Three Ways Paving Contractors Use Propeller, Drone Surveying for Road Building

Paving projects seem deceptively simple to the outsider, but more work goes into getting a highway laid than the average driver imagines.

From clearing the site to laying the first materials, accuracy is key. As drones have become more common on all kinds of worksites, they are also being used more for surveying on paving jobs. But many paving companies are still new to using them for their operations.

Two lane road construction with palm trees

Some are skeptical because drone surveying cannot reliably deliver the sub-millimeter accuracy needed for the asphalt or cement layer that finishes a surface. Many use drones solely for inspection purposes, but this is selling them short.

Photogrammetric drone surveying with proper ground control is more than sufficient for the earthwork, subgrade, and subbase phases—and can help with staging as well. Let’s see how.


1. Measure earthwork and soil accurately

Paving a road doesn’t just mean laying down asphalt or cement on the bare earth.

First, the area must be cleared, which could include removing vegetation and other obstructions. Once cleaned up, the road is shaped with a combination of motor graders and bulldozers. Then treated dirt or soil is put down as the base layer of the new road.

All of these layers need to be to spec, which is where 3D survey data in Propeller comes in. After you’ve surveyed your project with a workflow like Propeller PPK and loaded your data into Propeller. You can simply draw a line and measure gradient or cross-section against final design to see how far you have to go.

Next, aggregate is laid over that base. This is coarse rock and it goes over the soil layer and sits under the pavement, whether it be asphalt or concrete.


2. Use for measuring subgrade and subbase

When it comes to the subgrade and subbase, drone surveying and Propeller let you capture and visualize your data, so you measure your grades.

As the subgrade, subbase and base course are placed, machines are needed to compact and ensure they’re on grade.

In Propeller, you can measure cross-sections, road grades, and compare existing surfaces against design in a few clicks, letting you spot mistakes before they become expensive and keep everyone on track.

Roadwork cross-section screenshot


3. Track progress and productivity on new road with bird’s-eye view

As mentioned at the start, the topmost layer of paving requires accuracy too high to achieve with photogrammetric drone surveying, but that doesn’t mean you can’t measure your progress with it.

When you fly your drone, you capture images of road over the course of the job. With a timeline of these images you can see how fast you’re progressing from a bird’s-eye view. Calculate when you’ll hit milestones or finish the whole job.

New road building orthoNew road building ortho progress


Bonus: Ensure efficient material staging

This bird’s-eye view also helps you stage the material along set intervals, so you don’t have to move it twice.

You can also use the Platform to measure how much has been set out by measuring these temporary stockpiles. It lets you know, not assume, how much material you have and where it’s located.

Stockpile screenshot 3D measurement

Having this rock-solid info means your team will always have the material they need to keep working.

And, if you are recycling blacktop and have a stockyard, you can also survey the stockpiles by drone and measure them in the same way.


Increase efficiency by improving three-quarters of your paving operations

When we’ve talked to pavement companies, we try to clearly show what our tools can and cannot do.

Overall, drone surveying can improve time spent capturing survey data, ensure accurate grades and cross-sections, and streamline calculations and planning with visualization in Propeller. These all positively impact about three-quarters of the average paving operation, and are most effective when used during a new road build or tracking net new road.

Having such a solid foundation of data for your paving projects means that you’ll be able to spot problems before they become expensive, hit your grades, and improve overall efficiency.


Want to learn more about using drone surveying and 3D mapping for your paving business? Contact us today.


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