Traditional Surveying vs Drone Mapping for Site Design

Traditional Surveying vs Drone Mapping

Site Design Comparison

The advancements in drone technology and mapping software are revolutionizing the survey industry. The amount of data we can collect, and the accuracies achieved have never been possible in the past. Also, the speed at which the data can be collected and turned around has never been faster.

As an example, let’s look at a small commercial development that required a topographic survey for further design and compare traditional survey vs. drone mapping survey:


Using drones to survey and map

Simple 3D Mesh of Shopping Center

(Click to View Model)

Traditional Survey Drone Mapping

Field Data Collection  24.0 hours2.5 hours
Office Technician Time16.0 hours8.0 hours
Professional Surveyor1.0 hours1.0 hours
Total Number of Data Points 2,500 250,000,000

As you can see from above, drone mapping produces 100,000 times more data in 25% of the time. The massive amount of data allows for the creation of highly accurate and detailed 3D models, surfaces and TINs. These deliverables allow for design and planning to take place in a 3D environment that is complete and accurate. Traditional surveying requires a great deal of interpolation and extrapolation to create the surfaces and really no way to model existing buildings. Anybody who has spent time creating surfaces from traditional survey methods knows it can be tedious and quite difficult, especially if your field crew forgot to collect data points that are critical to your surface model.

Another advantage of drone mapping - there will hardly ever be a need to go back to the site to collect missing data. All the information is contained in the point could and ortho-mosaic photo. No more missed valves or fire hydrants, light poles or manholes. There may also be the case where an item is not needed at the time it is flown but a few weeks or months later you realize you do need that data. It is all in the cloud to be pulled up at the desktop without the need for additional field work.

The speed of delivery, 2-3 weeks vs. 2-3 days, and the completeness of the data sets makes drone mapping far superior to traditional survey methods. Most large development projects are now using machine control based on 3D models to mass grade and install the fill for roads, dig and contour lakes and retention areas. Drone mapping will allow for weekly updates on progress comparing the planned model to the mapped model. This will allow for highly accurate quantities to be calculated for pay apps for bringing in, moving and removing materials form the site. No more “light loads” and counting trucks to figure out how much material is being moved. It also provides the ability to fix problems on the fly. No more waiting a month for the final survey to realize your retention area is too high of your perimeter berms are too low.

As technology advances more applications will become available. Soon we will map and create 3D models of sites, structures, and buildings that engineers on the other side of the world will use. Using virtual reality (VR) an engineer in Germany will be able to fully walk a plant site or commercial high rise and never leave his desk. He will be able to pick up a 3D mapped object and inspect and measure it in real-time as if being on the site.


About the Author:

David S. Dagostino, PSM is a Florida Licensed Professional Surveyor and Mapper with over 30 years’ experience in the Surveying field. He is co-owner of both Dagostino & Wood. Inc a full-service surveying and mapping firm and Florida Aerial Survey Technologies a company specializing in drone mapping applications both located in Naples, FL. He is also a graduate of The University of Florida with a B.S. Degree in Surveying & Mapping.

2 thoughts on “Traditional Surveying vs Drone Mapping for Site Design”

  1. I love the fact that drone topography mapping is a thing. It’s amazing that it provides 100,000 times more data in a fraction of the time. That’s awesome! To me, it seems like drones are going to be used in every business soon.

  2. I loved how you mentioned that you can get more data with drone surveying. My husabnd is planning on getting some land to build on in a couple of weeks, and he wants to make sure that he stays within the property lines. I’ll make sure to pass this information along to him so that he can look into hiring a drone surveying business to help him.

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