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Best Commercial Drones for Land Surveying

If you want to start a drone business offering drone surveys or own a land surveying business and would like to add drones to your workflow, finding the best drone can make or break your business.

Unlike drone applications like filming, where you can use any drone with a good camera, land surveying is sensitive, and if you collect inaccurate data, you could mess up a lot of things.

For instance, poor surveys can lead to inaccurate boundaries and conflicts, and poor measurements could cause major issues in construction projects.

With that in mind, which are the best commercial drones for land surveying that you can get for your business?

The best commercial drone for land surveying is the DJI M300 RTK (or the more recent M350 RTK). The DJI Phantom 4 RTK gives the best value for money. The Mavic 3 Enterprise RTK is the perfect upgrade, and WingtraOne and Ebee X are the best fixed-wing drones for commercial land surveying. The Mavic 2 Pro is the cheapest option.

Please keep reading to learn why these drones made it on our list.

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» MORE: The Use of Drones in Land Surveying

1. DJI M300 RTK – Most versatile

The DJI M300 RTK is probably the most versatile commercial drone for land surveys due to its features. Let’s take a closer look.

Pros

  • It can carry a wide range of payloads
  • Long battery life
  • Versatile and can be used in many other applications besides mapping

Cons

  • Poor range for long-range tasks, especially when flying in areas with interference
  • The controller is sometimes uncomfortable to use for extended periods

Payload capacity

One of the main features that make this drone perfect for land surveying is the ability to handle a wide range of payloads.

You can get the Zenmuse H20T camera payload that allows you to take high-quality aerial imagery that you can stitch together to create a topo map.

Or, add payloads such as LiDAR or thermal cameras which can help you collect a wide range of surveying data without getting a different drone.

This drone can also carry up to three payloads simultaneously, allowing you to collect different data types in one flight.

Flight time

The DJI M30 RTK uses TB60 batteries advertised to last 55 minutes in optimal conditions.

But having tested it in actual operations, you often get a maximum of 40 to 50 minutes, which is quite long considering most multi-rotor drones barely last 30 minutes in flight.

You also need to consider that it lasts this long when carrying payloads. With 40 minutes in flight, you can survey about 100 acres before changing the battery.

Waypoint capability

Like most enterprise drones, the DJI M300 RTK supports waypoints where you can plan the flight through the DJI Pilot 2 controller or upload a KML file with the flight path.

Both methods allow you to automate the flight, and the drone will take off, follow the path while taking images, and land when it’s done.

Exporting the data collected is also streamlined.

Obstacle avoidance

Featuring six-directional obstacle avoidance, you can have the drone fly at a low altitude since you will be sure it will avoid obstacles from all directions.

However, remember that obstacle sensors rely on light, so they won’t work as expected or even get disabled in low-light conditions.

Excellent range

Featuring OcuSync Enterprise, the M300 RTK can support a range of up to 10 miles from the controller.

However, if there is even the slightest amount of interference, this range will be affected, and you will get a lagged transmission.

It’s best to find a clear area to conduct the flights and ensure nothing blocks the signal between the drone and the controller.

RTK capability

The DJI M300 RTK also features an RTK (Real-Time Kinetic) module, ensuring the data collected is geotagged to centimeter-level accuracy.

It’s also designed to connect to ground-based stations, allowing it to correct the data collected in real time.

As I mentioned earlier, accuracy is key in land surveying, and the M300 RTK is designed to improve the accuracy of the data collected.

Note: DJI has just released the DJI M350 RTK, which is in many ways similar to the M300 RTK, but it comes with better range thanks to the O3 Enterprise, and it utilizes the DJI RC Plus controller, which is more comfortable to use than the DJI Pilot 2 controller.

2. DJI Phantom 4 RTK – Best value for money

The DJI Phantom 4 RTK is another powerful drone for commercial land surveying.

While it may not have as many features as the DJI M300 RTK, it has everything you will need and is also quite efficient if you’re looking for your first commercial drone but are on a budget.

Below are the main features useful for land surveying.

Pros

  • High-resolution camera
  • It’s affordable
  • Efficient at collecting surveying data
  • Smaller and easily portable compared to the M300 RTK

Cons

  • Limited payload capacity
  • The battery life may be limited for very large pieces of land

High-resolution camera

The DJI Phantom 4 RTK features a 1-inch CMOS 20 MP camera, ensuring it captures high-resolution images that you can use to create orthomosaics or even 2D and 3D models.

High resolution means you get more detail, especially if you fly at a lower altitude. If you zoom in on the image, you can extract even more detail than you would get from satellite imagery.

RTK module

Like the DJI M300 RTK, the Phantom 4 RTK also has an RTK module, hence the abbreviations in its name.

It’s also worth noting that there are different versions of the Phantom 4, such as the Phantom 4 Pro V2 and the Phantom 4 Multispectral, all of which have different features.

The Phantom 4 RTK has an integrated RTK system, which uses real-time kinematic technology to provide highly accurate positioning data.

This data can be used to create detailed maps and 3D models of an area or to measure distances between two points.

The drone also includes a centimeter-level precision flight controller and obstacle avoidance system to fly autonomously without human input.

The RTK module also allows the drone to work with ground stations, allowing you to speed up the data collection while maintaining accuracy.

Waypoints

To further automate the whole data collection process, you can also plan the flight plan on the drone using the DJI GS Pro or upload a KML file with the path you need the drone to take, ensuring appropriate overlaps and the correct data is collected.

TimeSync

The DJI Phantom 4 RTK features a convenient feature known as TimeSync that works with the flight controller, camera, and RTK module simultaneously.

This allows every photo taken to have the necessary metadata and geotag as soon as it’s taken, improving the accuracy and efficiency of the data collection process.

3. eBee X Sensefly – Best value fixed-wing drone

Do you plan to survey huge tracts of land? Then a multirotor drone may not be practical. A fixed-wing would make more sense, and the eBee X Sensefly is a perfect option.

Below are the main features that make this drone great for mapping.

Pros

  • Extended battery life
  • Wide payload capability
  • Collects highly accurate data

Cons

  • It’s expensive ($13,000 without the payloads)
  • Its lightweight design makes it difficult to fly in moderate or strong winds

Long battery life

The eBee X can last up to 90 minutes in flight. Considering even the largest multirotor drone, such as the M300 RTK, can only last 40 minutes, 90 minutes is quite a long time.

This gives you a lot of time to survey huge tracts of land before changing the battery.

Advanced data collection capabilities

The Sensefly comes with a wide range of data collection tools. These include:

  • SenseFly S.O.D.A 3D camera is designed to tilt as the drone flies, increasing its field of view and allowing it to take accurate 3D data.
  • Sensefly Aeria X is an advanced tool for photogrammetry featuring a smart exposure feature, allowing it to capture more detail in one take.

    This camera also has Direct InFlight Georeferencing, allowing it to geotag or add coordinates to each image taken in real-time.

    The SenseFly eBee X is designed to be as accurate as possible, allowing you to collect and geotag images with centimeter-level accuracy without using GCPs.
  • SenseFly Duet T – This is a camera designed for thermal imaging. It comes in handy when creating thermal maps, such as in crop health analysis or forest fire damage analysis.

    Like the SenseFly Aeria X, images taken with the Duet T are also georeferenced in real-time, allowing you to map hundreds of acres in a day.

The SenseFly eBee X is also designed to work with Sense Fly’s payloads, such as the above mentioned cameras and other multispectral cameras, allowing you to collect different data types by interchanging the payloads.

Durability

When you first see the eBee X, you might mistake it for a toy or experiment project since it’s made of foam. But this lightweight design is well-thought-out.

How so? In case the drone crashes, the design minimizes the impact, and the only thing that gets significant damage is the foam, which you can replace.

The sensors will often remain intact.

I saw firsthand when the SenseFly eBee X was affected by a gust of wind during a training exercise.

It hit a tree, and the wings were shuttered, but the sensors were still working. We replaced the foam, and the next day, the drone was operational.

4. DJI Mavic 3 Enterprise – Best upgrade

DJI Mavic 3 series drones are the latest prosumer drones from DJI, revolutionizing how we do tasks like filming and mapping.

The Mavic 3 Enterprise is a drone that can be used for commercial land surveying and is equivalent to the DJI Phantom 4 RTK.

You may not need to get this drone if you already have the Phantom 4 RTK.

But if you have the older Mavics, Yuneecs, or Autels, this is the perfect upgrade, and below are the features that make it stand out.

Pros

  • Excellent flight time
  • Easy to use
  • Tests show that it collects data accurately enough for surveying work

Cons

  • More expensive than the Phantom 4 RTK, which has a similar output

Advanced RTK module

The DJI Mavic 3 Enterprise comes with the latest RTK module that delivers sub-inch level accuracy and minimizes the use of GCPS.

However, you can still use them to have some assurance of the data collected.

This RTK Module is attached to the drone’s top, and you will not need to add a third-party module.

However, it is compatible with a GPS base station, which you will need to achieve the accuracy needed for commercial surveying work.

Compatibility with mapping software

The Mavic 3 Enterprise is compatible with a wide range of mapping and surveying software, including Drone Deploy.

Drone Deploy has a Mavic 3 Enterprise RTK workflow that simplifies data collection and processing.

Better imaging capabilities

The Mavic 3 Enterprise has a larger sensor, the 4/3 CMOS camera, which ensures you take high-resolution images even in low light conditions.

It also features an advanced mechanical shutter, allowing you to take high-resolution images faster.

Longer flight time

Featuring a flight time of up to 45 minutes, you will have enough time to collect as many images as possible. And if you have several batteries, you can survey several acres of land in a day.

Excellent controller

The Mavic 3 Enterprise comes with the RC Pro Controller, which has a 5.5-inch built-in screen, can handle a wide range of apps, and has a longer lifetime.

Unlike the DJI Phantom 4 RTK or the Mavic 2 Pro, you don’t have to use your smartphone with this drone. You plan the flight and extract the data through this controller too.

5. DJI Mavic 2 Pro – The cheapest option

I have used the Mavic 2 Pro extensively for the past two years and can attest that it’s still a powerful drone.

However, remember that it is no longer in production and has since been replaced with the DJI Mavic 3 drones, but it’s still worth checking due to its considerably low price.

You can get it for as low as $700 from resellers, making it perfect for anyone wanting to start doing commercial or personal surveying work but lacking the budget for the more advanced drones.

Besides the cost, below are more reasons to consider the Mavic 2 Pro.

Pros

  • Small, lightweight, and easily portable
  • It’s affordable
  • It’s easy to use

Cons

  • Limited battery life compared to the more advanced drones
  • Limited payload capacity

High-resolution camera

The DJI Mavic 2 features a 1-inch 20 MP Hasselblad camera, which ensures you take high-resolution images even in low light conditions.

The only downside with this drone’s camera is that you can’t zoom. If you also want the zooming capability, you must get the Mavic 2 Zoom.

Compatibility with third-party hardware and software

While the Mavic 2 Pro is small to carry any significant payloads, it can handle a custom RTK or PPK module, which can help improve the accuracy of the data collected.

The Mavic 2 Pro is also compatible with DJI Pilot and DJI GS Pro for flight planning.

It also works with mapping software like DroneDeploy or Pix4D, allowing you to easily collect, analyze, and export drone data.

Battery life

The Mavic 2 Pro has a battery life of up to 31 minutes. While this is not as long as that of the M300 RTK or the eBee X, you can still pull off coverage of huge acres of land if you have several batteries.

DJI Mavic 2 Pro
$1,900.00

Equipped with a Hasselblad L1D-20c camera with a 20MP 1” CMOS Sensor, the Mavic 2 camera drone lets you capture gorgeous aerial shots in stunning color detail.

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03/07/2024 02:36 pm GMT

6. WingtraOne Gen II – Best fixed-wing drone

This is another fixed-wing drone dedicated to providing the best photogrammetry solutions for construction companies, mines, and agricultural facilities.

While it’s the most expensive on our list, below are reasons you might consider getting it.

Pros

  • Collects accurate data
  • Easy to use
  • Advanced takeoff and landing and safety features

Cons

  • It’s quite expensive
  • You can’t use several payloads at the same time

Better takeoff and landing

If you’ve seen the SenseFly eBee X fly, you will note that the pilot has to throw it for it to take off.

This is not always easy to do, and several eBee X drones have crashed because the pilot launched the drone incorrectly.

Wingtra solves that by designing a VTOL tail-sitting drone.

This means it takes off like a multirotor drone, changes to a fixed-wing when it gets to the air, then back to a multirotor when it’s time to land. This minimizes the crashing and makes it easier to control.

High-resolution cameras and payload capacity

The WingtraOne drone now features the Oblique Sony a6100 camera, a 24MP three-axis camera designed to take high-resolution images at 2 cm accuracy without GCPs.

This camera is capable of mapping vertical objects and collects data that can be used to create accurate 3D models and digital twins.

The WingtraOne drone also supports a wide range of payloads allowing you to collect different data types.

PPK capability

The WingtraOne has a built-in PPK for each camera, allowing it to collect and correct the data in real time.

Battery life

With a battery life of at least 50 minutes, you can survey up to 272 acres in a day.

While this may not be as long as the eBee X’s 90 minutes, 50 minutes is enough for a fixed-wing to collect data over huge tracts of land.

Durability

Due to the thoughtful takeoff, landing, and wind resistance, the WingtraOne drone is more durable than the SenseFly eBee X.

Still, if you crash it, Wingtra includes a replacement “drone,” which is a complete frame that you can use to replace the damaged one and you will be flying again in no time.