The Rise of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in Surveying


While traditional methods are still used frequently by land surveyors, the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) is rapidly taking hold. Over the last few years, we have seen a sudden emergence of UAVs, often referred to as drones, in the realm of surveying. So where did they come from, how are they being used, and how will they be harnessed in the future of surveying?

The Start of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Surveying

When UAV surveying was first developing, it was primarily used by military personnel to survey large areas without putting personnel at risk. The UAV would take photos of a large geographical location and the software would be used to combine the images together into one larger consumable picture. From this beginning spiked the application of UAVs in a large amount of military, commercial and recreational uses.

Commercial Surveying’s Adoption of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

One of the most game-changing technologies in the world of surveying is the introduction of UAVs. It completely overhauled the way survey companies conduct business for the better, making it far easier to survey large areas. Using UAVs also offered a more cost-effective way to survey, reducing the potential harm to staff as well as allowing operational facilities to remain functional and being respectful to culturally sensitive areas.

UAVs were first used to survey mine sites, agriculture, construction and land management sites. However now with their near limitless number of surveying functions, UAVs are extremely useful to survey difficult-to- enter sites such as quarries and landfill facilities. The cost-effectiveness and ease of use have made it one of the most stable forms of surveying used by many professional commercial surveyors.

Introduction of Specific Laws Targeting Drones

The sudden rise of UAVs and drones for both commercial and recreational use has rushed many aviation authorities to make laws specific to unmanned aerial vehicles. For example, the Australian Government Civil Aviation Safety Authority has stated strict laws with videos explaining what you can and can’t-do with unmanned drones.

Courses have emerged to give people qualifications in the piloting of unmanned drones. In large scale, commercial surveying it is often required to have been trained and have a certificate showing your training before you can pilot a drone. As the popularity of commercial drones will likely continue to rise, it is always important to check the aviation laws in your country.

The Shift to Unmanned Drones

While drone surveying is steadily on the rise, it is advancing past previous methods due to the many benefits it provides. Surveyor Martin Leggat works as a drone pilot at New Acland Mine and said: “Before introducing the drones, we would survey the mining pits about every three months using light aircraft”. He continued “Now the drones allow us to survey once a month and offer a significant reduction in costs and time because they can fly during conditions when most light aircraft can’t.” For reasons, such as this, drones have become one of the most sought-after and used surveying tools.

“…drones allow us to survey once a month and offer
a significant reduction in costs and time…”

Drones also provide an affordable alternative to field survey personnel. By using drones to acquire data over the majority of the site, onsite staff can focus on areas that require on-the-ground detailed surveying. This allows surveyors to complete projects faster, at a lower cost and with less staff.

The Future of Land Surveying with Drones

Drone surveying, while not replacing traditional land-based surveying methods, will still add another dimension to surveyors’ toolkits. Due to being extremely cost-effective, fast and accurate, they are likely to continually advance at a rapid rate, become even cheaper and provide more detailed imaging. You’ll likely see drones being used wherever possible in surveying if they can be used efficiently and accurately.

With what we have seen in advancements over the last few years, I’m sure there is going to be a lot more to see in the world of drone surveying moving forward.

Alex Hamilton

Alex Hamilton writes on behalf of Veris – A market leading town planning, urban design, survey and 3D spatial solutions company.

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