The Value of Drone Surveying


The Value of Drone Surveying

Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV or drone) surveying and mapping has become a more efficient data collection process for some applications compared to traditional ground-based methods. Faster turnaround times and significant cost savings are the primary reasons why an increasing number of technical professionals are utilizing UAV surveying.

The Crafton Tull UAV team consists of six FAA-certified remote pilots and one licensed private pilot, two of whom are licensed Professional Surveyors. The team uses a fixed-wing UAV along with quadcopter drones and the latest software to deliver efficient, high-quality surveying and mapping data.

We are among only a handful of select firms in the region to own a UAV LiDAR sensor equipped with an Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU), allowing us to have direct, geo-referenced LiDAR data without the need for ground control points. This particular technology sets us apart by eliminating the need to utilize less accurate photogrammetry point cloud extraction. Our field crews can capture and measure hundreds of acres of land for topographic information in a myriad of conditions (timber, tall grass, etc.).

While the use of drones is not practical in all surveying applications, it is worthwhile to consult with Professional Surveyors and Engineers to find out how UAV technology might benefit any upcoming projects.

Four ways UAV technology can help design and build better communities:

Large Urban and Rural Sites – UAVs are uniquely efficient for topographic surveying of large sites. Highways, streets, trails, railway corridors, and stormwater and utility rights-of-way are all well-suited project types for UAV surveying. Depending on project size, significant time savings are possible when comparing UAV surveying methods to conventional techniques. With the ability for a single crew to survey up to 2,000 acres or several miles of linear corridor per day, UAVs achieve levels of time and cost efficiency that are not possible using ground-based surveying methods.

High Quality, Survey Grade Photography – Many cities use UAV technology to periodically capture up-to-date aerial photography of ever-changing building and development landscapes. Advanced drone systems are equipped with cameras that deliver geo-referenced, survey-grade photography at a much higher resolution than popular, online map databases. Engineers, architects, planners and other technical professionals can use this high-quality photography to inform critical design decisions.

Damage Assessments – UAV technology has opened the door to smarter and faster damage assessments. Floods, tornadoes and other natural disasters are able to transform city terrain and landscapes, which can have a profound impact on the effectiveness of existing infrastructure. In a post-disaster situation, a city may choose to hire a UAV surveying and mapping consultant to capture the post-damage aerial imagery or topographic data required to update its existing terrain model. Additionally, major natural disasters often require infrastructure inventory assessments spanning hundreds of acres, which is a project type well suited for UAVs.

Unsafe or Inaccessible Areas – Drones can be used to safely survey mines, quarries, protected wetlands, waste dumps and other remote, restricted or hazardous locations. Because many UAV systems employ direct geo-referencing technology that does not require ground control points, pilots can stay out of harm's way while collecting data from the sky. Many advanced UAV systems can fly more than 30 miles from the point of take-off.

Drones are particularly useful in collecting data for large area projects and in restricted access or hazardous areas. Additionally, UAVs can drastically improve the cost-effectiveness of 3D topographic data collection and volumetric calculations. Construction, oil and gas, mining, forestry and agriculture industries are all taking advantage of the relatively new technology.

Nick Tucker, P.S., is vice president of the Energy Division at Crafton Tull. For more information, please visit CraftonTull.com.