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How is drone mapping used?

| 07.02.2022

More and more construction sites are taking advantage of drone mapping to improve their speed, quality, and efficiency. According to Allied Market Research, the construction drone market is projected to reach nearly $12 billion by 2027. 

That said, drone mapping is still new to many contractors and surveyors. Drone mapping (also called aerial surveying) is the process of taking pictures from the air and using software to digitally “stitch” them together into a 3D map of a worksite.

If you aren’t exactly sure how drone mapping works or how you might use it, don’t worry—we’ll explain how it’s used and how it can help you map and measure your worksites.

What is drone mapping?

Before we dive into the many uses for drone mapping, let’s start with a basic introduction to the process itself: photogrammetry.

Photogrammetry is the science of collecting physical information from two-dimensional photos, often aerial images captured by drones. By combining overlapping, geotagged images of the same features from different angles, photogrammetry software generates photorealistic 3D representations of topographic surfaces.

Drone photogrammetry is the process of capturing aerial site photos to create a 3D map complete with GPS coordinates and accurate measurements.

How is drone mapping used?

Drone mapping creates a sort of digital twin (a computerized reflection of your worksite) every time you fly. This makes it possible to replace time-consuming base and rover surveys with a simple, efficient drone survey flight. 

Software like the Propeller Platform converts your drone images and flight data into an interactive 3D map with a wide variety of uses.

  • Measure stockpile volumes: For mining and aggregates professionals, stockpile inventory management is one of the leading use cases for drone surveying. Using drones, surveyors can tell exactly how much material is available, what’s been moved since the last survey, and what still needs to be extracted.
  • Cut/fill measurements: All earthworks contractors want to know exactly how much dirt they’re moving, especially if they can balance the material on a site. Drone mapping makes it possible to easily calculate cut and fill.
  • Progress tracking: Drone mapping allows you to visualize a project at every stage, from project takeoff to present day. You can track progress over time to see what work was done and when, so you’re never speculating how much work remains (and neither are your stakeholders).
Drone flying over landfill

Drone mapping applications across industries


With drone mapping, construction professionals can quickly survey large or tough-to-reach areas for accurate site measurements at every stage of a project, including pre-bid and project takeoff. This process decreases survey cost and improves turnaround time, helping contractors avoid cost overruns and project delays. Benefits include:

  • Creating 3D site models to share with clients
  • Easily capturing accurate pre-bid topos
  • Reducing downtime and improving scheduling
  • Calculating volume measurements (cut/fill)

Land surveying

Surveyors and GIS professionals use drones because they make the process of creating accurate, three-dimensional topographic maps easier, safer, and more efficient. Drones can fly over dangerous or difficult terrain and return easy-to-visualize topographic data after a mere ten-minute flight. Benefits include:

Mining & aggregates

Large mining sites and quarries have historically been dangerous and time-consuming to survey on foot, so surveys were rare and expensive. However, drones allow you to quickly gather data from your mining or aggregates worksite without the risk of climbing stockpiles or maneuvering around moving equipment. Benefits include:

  • Stockpile inventory management
  • Haul road monitoring
  • Operation planning and assessment
  • Visualizing progress against linework and design files

Waste management

With drone surveying, you can quickly verify how well outside slopes of your landfill have been built to ensure regulatory compliance and maximum use of your airspace. You can also perform quick and accurate calculations of compaction densities and remaining airspace. Benefits include:

  • Accurate density and volume calculations
  • Visualizing cell progress
  • Improving efficiency and maximize cell lifespan

Benefits of drone mapping

So now you know drone mapping is used for creating 3D representations of a worksite accurate to 1/10 foot. Here’s what that means to engineers, project managers, and surveyors on a day-to-day basis:

  • Improved worksite safety: Drones can fly over hazardous terrain and calculate height, slope, and volume without the need for anyone to climb a stockpile or walk a worksite.
  • Streamlined communication: Keep field and office teams on the same page with a single source of truth accessible anywhere from the cloud. A 3D map helps prevent disputes, and a centralized platform with unlimited users makes communication simple.
  • Optimized labor: It’s costly for workers to arrive on-site and discover that they can’t get started until another team has finished. Drone mapping prevents downtime by keeping everyone informed about a worksite’s real-time status.
  • Reduced costs and survey time: Drone flights can take as little as 10 minutes, making the end-to-end cost of a drone flight significantly lower than traditional survey methods.

Ready to learn how drone mapping can make a difference on your worksite? Let’s chat. Request a demo to learn more.

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