them into orthomosaics that are then sent to the developer, empowering stakeholders with a broad, high-resolution view of the construction site.
By using an Eos Arrow Gold GNSS receiver to set GCPs, the image-capturing process produces precise images that are accurate anywhere between one and three centimeters. The data points collected from the GNSS receivers are fed into ArcGIS Field Maps an all-in-one field app, enabling the data to seamlessly integrate with ArcGIS Online so that layers can be built and overlaid with drone imagery. The GCP data also integrates with ArcGIS Drone2Map, making the drone imagery processing easy, convenient, and accessible.
Sharing the imagery with authorized personnel such as internal stakeholders (project managers) and external stakeholders (financial and municipal contacts) was paramount to success. Recognizing that the project could outgrow Dropbox sharing capabilities (images were stored and shared via an account), TexianGAS staff suggested web maps as an alternative to file-based information sharing.
ArcGIS technologies and the integrations between the collected imagery and the GCPs data prompted TexianGAS staff to leverage ArcGIS Online to store La Cima's CAD overall plan and other valuable data layers such as parcel data and soil type. Moreover, the analytical tools of ArcGIS Online allowed project staff to complete computations for stockpile volumes directly from the aerial imagery. This leads decision-makers to quickly determine truckload requirements to move stockpiles and seamlessly validate invoices from hauling companies.
By using ArcGIS Online, TexianGAS could provide solutions that were accessible to anyone anywhere, at any time, creating a common operating picture for the construction site. Project managers saw the value in ArcGIS capabilities, inspiring TexianGAS staff to create three workflow-specific web applications to meet the growing construction management needs.
"By switching to ArcGIS Online, we were able to provide our client with a highly intuitive, visual, and accurate way of managing, monitoring, and making the most of their investment in the construction of this new community," said David Pritchard, principal at TexianGAS.
First, TexianGAS staff created the Construction Viewer application within the developer's ArcGIS Online organizational account. The application enables the maps to be branded by La Cima and selectively shared with external stakeholders. Additionally, specific maps are linked to the La Cima website for public viewing.
Next, staff built the Imagery Viewer application, displaying all the UAV orthomosaics and still images on a single map. The app allows users to control what imagery is displayed and includes a robust historic point layer, so users can click to see the full history of imagery taken at that of a particular location from the beginning of the project.
Finally, TexianGAS built the Timeline Viewer application using ArcGIS StoryMaps. Timeline Viewer combines aerial imagery, photographs, and narrative text to provide visual and written progress of the La Cima project over time. The application both shares La Cima's unique story and serves as documentation of the project's progress, from raw land to a finished community.
The data and imagery from the three apps are a starting point for TexianGAS staff to develop more in-depth resources for La Cima stakeholders. For example, in 2022, TexianGAS staff will present a proposal to create a high-resolution scan of the new pool and recreation area to demonstrate the processes and benefits of creating a digital twin of the development.
The La Cima community is halfway through the construction process, with approximately 300 homes built and future projects planned for a school and commercial space. The developer credits the geospatial tools for saving time, cutting costs, and creating overall project efficiency. Additionally, the GIS apps have set the developer up for continued success with the ongoing project.
Pritchard said that he hopes the data and apps created so far can be used later as a foundation for a digital twin or to help create future La Cima asset management systems that integrate with local municipalities' GIS programs. That sentiment is echoed by Eric Willis, president of Natural Development Austin LLC, which is leading the La Cima project.
"We really do like how easy it is to share the information we get, whether it is a mosaic or a still shot. The cloud has made things easier for everyone, where we can pull down an image and all see the site regardless of where we are," said Willis. "[The apps] are not just benefiting us—we can help benefit the local municipalities with the information that we have."