Curious about using drones on your worksite?
Start here

Everything You Need to Start Drone Surveying

| 09.03.2022

Before 2020, construction was the second least digitized industry in the world after agriculture. Today, technology is making worksites safer and more efficient—and drones play an essential role in this new wave of tech. 

If you’re reading this, you probably already understand that drones can help your business flourish. But you may not know exactly what’s required to get a drone surveying program up and running.

This post will point you in the right direction and help ensure you have everything you need to start drone surveying on your worksite.

Hardware

Let’s start with the basics. The most obvious tool in your drone surveying arsenal is the hardware: the drone itself, plus associated tech like smart ground control to make the whole process smoother.

Over the past several years, advances in technology have made drones more accurate and affordable—the perfect tool for contractors looking to upgrade their operations. They have the centimeter-level accuracy of a traditional base and rover, but without the special training and degree required to use them. 

drone surveying

What’s the best drone for surveying?

Drones come in many different shapes and sizes, and each has unique benefits depending on your needs. There are three main elements to consider when choosing the right drone for your worksite:

  • Survey area size
  • Camera requirements
  • Budget

Survey area size

If you’re flying large worksites, look at fixed-wing or VTOL (vertical takeoff and landing) drones. They fly much faster than multicopters, so they’re a good fit for large areas. Depending on the task at hand, flying one fixed-wing drone can be more efficient than flying multiple multirotor UAVs. Fixed-wing drones also can stay aloft much longer on a single charge.

On the other hand, fixed-wing drones can’t hover. They need more space to make turns and a runway for takeoff and landing. VTOL drones are the exception, as they can take off and land vertically—hence the name. Smaller sites or urban environments might do better with a multicopter, since they probably don’t require the speed and longevity of fixed-wing drones.

As a general rule, sites under 200 hectares (or 500 acres) can survey comfortably with a multicopter. For larger worksites, consider a fixed-wing or VTOL drone. 

You can check out some of our recommended drones here.

Camera

A high-quality surveying camera should have a 20MP sensor or better. You’ll also want to look out for the camera specifications that impact ground sample distance (GSD) and image resolution.

The camera isn’t necessarily tied to a specific type of drone. Some drones allow for camera swapping while others don’t, so that’s important to keep in mind. Make sure the drone you invest in can capture high-quality images.

For a deeper dive into drone cameras, check out this post.

Budget

Of course, money matters—especially when you’re rolling out a brand new process. Fixed-wing and VTOL drones typically cost about 3.5x as much as multicopters, so finances are a factor.

That said, choose your drone with the total cost of ownership in mind. Multicopters often have a shorter lifespan, with more moving parts and lower quality. Depending on frequency of use, you may end up replacing a quadcopter every couple of years, while fixed-wing and VTOL drones will last longer.

Still wondering about the best drone for you? Click here for our recommended survey drones.

Smart ground control

While drone surveying can be done without ground control points (GCPs), you’ll get much higher accuracy if you use ground control. Fortunately, high-tech hardware exists that makes ground control easier, too. 

Propeller’s AeroPoints are GPS-enabled smart ground control points. They deliver the same level of precision as traditional control—but with far less hassle. Simply place one on the ground near your launch site and fly. The AeroPoint functions as a base station and GCP rolled into one, making your drone flight more accurate and efficient.

Propeller AeroPoint

Software

Once the drone has collected images and GPS data, you’ll need software to make sense of everything and convert that data into 3D maps. 

Factors to consider when determining the software setup that’s right for you include:

  • Access: How many users will need access to the data, and on how many machines or device types? Browser-based software functions well on smartphones, tablets, and computers. Other specialized software requires a specific machine to operate, so consider how many users will need access, as well as how and where they’ll use your data.
  • Mobility: Ideally, team members in the field and the office can access your latest surveys. Cloud-based software keeps teams connected and on the same page in real time, while machine-based software takes time and effort to sync.
  • Processing: Making sense of thousands or even millions of data points isn’t an easy process, and the simplest path is to outsource data processing to experts. If you already have trained, dedicated team members for data processing, however, you might prefer to manage your own data in-house.
Propeller Platform, AeroPoint, and Drone

Training

Okay, so you’ve got all the equipment and software you need to start drone surveying. Now all that’s left is the knowledge required to use it!

Drone hardware is pretty straightforward to operate these days, but there are basic licensing steps before you can fly your UAV. Primarily, this step is meant to ensure that drone pilots understand their local and regional airspace. Check out this post for country-specific information on what’s required before you fly.

The good news is, that’s pretty much it! With the right data processing and software, there’s no specialized training or technical knowledge required to make sense of the data after you fly. Software like the Propeller Platform is designed to be easily accessible to all users, not just surveyors and engineers. Everyone from project managers to clients can log in and get the information they need—and if anyone has questions, we provide a robust knowledge base to keep everyone supported at every stage.

Ready to get started? Check out our eBook on how to evaluate, select, and adopt a drone program. 

Guide to Evaluating, Selecting, and Adopting (or Upgrading) Your Drone Program

Subscribe to The Dirt e-newsletter

Get the latest dirt from Propeller, including industry news, customer stories, webinars, videos, and more.