At Aerotas, we get a lot of phone calls from eager surveyors. With the amount of discussion in land surveying circles about surveying by drone, there is often a great deal of confusion among the surveyors that contact us. When working with a new surveyor, we often start by helping him or her answer the most critical and basic question: How will a drone benefit my business?

There are a great many ways that a drone can create value for a land surveyor’s business. In our experience, we have identified four important ways surveyors benefit from drone technology.

Efficiency: Make mapping deliverables faster

The single most critical benefit of an unmanned aerial system (UAS) for surveyors is efficiency. Using a drone as part of a complete survey-specific workflow enables a land surveyor to create their standard topographic and planimetric mapping deliverables in dramatically fewer man hours.

While it can be tempting for a surveyor to think about all the new business lines and deliverables that a drone can allow them to create, the companies that end up being the most profitable are those which focus on how the drone benefits their existing business.

The savings from this efficiency are substantial. A typical drone workflow involves setting aerial targets, collecting critical high-accuracy points in the field, flying the drone, then using specialized software to create a CAD-compatible survey deliverable. In many cases, this means that a project that would typically require a two-man crew to spend a full day in the field and a CAD operator to add a full day in the office is reduced to a few hours in the field and a few hours in the office — often for one person. This translates to a total man-hour savings of approximately 60 percent, as reported by our clients.

Protection: Automatically collect more data

When using a drone on a project, a surveyor automatically collects substantially more data than typically done when using ground equipment. Rather than requiring the surveyor in the field to make a choice about every single data point collected, the drone creates a 3D model of the entire site. Since the surveyor has this geo-referenced data for the entire project site, the cost of a field crew missing a survey shot is substantially reduced. Even if they do miss a shot, it can often be collected from the 3D model in the office, rather than requiring traveling back to the site.

This automatic data collection offers other benefits as well. Completing follow-up jobs for clients becomes even more profitable. For example, a field crew with a drone can collect data on several adjoining sites simultaneously in one visit, meaning that if a client later requests surveys of those other sites, they can be completed without another field visit.

Savings: Reduce reliance on aerial contractors

A drone enables a surveyor to do projects in-house that they would normally need to contract out to an aerial photogrammetrist. Projects that require aerial imagery are too large for a firm to complete on the ground. They require data that would be overly tedious to collect conventionally and are ideal for a drone. By having the option to bring these projects in-house, surveyors can be more profitable, and gain more control over project schedules and deliverable creation for their clients.

Communication: Help clients “get” a project site

Many of our more experienced clients have learned that one of the most significant benefits of using a drone is how drone deliverables help engineers, clients and other stakeholders understand a project site. A surveyor may produce a thorough survey map, but if the recipient is not also a surveyor, they may not understand that map well enough to be confident making decisions based on it. As a result, many firms suffer efficiency losses because engineers feel the need to travel to a project site in person to “get a feel” for the site. Though many firms use Google Earth to help engineers and clients understand a site, that imagery is low resolution and often out of date. High-resolution orthophotos and easily shareable 3D models from a drone make it much easier for the recipients of a survey to understand what they are looking at and make decisions without an unnecessary field trip.

The number of land survey firms using drones has increased dramatically in the past months, as more and more surveyors are discovering how a drone can substantially benefit their business and its bottom line.