Waypoint

Land Surveying With Drones – An Expert Discussion (Part 1)

Four experienced land surveyors share their experiences of using professional drones in their work, including: why they first considered adopting drone (or UAV/UAS) technology, what questions and concerns they had prior to buying, and what unmanned aircraft have brought to their businesses. (Part one of a two-part conversation.)

The land surveyors we spoke with boast several years and hundreds of flight hours of drone experience. They include:

Hi folks. To start, please tell us a little about your background and experience, including what type of surveying projects you typically work on.

Williams: I’m a registered land surveyor with 25 years’ experience in land surveying, engineering surveying and spatial data, specialising in land development and construction. I am currently also a land surveying representative (ACT) for the Surveying & Spatial Sciences Institute.

Kohlman: My personal experience has been on the legal surveying side; roads, subdivisions etc. On the whole, Meridian Surveys is a well-rounded surveying company with experience in all aspects of oil and gas, layout, and we specialise in pipeline surveys.

McMahon: I am a professional engineer and Alberta land surveyor. We started out at Measurement Sciences focused on precision and engineering surveys, monitoring structures for deformation and aligning industrial machines and equipment for physics experiments. Over the years we have expanded into legal land surveying, bathymetric surveying, aggregate volumes, and oil and gas surveying. The bulk of my time now is split between legal subdivision for multi-phase subdivisions and deformation monitoring.

Kerr: I have 42 years’ experience as a professional Ontario, Alberta, and Canada lands surveyor. My work has included working for the Canadian government on heritage sites in Ottawa, working on land development and natural resource projects, and railways, and I operated my own private surveying practice in Ontario for 23 years. During the past 10 years, I have worked as a senior project manager with McIntosh Perry Surveying Inc., an engineering and surveying company based in Ottawa, Canada. McIntosh Perry’s work is split evenly between legal (cadastral) surveying and topographic surveying for projects as diverse as highway and bridge reconstruction, large scale site servicing designs, and solar and wind turbine power generation projects.

Land-Surveying-Drones-RachelLaunch
Rachel Kohlman of Meridian Surveys in launch mode.

What convinced you to implement drones into your business?

Kohlman: We saw this new product at the SLS AGM in 2014 and it caught our eye and imagination. We could tell that this was going to be a tool that would become necessary for land surveying in the future and we couldn’t wait to get in on this new technology.

Kerr: Using UAVs became an option for our business when it became clear we required both faster turnaround times and more detailed modelling of site topography on many projects. UAV mapping offers quicker, more complete mapping than ground survey methods in many cases, so that problem areas can be identified and addressed.

It became clear we required both faster turnaround times and more detailed modelling of site topography on many projects

Williams: I have always loved advances in high technology and this was a good addition to my land development business. Plus, I love new toys and being one of the first to use them!

What are the key benefits that drones bring to your company?

Kohlman: Using a UAS can be a real time saver for a lot of jobs and it enables us to get a very complete set of data, something that a crew in the field would have a hard time doing in a timely fashion. At times it can also really impact on safety. Instead of sending our personnel into a situation with steep grades or equipment that could potentially be hazardous we are able to avoid this by remotely collecting this data.

Williams: Drones have enabled us to create a new branch of our business, offering clients a very good product at cost-effective rates in comparison to conventional methods.

McMahon: We are able to generate our own current high-resolution imagery for areas where none is available. We are also able to use the drones to produce quality surface models with very dense sampling.

Kerr: UAVs provide an affordable alternative to field survey personnel, allowing us to complete projects at a lower cost and with fewer staff, while acquiring data that is more complete over the majority of a site, and allowing the onsite staff to focus on specific areas which may require on-the-ground detail acquisition.

Drones have enabled us to create a new branch of our business, offering clients a very good product at cost-effective rates in comparison to conventional methods

Land-Surveying-Drones-Pocaterra-web
A section of a dam site surveyed by Ryan McMahon of Measurement Sciences.

What were any key questions or concerns you had about adopting drone technology and how did these play out in practice?

Kerr: The chief question in using drones was the level of accuracy possible, in comparison with what we were used to achieving using ground survey methods. We were also concerned with the reliability and stability of the aerial platform, and whether it would be possible to rely on mapping datapoints generated in forested areas or in open fields with crop or crop stubble present.

The chief question in using drones was the level of accuracy possible, in comparison with what we were used to achieving using ground survey methods

Kohlman: Some of the things that we were concerned about were applicable uses, the paperwork involved with regulations, and getting clients on board and excited about this new product.

Williams: We were concerned about the ease of flying such systems and the learning curve involved, but this was very quick and we’re now extremely confident flying our UAVs. Our final questions concerned the cost and potential ROI, but we found the eBee pays for itself on a 1:3 ratio; we’re currently earning three to four times per month the cost of our drone’s leasing and insurance, so not taking into account any extra growth we’ll pay it off in less than 18 months.

What specific UAVs do you use and for what types of projects?

McMahon: We have three senseFly eBees that we use for the bulk of our work. These provide aerial imagery to complement site surveys as well as for DSMs on aggregate volume surveys. They’ve also been used to confirm natural boundaries. We also had an Aeryon Scout for four years, which was used for closer range imagery and smaller applications where the fixed wing was not practical. We have a senseFly albris on order now too.

We also have multiple quadrotors by 3DR that we use for site images and short information videos. We have mosaic’d images from these units but it is not our first option for ortho-rectified imaging.

Kohlman: Currently our drones are another tool that we have available to offer—they work for some projects and for others they aren’t the right fit. We currently us a Draganfly X4-P and two senseFly eBees. The two drones are very different types of equipment and are better utilised for certain things: the Draganfly has been used for some smaller topographical jobs, as well as inspections, whereas the eBee has been used for jobs where we need topographical information on a larger scale.

Drone-Image-Canberra-Aboretum
An eBee-captured photo of Canberra’s arboretum (Peter Williams).

Williams: We use a senseFly eBee RTK drone for large-scale mapping and 3D modeling of mines and construction sites, along with providing high-definition orthophotos. We also use a DJI Phantom with a 5.2mm lens on a GoPro for aerial photos of construction sites.

Kerr: We’ve currently only used the eBee flying wing. We have used it on projects where there is a mix of open and forested areas. Depending on the season, in leaf and snow free conditions for example, we have had excellent results in the open areas and predictably poorer results in forest, where we typically expect to supplement or replace the UAV data with ground-measured data.

We have done a relatively small number of projects to date, but we are continually looking for others on which to use the UAV. So far, we have used the UAV primarily for land development projects, as we’ve found we can achieve mapping accuracies sufficient for engineering predesign work in the preparation of preliminary servicing plans. Under ideal conditions, we have achieved vertical accuracies of better than 10 cm.

Read Part 2 of Land Surveying With Drones

Learn more about the use of drones in surveying

Explore drone survey case studies

 

15 Comments

  1. Dronezon

    06.01.2016 - 22:16
    Reply

    Great to see hear real life examples how drones are assisting in land surveying and in many other sectors.

  2. Max Putnam

    15.01.2016 - 17:10
    Reply

    I returned this week from the Consumer Electronics Show 2016 (CES16) in Las Vegas. Certainly Parrot (Sensefly / eBee) and DJI are the leaders of the UAV pack with a dozen more looking to catch up. The applications seem endless (i.e. precise and prescriptive agriculture, 3D indoor mapping) and leaps in technology with inexpensive 360 cameras transmitting in 4K real time, virtual reality, light weight (but power hungry) Lidar and cloud based platforms for processing and analysis.
    As a Professional Land Surveyor, I have dealt with geospatial data for 20 years, however, in the past year, it has become very apparent that UAV’s, augmented with other point cloud technologies, are revolutionizing the survey/geomatics sector.

  3. Jason Strong

    02.03.2016 - 00:06
    Reply

    From what I understand, land surveying is very hard and takes a lot of practice and skill to be good at. With that being the case, I would imagine that tools like drones only make that job easier. It’s cool to see that we are using modern technology to help out with every day jobs like this.

  4. Howard Reed

    10.03.2016 - 03:36
    Reply

    With the cameras that can be used on drones now, it will help a lot in surveying large areas. I would love to learn more about this, and see if it is something that can be useful in my situation. Hopefully this is something that will continue to get better with better quality.

  5. Jonathan Smith

    05.04.2016 - 09:12
    Reply

    Technology like drone is playing very important role in every industry today. It can help people to save time and money. Thanks for sharing!

  6. April Cook

    04.05.2016 - 16:21
    Reply

    I’ve been learning about UAS lately, and was wondering what fields of work they could be used in. This was an interesting and informative read. I like how drones offer a safe way for land surveyors to gather the information they need. It also sounds like a great way to save time and money. Is there any training you can take to learn to fly drones, or is it all trial and error? Thanks for the information!

  7. Skerry N Palanga

    15.12.2016 - 13:21
    Reply

    This is great input by land surveyors and the experiences in using drone as a tool for surveys as better alternative to the conventional ways of detail and topographic practices. I am strongly considering the application of this new technology.

  8. Ragheed

    04.01.2017 - 16:57
    Reply

    i dont know if it apply for X,Y,Z but if it does it could be really helpful, u know holding the prism or gps in ur hand and walk around collecting points is so boring and sometimes i feel lazy to do that :/

  9. Nikola

    08.11.2017 - 11:10
    Reply

    Excellent post! I own engineering firm in Serbia http://www.geourbgroup.com Great idea with the drone that I can apply in my company. All praise for an excellent text.

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