Everything You Need to Know About A Drone Survey

By Hal Simmons •  Updated: 11/20/20 •  8 min read

Before the world could conveniently survey with drones, the only way to survey land was to fly in a manned aircraft and take photos yourself. It wasn’t until just a few years ago that survey drones came into the market and revolutionized the industry. There have been so many new developments in drone technology that it can be hard to keep up with in recent years. This article puts all the information you need to know about drone surveying in one place.

What is drone surveying? When a drone takes a survey of land, it uses an RGB camera to take numerous photos. Each photo is automatically named with specific coordinates of its location. The photos can then be used to create different kinds of maps. This technology revolutionized many different industries and continues to be used new and different businesses every day.

An ever-increasing demand for drone surveys means there are new professional mapping software companies popping up all the time. It’s important to know which ones are the most trustworthy. Continue reading to learn more.

Drone Surveying: A Closer Look

The term drone survey is used to describe a drone, otherwise known as an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) equipped with sensors like an RGB camera or LiDAR technology. These sensors face downward and take multiple photographs of the ground from different angles. This aerial data is then tagged with the respective coordinates.

There are numerous different uses for drone surveys, but first, it is important to distinguish the difference between drone surveying and drone mapping.

Drone Surveys vs. Drone Maps

A survey is simply data collected in the form of photographs. You can then use this data to create a map. In other words, one would not exist without the other. That said, you will still see the terms drone surveying and drone mapping used interchangeably sometimes. This is because many people that utilize survey drones create maps with the data they gather via the surveys. Rather than calling it surveying, they call it mapping because that is their end goal.

Another key difference in the two terms is that you can survey the drone with the camera attached. However, in order to create a map, you have to have professional drone mapping software. So, drone mapping takes drone surveying one step further.

Survey drones can produce a list of different types of maps, which is why it is used across so many different industries. The different types of maps it can create are:

• 2D Orthomosaic Map
• 3D Orthomosaic map
• 3D Models
• Thermal Map
• LiDAR Point Cloud
• Multispectral Map
• Digital Surface Models (DSM)
• Digital Terrain Model (DTM)
• 3D Text Mesh
• Contour Lines

Is It Accurate?

In today’s market, when using one of the high-end surveying drones like the best DJI Matrice M210 or the runner up DJI Phantom and under optimal weather conditions, it’s possible to obtain an absolute accuracy down to the centimeter. Of course, there are a few factors that this accuracy relies on.

These factors include:

• Type of drone
• Performance of drone
• Quality of components
• Camera resolution
• The height of drone while flying
• Vegetation
• Technology and method used to geolocate the images

The Most Common Uses For Drone Surveys

Before you dive into the common uses for drone surveys, the list below was created to showcase the different industries this new technology has already touched. The world is only beginning to scratch the surface on the benefits and uses of survey drones, but here are the industries that utilize it today:

• Construction
• Land Surveying
• Real Estate
• Mining
• Inspection
• Agriculture
• Forestry
• Emergency Management

Within the above-stated industries, surveying drones have revolutionized the market. Any one of the common uses below can be used to benefit one of the above industries the greatest part about this technology is the fact that it is still so new. There is still so much room for change, but for now, surveying drones are used in the following common ways:

• Cartography (land surveying)
o Used to create orthomosaic maps and 3D models of areas with little to no data available. The same data can be used to produce other deliverables as well.

• Land management and development
o Used to simplify land planning management in regards to site scouting, design, and final construction of buildings and roads. The data can then be transferred to software to immediately create 3D models.

• Measurements
o It is because of the high-resolution orthophotos that precise measurements can be made, especially in certain areas.
o Volumetric measurements are also possible. This method of measurement is particularly useful in mines and quarries for calculating inventory.

• Monitoring slopes
o DSM and DTMs that are created by drone surveying have slope measurements attached to the images that can be extracted. Change in the earth’s movement can be detected with orthomosaics taken at different times.

• Urban Planning
o To design and create complex urban areas, a lot of planning takes place. Surveying drones help make this process a little less extensive. The planners can then examine the existing conditions of the are in detail and figure out what the best next step forward is.

What Are the Benefits of Drone Surveying?

Drone surveying has changed the game for a number of different industries, and it only seems to get better with each new development. Reduced costs and increased safety procedures are two of arguably the most beneficial assets regarding surveying drones. What once required at least two men, an airplane, gas, added safety precautions, camera equipment, etc., now only takes a drone and someone safely on the ground piloting it.

Some other common benefits associated with drone surveying are:

• It saves time
• It saves on resources
• Increased accuracy
• One flight produces thousands of measurements
o You’ll have data you didn’t even know you needed
• Opens up inaccessible areas
• Improved visuals and videos

To receive the most benefits associated with surveying drones, one must also be a registered Professional Land Surveyor (PLS). This person knows how to analyze all the data obtained by the drone as well as preparing the deliverables in the correct format.

The Top Professional Drone Mapping Software Companies

Without drone mapping software, your drone can still survey the land. It just can’t produce deliverables in the form of different maps. Before you choose a mapping software, it is important to understand which software works best for you.

The increased popularity of surveying drones for a variety of commercial purposes resulted in many new mapping software companies popping up in the market. There are likely to be even more in the future, which can make for a difficult decision. However, just like with anything else, there is some software that stands out more than others.

Below are some of the top options for you to consider:

• DroneDeploy
o This drone mapping software creates 3D modeling and mapping. It’s easy to use for beginners as well as advanced flyers and can be used by an individual or a team of users.
o Special features include:
 Generating and viewing a 2D map while flying
 In-field analyses can be performed during flight
 It will even allow you to build your own custom app

• Pix4D

• This software is aimed at the advanced flyer and is more versatile than other software. It creates highly accurate maps because each pixel retrieves the elevation as well as the temperature value for that location.

• Special features include:
 It can take any jpeg or tiff image from another drone or camera and create a high-resolution map.
 Versatile enough to be used across multiple different industries

• AirGon by GeoCue

• AirGon was made famous for its ability to streamline the surveying process. You get high accuracy data, processing, analysis, and delivery in one convenient process.

• Special features include:
 Special DJI Groundstation Pro software which allows you to continue working on a project even after you’ve changed the batteries
 Utilized PhotoScan, known to be the most accurate solution on the market for camera calibration
 It also allows you to remove vertical bias, export reports, clean your data, as well as provides you with automated tools for extracting ground surfaces

These top three drone mapping software companies barely scratches the surface of what is offered in today’s market. However, these are three different mapping software that provides a well-rounded experience for the user.

Any one of the above-stated companies provides you with the software necessary to turn your surveying drone into a mapping drone as well. Not only will you be able to obtain exhaustive amounts of highly accurate data, but you can then convert it into an easy-to-read map for yourself or for a client.

Surveying drones have completely revolutionized not just one industry, but multiple. The number only seems to continue to grow each year. They have single-handedly changed the way many industries work by reducing costs and time as well as increasing accuracy and safety measures.

You really can’t go wrong when looking to modernize your business. If your business requires the use of surveys and mapping and you haven’t yet purchase a surveying drone, you are only wasting your own time, money, and resources. It’s time to convert your business! Surveying drones are really the only option when it comes to accurately and efficiently surveying and mapping land.

Hal Simmons

When I first started flying drones I was always afraid of damaging my drone. I would always be thinking what if. I questioned myself often and as a result it made me question various aspects of flying drones. In the process I learned a lot. This is why I feel I have a lot of information that will be helpful to beginners and intermediate drone enthusiasts. Of course I still have a lot to learn so join me on this journey and I am sure you will enjoy the adventure ahead of us.