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Benefits of Drone Surveying (Explained for Beginners)

According to Drone Industry Insights, a leading research and analytics company in the drone industry, mapping, and surveying are the most common uses for drones.

So what are the benefits of drone surveying?

Drone surveying helps save time and money and improves work quality and safety. Since it was adopted in surveying, its usage and importance have kept growing, and so has the drone surveying market.

Please keep reading to learn more about how essential drone surveying is and how to get started.

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Benefits of Drone Surveying

Last year, Drone Industry Insights published its Drone Industry Barometer 2021, a whitepaper that shows why various businesses are using drones.

Four main reasons stood out, as shown in the graph below.

Image Credit: droneii.com

These are the main industries that reported drones benefitting their workflow.

As you can see, mapping and surveying came in second this time, but still occupy a considerable percentage of drone usage globally.

With regards to drone surveying, let’s discuss each of the benefits mentioned above in detail.

Saving Money

Drone surveying has reduced the costs of doing a land survey in the following ways.

  • Reduced need for manned surveys: To survey acres of land would take weeks, not to mention it would require several surveyors and additional costs for accommodation and transport.

    You can do the same job with a drone in a few hours, reducing the staffing you will need and any other costs associated with ground surveying.

    The software used for drone surveying is also cheaper, easier to use, and more automated.
  • Aerial surveys: Traditionally, aerial surveys were done using airplanes, which are pretty expensive to operate. The planes need a pilot, payloads that weigh up to 100 kilograms, and clearance to fly over an area.

    If there are any errors, you’d have to redo the survey, making the whole process too complex. Drones will need a pilot but they will be on the ground.

    Further, there are fewer clearances needed to fly a drone, and drones and their payloads are way cheaper than airplanes.
  • Real-time data: While airplanes could cover vast tracts of land, the data may not always be relayed in real-time, delaying projects or limiting when and how you can use the data.

    However, drones can transmit the data in real-time, making it easier to show stakeholders data without transporting them to the site.

    I recall a project where we had to livestream on a drone as we filmed an ongoing construction project for the board members who were in a meeting.

Improve Work Safety

Safety is another reason why many businesses have resorted to using drones.

As mentioned earlier, airplanes need a pilot in the vehicle, but with drones, you can control them remotely.

Secondly, in the event a plane crashes, it will cause more damage to those onboard and those around where it crashed.

Drone crashes can be fatal too, but not as fatal as plane crashes, and you can mitigate these crashes with parachutes and other safety mechanisms.

Ability to Reach Inaccessible Areas

Another way drones improve work safety is by accessing areas that would be difficult and unsafe for people to reach.

These areas include rugged terrains, quarries, etc.

Since you will fly very close to the ground with a drone, you can still get accurate data.

Besides navigating unsafe areas, drones also make it easier to map overpopulated areas where surveying manually from the ground would be pretty tricky and time-consuming.

Saving Time

As mentioned earlier, drones save a lot of time since you can quickly get them into the air, collect data, and land them within a few minutes. This makes them better for surveying larger areas of land compared to land surveying manually.

Another way that drones save time is through the automation of data processing.

Software like Pix4D or DroneDeploy allows you to input flight plans where the drone will automatically fly on its own.

Once it’s complete, you export the data, enter some inputs, and the software will process and give back usable outputs.

Better Quality and Accuracy

One of the main reasons drone surveys are essential and accurate is their ability to take images with a spatial phenomenon (coordinates and elevation), which is the core of surveying.

Also, drone surveying can be pretty accurate thanks to the miniaturization of various technologies.

For starters, a good drone’s camera can shoot in up to 5.2K or even 8K. This allows you to get even better detail on an image than on a satellite or aerial image from an airplane.

Due to the accessibility of drones, you can get the latest image of a region without much hassle. This is handy since areas change often, and you may not always get the latest satellite image.

Another reason why drones are more accurate is the ability to carry sensors like RTKs, PPKs, LiDAR, thermal cameras, infrared cameras, and multi-spectral sensors, all of which give more data than a standard camera could.

Besides, most drone mapping software allows you to add Ground Control Points (GCPs), which help you increase the accuracy of the data collected.

To see how it works and how to get the various outputs, check out our article on using drones for land surveying.

Which Tools Are Used For Drone Surveying?

Below are the main components of a drone survey, including the tools required for the job.

The Drone

Any drone that can take high-quality images with a spatial reference can be used for land surveying.

However, there are drones explicitly designed for this type of work, such as the Phantom 4 RTK, DJI Matrice 300, DJI T30, and Wingtra fixed-wing drones.

There are two main types of drones used for surveying:

  1. Multi-rotor: These drones often have four, six, or eight propellers. They are the easiest to fly, carry some payload, and don’t require a runway.

    However, these types of drones are limited in the payload they can carry, and their batteries don’t last that long (30 to 60 minutes).
  1. Fixed-wing: These are the best drones for surveying larger areas since they have longer endurance and can carry payloads of up to 5 kilograms.

    Some of them can be gas-powered and are overall equipped for BVLOS (Beyond Line Of Sight Operations). Unlike the multi-rotors, fixed-wing drones can be quite expensive.

Payloads

The survey on drones I mentioned earlier often has built-in GPS, RTK or PPK, and a wide range of other sensors.

They also have an additional payload capacity where you can attach any third-party equipment that’s either not included with the drone or works better than the one on the drone.

Software

Data collection, processing, and presentation are done using dedicated software such as DroneDeploy, Pix4D, ArcGIS, and AutoCAD.

DroneDeploy and Pix4D are automated in the sense that they can identify which drone you’re using, import its parameters, and even control it automatically when you set waypoints.

On the other hand, ArcGIS and AutoCAD are geographic information and land surveying software, respectively, allowing you to manipulate and present the data you get from DroneDeploy and Pix4D further.

Where Is Drone Surveying Important?

Below are the various use cases where drone surveying is applicable and highly valuable.

Land Surveying

This is the most common use for drone surveying.

Drones produce high-quality imagery, which can then be used to update maps and create cadastral maps, orthomosaics, and 3D models.

Orthomosaics and photos come in handy when measuring distances since they are quite accurate.

Land Development

Once you generate the various outputs mentioned above, you can use them in land management and development.

For instance, you can use such data to identify the best use for the available land, slope management, and even planning for utilities like drainage.

These surveys can also help archeologists find the best place to start excavating without spending too much time or money on expensive equipment.

Urban Planning

Urban areas develop really fast, making it impossible to rely on satellite imagery.

Luckily, drone surveys can provide more recent data, allowing urban planners to assess the effects of a project and find better ways to utilize the available land without straining it or the residents.

Roof Surveying

Whether for an insurance claim or assessing damage after a hurricane, a drone survey provides an easy way to access the roof and slowly analyze it without going up there yourself.

Construction Monitoring

Drone surveys give you an aerial view of ongoing construction, allowing you to monitor the progress.

Aerial views at different angles provide 3D models that allow you to perform stockpile calculations and measurements, which are essential to construction monitoring, especially in dams, quarries, and mines.

Since they are often done on the ground, working around the stockpile may have to be stopped for a while. But with drones, you can take this measurement from above as the work continues.

A client can also easily take these measurements independently to confirm if the contractors’ numbers are accurate.

Time-lapse images of a construction project can also be fascinating.

How Accurate is a Drone Survey?

Drone surveys can be as accurate as +- 1 CM.

This may not be as accurate as a Total Station, which can be as accurate as +- 3 millimeters, but you can correct this with GCPs.

However, the accuracy also depends on the flying altitude, the camera, the drone type, and the landscape’s nature.

Will Drones Replace Land Surveyors?

Not really. Drones are invaluable mapping tools, but they can’t work on their own.

Land surveying is a more complex profession that takes time (both in school and in the field) to learn, and you even need a license to practice it fully.

While drones don’t replace land surveyors, they make their work easier.

Surveyors don’t have to spend days surveying land; they can take a few hours and get all the data they need.

Drones also make it easier and faster to produce outputs like mosaics, DTMs, and DSMs for use, but they can’t replace a land surveyor since the software needs a trained surveyor to know what inputs to use to get the desired output.

The outputs you get from data also need a trained land surveyor to interpret them.

Conclusion

Drones are one of the best things that have happened to the aerial surveying industry in the past two decades.

They are accessible, easy to use, relatively accurate, and cut down the time and costs needed to do an aerial survey by almost half. In the future, we can hope to see more drone use cases in this industry and many other industries.

References:
Drone Industry Insights (link)