By Luke Carothers

2022 has been a year of new horizons for the Engineering Drone Video of the Year (EDVY) Competition.  When the inaugural EDVY Competition launched in 2017, UAVs and drones held a much different position in the AEC industry.  Over half a decade ago, these first EDVY videos had a DIY-quality, often coming as a result of an intrepid drone pilot asking for permission to film a construction site.  This is a common refrain amongst those who have been in the drone industry since that time and far before: that, ironically, convincing the AEC industry to adopt drones as a tool required quite a bit of leg work.  Quite rapidly, UAVs and drones have been adopted into the daily practices of many major AEC firms, becoming indispensable tools for a variety of tasks in the design, construction, inspection, and maintenance of projects and structures.  

Just as the efforts of these early drones industry pioneers benefitted the current state of the AEC industry, so too has the EDVY Competition grown in tandem.  Drones are more than just a camera in the sky or method of generating new marketing content, although in the case of the latter it is evidently useful.  This year’s competition was evidence of this development, providing viewers with stunning drone videography, but also context on how drone technology had an impact on a particular project.  In much the same way our 2021 winner, Reid Hu, used aesthetics to convey information about the project, this trend was also present in this year’s field of competitors.  Production choices such as color shifting and digital overlays made this year’s competition stronger than ever.  

Drones and UAVs are now influencing budgets, workflows, and safety procedures on projects across the globe.  When it comes to Building Information Modeling (BIM) and 3D Modeling, drones have become an indispensable tool for engineering and construction projects.  Developments in drone technology are continually allowing drones to fly higher, faster, and for a longer time.  This has made them the ideal tool for capturing the necessary data for buildings and other large scale projects.  The ability to accurately model a project at its different stages helps improve things like workflow.  Drones have also drastically improved the safety of workers building the world around us.  This was proven true in May 2021 when traffic was abruptly halted on the Hernando de Soto bridge in Memphis, Tennessee.  Engineers inspecting the bridge identified a fracture in the tie girder of the arch over the primary navigation channel. After traffic was halted, engineers deployed drones to assess the full extent of the fracture, a job that would have otherwise required workers to navigate a potentially compromised structure.

EDVY has benefited tremendously from this blossoming of drone and UAV technology.  To accommodate for the complexity of these videos and the time and effort it took to produce them, we decided to shift the judging process slightly from previous years.  In the past, our audience first voted on which video they thought was the best during the online voting period.  The top vote-earners from this round were then evaluated by our panel of judges.  This year’s competition was inverted, with our panel of judges watching and scoring the first group of entries.  The top ten videos from this round of judging were then voted on by our audience over a 14-day period.  

This change resulted in the most electrifying round of voting in the history of the competition.  Early in the first day of voting, HDR’s “A Childlike View” jumped out in front of the competition, garnering over 100 votes on the first day.  Framed from the perspective of a drone operator’s child, HDR’s entry not only demonstrated the broad spectrum of drone applications in the AEC industry, but also called to their larger capacity to inspire the next generation and recruit more people into the industry.  Using a child’s perspective to explain how drones support technologies like BIM, this not only explains why drones are helpful in the AEC industry to a general audience, but also does so in a way that will recruit the younger generation to the profession.  At the same time HDR’s entry was rising, so too was RS&H’s “Wekiva Parkway-Section 6 Design-Build”, which used a combination of drone imagery of both the local flora and fauna and their infrastructure project in Sorrento, Florida.  This juxtaposition of imagery, combined with narration that serves the same purpose–listing the numbers of water crossings (3), road crossings (6), and wildlife crossings(9).  The result is a video that contextualizes the project in its natural space.  In the same way that HDR’s entry has the potential to draw new people to the industry, RS&H’s entry shows the environmental considerations that take place on a project of that scale.

At the end of the first day, two videos rose to the top: Freese & Nichols’ “2022 Bois d’Arc Lake Drones Project” and Casale’s “Nitric Acid Plant.”  Freese & Nichols has become a perennial contender for the top spot in the EDVY competition.  After finishing in the finals in the 2021 competition, Freese and Nichols again returned with an exciting look at the construction of the Bois d’Arc Lake Dam in Texas, the state’s first major reservoir in 30 years.  The video’s long sweeping shots–filled with both space and the movement of construction–pair with contextual information at the bottom of the screen and a switch to color as the project is completed.  This effectively moves the viewer from the shots of construction into a fully realized understanding of the project’s completion, aesthetically and contextually speaking to the project’s positive environmental impact.

When the second day of voting began, both Casale’s and Freese & Nichols’ entries were surging to break 200 votes with the lead changing several times throughout the day.  This same pattern continued throughout the next several days of voting as these top two entries soared past 1,000 votes, exchanging first and second place no less than six times in the span of five days.  As the final day of voting continued, Casale’s entry persevered the gauntlet and emerged with a strong lead.  At the conclusion of the voting period, Casale’s entry received exactly 800 votes more than Freese & Nichols’.

After battling through a field of contenders stronger than ever before, Casale’s “Nitric Acid Plant” emerged as the clear champion of the 2022 competition.  This is the first time the EDVY winner is located outside of the United States, speaking to the massive development of the drone/UAV industry around the world, but particularly within Europe.  And this video, and its production as well as the plant itself, are a testament to the use of the technology in Europe and its prevalence in the AEC industry.  

The winning video was entered by Casale, a Swiss chemical engineering company headquartered in Lugano.  The project featured in their video was a recently completed nitric acid plant located in Köping, Sweden.  The video was shot by Andrea Perotti who is a Senior IT System Administrator at Casale.  Perotti is both a professional and private drone operator, having once set a world record with 73 individually-assembled drones being piloted by 8-15 year olds.  In his professional work, Perotti uses drones for marketing purposes, creating videos and taking photos, and also to create 3D scans of projects.

According to Perotti, the winning video took about a week to capture enough footage for their submission.  Working with at least one other person at all times, Perotti and his crew filmed twice in the morning and twice in the afternoon.  They also took advantage of the local environment, which allowed for a midnight shooting because there is never total darkness during June in Sweden.  The video makes ample use of this footage, using the low light as a softly glowing background to the plant’s vibrant lighting and complex design.  Perotti and his team also had to consider their system as it related to an active nitric acid plant.  Any issue that could potentially lead to engine failure and the drone falling had to be avoided at all costs.  A drone falling and damaging the plant’s systems would have significant potential to disturb or release nitric acid, which is under pressure in the plant below.  

To avoid potential safety issues, Perotti and his team used a hexacopter drone, which ensured the possibility of landing rather than falling in the event of an engine problem.  Furthermore, the team identified places that had to be avoided such as cooling zones or other critical areas.  With the plant’s capability of producing up to 685 metric tons of nitric acid per day, plant project manager Marco Lonetti stressed the importance of ensuring these zones were identified and monitored for avoidance.  After identifying these spaces, Perotti piloted the drone and the other crew member monitored the location of the drone and the footage, ensuring it would not enter one of these areas.  Lonetti also notes that, while Casale also uses drones to produce scans on projects still being constructed, the challenge of ensuring a safe flight over an active production facility was a unique experience.   

The result of their planning and safety precautions was a stunning example of how drones provide a unique perspective on our view of projects.  Beginning with vertical shots looking directly down as the drones fly over the length of the plant, the audience is immediately introduced to the complexity of the structure which is highlighted by the plant’s sectioned lighting.  This is followed by a more horizontal shot of the plant moving towards the ground, which again emphasizes the complexity of the subject structure.  This horizontal view is again shifted even lower, allowing the viewer to peer between pipes and down hallways.  These movements mirror Lonetti’s sentiments about the plant’s importance and the complexity of the nitric acid itself.  Lonetti points out that, while the potential for an explosion is always present when handling nitric acid, its production is essential to a wide array of industries and products, being used for fertilizer, plastics, dyes, and a host of other staples of the modern world.

The final result of this blending of vertical and horizontal footage is a video that allows its audience an intimate view and better understanding of an industry that is fundamental to both the economy and the built environment.  In this way, Casale’s winning video demonstrates the core values of the contest itself.  By using drones footage in a way that uses its technical capabilities to both ensure the safety of the project and to give the viewer a unique view on its subject matter, Casale’s “Nitric Acid Plant” represents the best of the best when it comes to drone and UAV utilization.


2022 EDVY Top Ten 

  1. Nitric Acid Plant – Köping, Sweden (CASALE)
  2. Bois d’Arc Lake (Freese & Nichols)
  3. Wekiva Parkway Section 6 Design-Build, Sorrento, FL (RS&H)
  4. Drone Technology: A Childlike View (HDR)
  5. Red Wing Regional Airport- Red Wing, MN (SEH)
  6. Eric’sons Dura Trench Gas Stations / Fueling Stations (Eric’sons)
  7. Trenchless Technology using HDD installation of Fusible PVC Pipe (Underground Solutions)
  8. 18 History Making Days at The Colorado Convention Center – Temporary COVID Alternative Care Facility (ECC)
  9. Relocation of Historic Vautravers Building-Chicago, IL (Wolfe)
  10. The Bower Apartments (Westwood)

Luke Carothers is the Editor for Civil + Structural Engineer Media. If you want us to cover your project or want to feature your own article, he can be reached at lcarothers@zweiggroup.com.  

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