Plowman Craven, a UK-based surveying company, has launched the Vogel Freedom, an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) based survey system designed to revolutionize rail infrastructure surveying. The Vogel Freedom is a survey-grade solution that can survey tracks without physical access and maintain Vogel’s class-leading Band 1 survey accuracy, making it an industry milestone. The system accelerates the process of capturing data and converting it into client deliverables, such as topographical surveys, and offers superior flexibility for when surveying can be undertaken, as it eliminates the need for boots on ballast. Compared to traditional surveying methods, the Vogel Freedom is 20% faster, 30% cheaper, and 85% lower carbon, due to a vastly lower number of staff needed on site.
The Vogel Freedom allows comprehensive surveying of even the busiest and most inaccessible areas from a working height of 35 meters, with no need for manned aircraft or on-track survey teams. The system uses a state-of-the-art UAV platform and 100-megapixel camera to capture overlapping aerial images of an entire site, along with post-processed kinematic GNSS observations and precise inertial measurement information. The platform can be operated off-track during traffic hours, removing the need for possessions and line blocks, and drastically reducing the exposure of workers to risk. Staff who would usually be on-site have now been moved from a high-risk and time-critical environment to desktop-based activities, thereby retaining their expertise.
The Vogel Freedom is an innovative new product and the next generation of the company’s Vogel R3D system, building on its capabilities with additional compelling features. The system is fully approved according to Network Rail Band 1 and 3 standards and feeds into the Department for Transport’s railway plan in England and Wales for the period to March 2029, known as Control Period 7 (CP7). Plowman Craven has been one of only four approved suppliers on a framework agreement with Network Rail for the provision of UAV services since 2019.
“Having worked in surveying and rail for over 25 years, I have never been able to conduct a survey completely off-track until now. We developed Vogel Freedom in response to ever-increasing industry challenges and needs. It removes previous limitations to surveying and can add substantial value, particularly in the current economic climate, where cost-effective solutions have never been more important, all while improving workers’ safety and ensuring a safe and efficient rail service for customers. Since becoming the UK’s first adopter of survey-grade UAV, Plowman Craven has continued to invest in the evolution of cutting-edge technologies and, with Vogel Freedom, we enter the next generation, providing the same high-quality data faster, cheaper, more sustainably and with no track access. As ever, we consult with our clients to ensure deployment of the right solution at the right time and, as the need for surveys increases, we can also scale up our ability to provide data to clients for CP7,” said Steve Jones, Head of New Business at Plowman Craven.