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This photo shows a highly accurate 3d model of a commercial development. This model was made using drone mapping methods.

3 Differences between Drone Mapping & Traditional Surveying

Drone Mapping vs Traditional Mapping.

How our cutting edge technology has changed the site design game.

The advancements in drone technology and mapping software are revolutionizing the survey industry. The amount of data we can collect, and the accuracy we can achieve has 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:

Photo of a 3D model created using drone mapping
This photo shows a highly accurate 3d model of a commercial development. This model was made using drone mapping methods.

1. Drone Mapping provides more data.

Traditional Survey Drone Mapping

Field Data Collection24.0 hours2.5 hours
Office Technician Time16.0 hours8.0 hours
Professional Surveyor1.0 hours1.0 hours
Total Number of Data Points2,500 250,000,000

As you can see from above, drone mapping produces 100,000 times more data in much less 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.

2. Drones capture the entire survey site.

Another advantage of drone mapping – there is hardly ever be a need to go back to the site to collect missing data. All the information is contained in the point cloud and orthomosaic 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.

“there is hardly ever be a need to go back to the site to collect missing data… No more missed valves or fire hydrants, light poles or manholes.”

Large Earth work photo
Orthomosiac photo of a large earth works project in underway in Fort Myers, Florida.

3. Speed. Sheer Speed.

The speed of delivery, 2-3 weeks vs. 4-6 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. The idea is to use this data to mass grade and install the fill for roads, dig and contour lakes and retention areas.

Drone mapping allows for weekly updates on progress comparing the planned model to the mapped model. This allows you to have highly accurate quantities that can used to calculate 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. Here’s an example of how much this problem can cost you.

According to, fill dirt can cost between $5-25 per cubic yard. On a 100 acre site lets assume you are only importing 0.1 feet of fill dirt across the entire site. No top soil, no sand, just fill, the cheapest option. If your importer runs loads 10% light, this can cost you anywhere between $8,000 and $40,000. That’s only a tenth of a foot being imported. If the real import is a full foot, the numbers climb to between $80,000 and $400,000. Talk about a load of money! Regularly surveying your stockpiles and occasionally the entire site ensures that you won’t come up short on the pay dirt.

Rapid survey data also provides the ability to fix problems with site work 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.

Beach Survey Photo
Photo of Doctors Pass in Naples prior to survey by Florida Aerial Survey Technologies

Wrapping the drone show up and onward.

As technology advances more applications will become available. We can already 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 can walk a plant site or commercial high rise without ever leaving his desk. He can pick up a 3D mapped object and inspect and measure it in real-time as if being on the site. The technologies exists, we have used them in house. The hardware is the tricky part as most of the new age advanced stuff still requires significant graphics power that requires decimated models or pumped up desktop computers.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Adam Golightly

    I can understand how a business could really benefit from some drones in order to survey the land better. It could be really useful for them to get the knowledge about their property from a professional, It was interesting to learn about how they can be faster to fix problems on the worksite, and have weekly updates on the progress.

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