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How Drones are Used in Surveying

In a short time, drones have gone from a hobbyist’s novelty to a critical tool used daily across various industries. One profession in which drones have made a significant impact is Land Surveying, revolutionizing the way topographic surveys are conducted, providing definition that were previously unimaginable. Let’s take a closer look at what drone surveys are, how they work, the benefits they offers, and their accuracy.


Generally, Land Surveying is a professional service that involves measuring the area or contours of any portion of the earth’s surface, and the lengths and directions of the bounding lines of said land area before construction begins or land is divided or sold. Drone Surveys, as the name suggests, use a drone/ UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems) equipped with downward-facing cameras and/or a LiDAR (Light Detection And Ranging) Sensor to gather data rather than the traditional method of a field crew using a GPS or Total Station and boots on the ground to survey the site. The drones’ cameras capture high-definition, georeferenced photos from various angles that allow advanced software to generate Orthophotographs, a composite photo of the land as viewed from above, as well as a generate highly accurate a point cloud representing the ground surface below.  Where the ground surface is obscured by trees or dense vegetation in the photos, the LiDAR sensor will have pierced through the canopy above and collected hundreds of data points providing an accurate representation of the ground surface below.  This enables Survey Technicians to generate 3D models of sites or buildings, offering clients more comprehensive and detailed models compared to traditional surveys in a fraction of the time. The surfaces derived from drone data facilitate highly accurate distance and volume measurements. Integrating drones into land surveying enhances data realism. Additionally, drone-captured videos and photos serve as valuable resources for clients during the planning stages of new commercial projects.


The process of drone surveys typically involves the following steps:

Step 1: Mission Planning

Before the drone flight, Survey Technicians define the area to be surveyed and plan the mission. This involves determining the flight path, altitude, and overlap between flight lines for data collection. Mission planning software is often used to optimize the flight plan for efficient data collection. Factors such as the desired level of detail, terrain features, and safety considerations are taken into account during mission planning.

Step 2: Pre-flight Checks

Survey Technicians perform pre-flight checks on the drone and its equipment to ensure everything is functioning properly. This includes inspecting the drone itself, its batteries, sensors, and communication systems. All Survey Technicians piloting the UAS are licensed FAA Part 107 sUAS pilots and use this knowledge to check airspace for dangerous flight conditions such as nearby airports, airstrips, or helipads. Where such conditions exist FAA Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) authorization can be submitted and approved to collect data in areas not accessible to hobby pilots.

Step 3: Data Collection

Once the mission is planned pre-flight checks are complete, the drone is deployed to fly over the designated area while capturing high-resolution images and LiDAR data. The drone follows the pre-programmed flight path, ensuring comprehensive coverage of the survey area.

Step 4: Data Processing

After the flight, the collected data is downloaded from the drone and processed using state of the art software. This involves stitching together individual images, georeferencing them, and creating orthomosaics (georeferenced aerial images), generating 3D models from photogrammetry data.

Step 5: Data Analysis

Once the data is processed, surveyors analyze the results ensure that the generated data matches control points and elevation checks collected in the field using traditional survey methods.  Once he data is determined to be accurate compared to the check shots, Survey Technicians extract valuable information like topographic features, elevation data, contours, land cover classifications, or volumetric measurements. Images can undergo editing and analysis within software programs to obtain details such as height measurements, surface areas, and contour lines. Such information can be used for various applications including land planning, site analysis, infrastructure design, environmental monitoring, and precision agriculture.

Step 6: Reporting and Visualization

The final step involves presenting the drone survey results in a useful format such as maps, 3D models, reports, or interactive visualizations that provide insights into the surveyed area. These outputs help clients and project stakeholders make informed decisions and take appropriate actions based on the survey findings.

Throughout the entire process, safety considerations are paramount. This includes ensuring compliance with regulations regarding drone operations, maintaining line-of-sight with the drone, and monitoring weather conditions that could affect flight safety. Additionally, quality control measures are often implemented to verify the accuracy and reliability of the collected data.


Drone technology provides many advantages/benefits in Land Surveying when compared to traditional data collection methods: 

  • Cost-effectiveness: The ability to make efficient use of a budget is at the forefront of most peoples minds. Drone surveying can be more cost-effective compared to manned aircraft or ground-based surveying methods. This allows it to fit seamlessly into your pre-existing budget allocations and can also increase company budget and time to spend on other tasks.
  • Time-efficient: Drones can cover large areas quickly, reducing the time required for data collection. Traditional survey methods can be time-intensive but employing drones in surveying eliminates the need for expensive or hard-to-obtain boots on the ground data collection, speeding up projects and maintaining accuracy. This time-saving aspect allows for faster project completion, quicker decision-making, and timely monitoring of changes in the surveyed area.
  • Accuracy: Drone technology, coupled with advanced sensors and data processing techniques, enables precise and accurate data collection. This high level of precision is essential for applications such as land surveying, infrastructure inspection, and volumetric measurements. Drones use a number of sensors at different angles to create thousands of accurate data points, including geo-references, elevation points and colors. These data points can then be assimilated into a 3D Point Cloud to give the surveyor or client a unique perspective and view of the project.
  • Safety and Accessibility: Drones eliminate the need for surveyors to work in potentially hazardous or hard-to-reach areas and allow surveyors to map inaccessible areas and hazardous terrains. With the push of a button, a drone can autonomously survey a site, obtain a complete aerial mapping of the site, land back at its launch location, and upload its model and data to a secure cloud in a matter of minutes. Plus, this entire process does not put anyone at risk of serious injury.


Drone surveying can achieve high accuracy levels, often within a few centimeters. However, accuracy depends on various factors such as the camera quality, the drone’s positioning system, ground control points, and image processing quality. Here at Viox & Viox, we take immense pride in our commitment to excellence, exemplified by our investment in state-of-the-art equipment renowned for its exceptional precision.

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Viox & Viox’s expertise ensures that your drone surveys are conducted with precision and reliability, whether you’re in Ohio or Kentucky. To get more information on drone surveys contact us today!