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2 Apr 2016

Why all surveyors need drones

Every day, more and more surveyors are realizing that UAVs are a perfect complement to their work. Though a worthwhile and interesting career, surveying can involve dirty, dull, or dangerous work. As well, traditional methods can be expensive and eat into profits. As many surveyors have discovered, UAVs can be used to reduce the dangers and increase the profitability of their projects.

Three key benefits to using drones in surveying are highlighted in this article, including how drones can dramatically improve safety, data quality, and cost-efficiency. Also included are some things to consider before taking that next step.

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1. Improved safety

The title alone says it all. There are many situations where using traditional surveying methods places you in harm’s way. Landslide areas, rocky terrain, mines, busy highways, mountainous areas, and construction zones all present multiple hazards. In some cases, you even have to worry about the local wildlife and fauna. Imagine having to survey an area inhabited by wolves, cougars, or bears, such as Northern BC.

In these situations, you have to be extremely careful so as not to get hurt, and safety preparations would need to be in place to maintain safety. By utilizing a drone, you can reduce or even eliminate many of these dangers and keep safe. A drone would allow you to get a bird’s-eye view of the area from a safer location.

2. High data quality

Using a drone can significantly reduce the time spent collecting accurate data and allow you to gather millions of data points in a single flight. Thus, you are able to get high quality data in less time. A 15-minute flight can produce around one million points, versus only 500 to 600 points in a day via traditional methods.

The amount of useable data a drone can collect sets it apart from classical surveying techniques, such as aerial data collected via a helicopter or an airplane. You can also generate 3D models more efficiently.

For a site of 100 hectares, you might measure 30,000 points using a traditional system. With a survey-grade drone, you could measure up to about 25 million points or more, which would show the terrain more smoothly and in a lot more detail.


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3. Better cost-efficiency

A UAV can acquire data faster in the form of geospatial images with high resolution. Data is often captured in millions of data points in several short flights over a large land parcel. This means you can cost-effectively and efficiently acquire the data.

The data turnaround time achievable with UAVs is much less than using traditional methods. As well, total man-hours are reduced as there is less walking/traveling involved. Although the purchase of a survey-grade UAV ranges between $50k and $70k, it can cost $10k to $40k to hire an aerial photography firm to fly over a single standalone survey project. As you can surmise, the drone will quickly pay for itself.

There are UAVs that come with native software that eliminate the need for a ground control station. You can plan each flight and program the coordinates into the drone. This can dramatically reduce flight times while producing high-quality photos.

Some drones also come with professional photogrammetry software. Data from the drone can be downloaded into your point cloud technology software to produce orthophotos. Your clients will realize the value when they see the quality of the generated imagery, and you will be happy with the cost and time savings.

Considerations

Before deciding on utilizing drones in the field, surveyors first need to ensure that they have the requisite UAV knowledge and flying skills. A ground school course, such as what we offer here at Aerobotika, should be your first step before even looking at the drones that are available on the market. Our courses are offered in multiple cities across Canada.

An SFOC (Special Flight Operations Certificate) might also be required as per Transport Canada. Aerobotika offers assistance with preparing SFOC applications, which is a very detailed process. Some of our clients have gotten their application accepted in under two weeks. You may also need commercial UAV insurance, which we can also assist you with.

Check out our Alumni Profile blog and read how Mark Shephard at Pollutech Enviroquatics did just that before integrating UAVs into their business structure.