3 Reasons Why Now is the Time to Invest in UAVs for Surveying and Mapping

Why is now the right time to invest in a UAV surveying program?

  1. Affordability: The investment required for quality drone hardware is no longer in the tens of thousands. And with the frequent, survey-grade data you can collect, your drone quickly pays for itself.
  1. Reliability: Drone technology has matured to the point where drones consistently work as they should, every time you fly. With flight path automation, there’s no need to worry about human error impacting your data.
  1. Accuracy: You can achieve centimeter-grade accuracy with RTK-enabled drones built specifically for surveying (like the Phantom 4 RTK) when combined with a PPK workflow.

It’s no secret that construction is a historically low-tech industry. But over the past few years, advanced technologies like UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) surveys have reached a point of maturation that should make everyone sit up and pay attention. 

Unmanned aerial photogrammetric surveys use images captured by UAVs to generate 3D representations of topographic surfaces. With enough overlapping images and the right software, you can use photogrammetry, the science of collecting physical information from 2D photos, to recreate the surface as a Digital Terrain Model (DTM).

cross section of digital terrain model in the propeller platform

Use of drones to conduct aerial surveys is on the rise, and success stories abound. Technology has advanced enough over the past few years that investing in drones for your worksite is no longer a risk; it’s just good business.

In fact, depending on your needs, a drone survey program can even pay for itself in a single flight!

Here’s an in-depth look at each, and why now is the right time to invest in aerial drone surveying for your worksites.

Affordability

This year, Propeller surveyed 200+ earthwork professionals on their day-to-day obstacles, how they measure project success, and the role drones currently play in their work. Of those who haven’t yet invested in a drone program, two of the reasons we heard most often were “the cost of adoption” and “lack of proven ROI.” 

However, we believe both of these to be misconceptions. For one, with the quality of affordable drone technology available today, there’s no reason to think your initial investment will break the bank. With just a single drone and an AeroPoint, you can get accurate data faster than ever. This empowers your surveyor to survey more sites more frequently, and use all that data for smarter progress tracking and strategic planning.

DJI 4 RTK drone and an AeroPoint

In fact, one Propeller customer’s entire aerial drone survey program paid for itself in a single flight. According to Grade Tech’s Rory Hall, between the amount of time being able to survey with drones has put back into his day, the ability to catch mistakes earlier on, and the faster decision making drone data enables, he’s saving $3,500 every time he flies

Statistics around construction project costs show that most projects run over budget and behind schedule. But our customers consistently demonstrate why drone technology is an invaluable asset for keeping projects on track, improving communication, and optimizing labor.

Want more proof of the ROI power of drones? Consider this: 90% of worksites that are currently operating drone programs said they planned to increase their spending for drone surveying in 2020. 

Reliability

We’ve written in the past about why DJI’s Phantom 4 RTK is the drone of choice for earthwork professionals. 

A few years ago, drones were dismissed as a hobbyist’s toy, without much practical application. RTK-enabled drones like the Phantom 4 RTK changed everything.

construction worker flying drone at sunset
Construction female worker piloting drone at building site. video surveillance or industrial inspection

Speed and accuracy have finally united for a plug-and-play flight experience. With drones on the scene, there’s no need to call a surveyor to a site every time you want quantities measured or progress tracked. 

You don’t even need a highly trained drone pilot. Drones are now so reliable and user-friendly that anyone can earn their Part 107 license with ease. Users can direct the P4RTK’s flight by drawing a path on the controller screen with a finger, or using a single tap to have it take the most direct path “home” to the base station. You can even upload a flight path in advance and simply monitor the drone’s progress during the flight.

The aerial-optimized, wide-angle lens ensures crisp, clear photos every time you fly. Hot-swappable batteries ensure you don’t lose connection to your drone if you need to switch out a battery mid-flight.

The bottom line? Commercial-grade drones like the Phantom 4 RTK work reliably, every time you fly. No expert-level assistance required.

Accuracy

UAV survey accuracy is perhaps the biggest sticking point for construction firms on the fence about using drones. As luck would have it, accuracy is also where the Propeller PPK workflow shines brightest.

The combination of an RTK-enabled drone and AeroPoints makes it possible to achieve centimeter-grade levels of accuracy significantly faster than you could with a base and rover.

construction workers planning flight for DJI 4 RTK drone

The secret to the P4RTK’s trailblazing success is an on-board real-time kinetic sensor, which geotags every photo as it’s captured. That way, as UAV survey data is corrected against ground control, each image effectively serves as its own additional control point. 

This means that 1/10ft (3cm) accuracy is not only possible—it’s consistent.

Modern drone technology means that, today, speed and accuracy are no longer at odds. Fly a worksite as often as you need to do meaningful progress tracking. 

Can you afford NOT to have a drone survey program?

As 2020 draws to a close, more construction companies than ever are using a UAV survey workflow to win bids, shore up their bottom line, improve communication, and keep projects running smoothly.

Between 2017 and 2018 alone, drone usage on construction sites rose by a whopping 239%. That’s a number you can’t ignore.

The real question isn’t whether drones would be an asset to your worksite—it’s whether you can afford to get left behind. 

Click here to download our FREE guide to starting a drone surveying program on your worksite.

2020 Earthwork report by Propeller

Keep reading:

Fast, Frequent Surveys Keep Fiore’s ‘Red Rocks’ Project On Schedule, On Budget

10 Construction Project Cost Overrun Statistics You Need to Hear

Drone Program ROI: How Grade Tech Saved $1.7M (and Counting)

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