Francesca Oliver / September 1, 2020

What is Drone Surveying? What are the benefits?

Francesca Oliver By Francesca Oliver

The adoption and use of drones is becoming so widespread across a huge spectrum of industries; PwC has predicted that the drone industry could provide 628,000 jobs and a £42 billion increase to UK GDP by 2030.

With big developments in drone technology in recent years, we are now seeing drones drive productivity in surveying, allowing surveyors to operate quicker, safer and with greater efficiency, covering more areas in much less time.  Drones are increasingly being used to generate 2D orthomosaics and 3D models and maps, and in many cases, often provide a higher degree of precision than traditional surveying methods.  It is not surprising then, that so many surveying and Geographic Information System (GIS) organisations and professionals are harnessing the power of drones within these sectors.

While drones offer significant opportunities for the surveying industry, some new challenges begin to present themselves. We look at how SOARIZON can mitigate these challenges, enabling safer and simpler drone operations.  But first, we explore the innovative ways that drones are already being used within surveying. 

How are drones BEING used FOR surveying?

Bebop small drone

Drones are widely used to capture the right aerial data, using downward facing using electro-optical, LiDAR or multi-spectral sensors, amongst other types.  As the aircraft flies, it takes pictures at predetermined intervals with each image tagged with meta-data embedded in the image, such as height, coordinates, etc.  These images are then 'stitched' together using specialist software to create the finished product, ready for insights and decisions to be made.

Cartographers and surveyors are able to use this data to generate various insightful deliverable products, like high-accuracy 3D models and thermal imagery maps, distance and volumetric measurements, slope analysis and showing a comprehensive and detailed visual description of the survey area.

Due to their ability to fly at very low altitude and with powerful sensors, data acquired from drones can produce extremely high quality, high resolution images and represent significant savings in terms of cost and effort.  The use of drones for surveying also has excellent safety benefits, especially when surveying hazardous or challenging/inaccessible terrains that would have otherwise been accessed by people or ground-based machinery, if at all possible.

Use cases for AERIAL surveying

Within surveying there are numerous use cases for drones, each with enormous, cost saving potential to increase accuracy and efficiency. Some of these include:

Land survey and development

The number of applications for drones in surveying is plentiful, with common examples including area design and urban planning,  construction of roads, buildings and utilities, mining, and oil and gas pipelines.

Video from SOARIZON team survey of Mount Snowdon, Wales


Drones are used to create high-resolution 2D orthomosaics, 3D models, such as that by the SOARIZON team at Mount Snowdon above, Digital Terrain Models (DTM), Digital Surface Models (DSM) and for cartographers make higher quality maps with detailed features such as signs, drains and other detail.  On a larger scale, they can even be used to detect the possibility of landslides, by gaining accurate slope measurements in high risk areas. Due to the relative low cost of drones, they can be used several times throughout the process, enabling consistent, accurate and predictable deployment and use.  

Applications for drone use in land surveying can be transformative, with many surveys completed in a fraction of the time compared with traditional methods.  

Land cadastre

          Image from SOARIZON's Land Cadastre innovation project


For example, in cadastral surveying, drones can identify property assets and boundaries, helping to establish land ownership with a high level of accuracy, with a growing number of land departments now accepting drone data for cadastre. 

SOARIZON’s Open Innovation team recently took part in such a project alongside IMGeospatial. We flew drones over the region of Shesh in Albania, taking still images of the landscape which included many different types of terrain and deserted buildings, using intelligent software to automatically define land boundaries. Read more about the project here.

Urban planning

Drones can be used in both the data collection and modelling stages of urban planning. They are able to effectively monitor environmental and social conditions, informing decision making by providing accurate measurements. 

For drones in urban planning, an example of one of the most transformative technologies adopted is the use of LiDAR, which up until recently was the domain of planes, helicopters and even satellites - then drones came along.

Thanks to technological advances, LiDAR sensors are now incredibly lightweight so can be mounted onto drones, and work by measuring distances of a laser light illuminating a target, calculating the return signal. This can be applied when overlaying buildings on a 3D model, helping to give planners a more realistic view of a development, enabling greater precision in the designs. 

Ultimately, by using drones for urban planning, it means that far fewer humans are required on the ground, thereby driving efficiency and cutting costs. 

Mining and aggregates

Increased productivity and risk reduction are two of the most immediate benefits of using drones in mining, with surveyors increasingly realising the value added to the industry. 

Some of the uses for drones in mining surveys include assessments of the area before and after drilling, stockpile management, and hazard identification.

Overcoming challenges with SOARIZON

With opportunity often comes challenges, which is especially true with disruptive technologies like drones. By using SOARIZON however, businesses using drones for surveying are able to effectively mitigate many of these obstacles, saving even more time, and ensuring safety and compliance in their drone operations. 

  • For surveyors planning missions, SOARIZON allows pilots and managers to plan each stage all in one secure platform, combining together tools and processes that would have otherwise been separate.
  • Risk and on-site assessments are intuitive and simple to complete, allowing surveyors to build a catalogue of predefined, common risks. 
  • With SOARIZON’s advanced mapping functionality, pilots keep informed of the airspace around them, with live information on flight restrictions.
  • Flight logs help maintain compliance and are included in all SOARIZON subscriptions, allowing pilots and managers maintain and an accurate, digitised, central point of record of all missions flown.

SOARIZON customers also have access to our ecosystem of industry-leading partners at favourable rates, including:

  • CAA accredited drone training supplier,, with an excellent record of supplying training to major clients using drones for surveying.
  • Data processing and digital information experts, The Virtulab. The Virtulab provides best-in-class quality photogrammetry, orthomosaic, LiDAR and other 2D and 3D modelling services.
  • High quality, professional drone insurance from Moonrock Insurance. Moonrock is run for drone pilots, by drone pilots. They understand your needs and reward safe and compliant drone pilots.

It is no secret that drones in surveying provide real opportunity, particularly for surveyors looking to maximise their efficiency and increase quality of data collection. It will be interesting to see where drone technology takes surveying, as well as the many other sectors affected by their efficiency, and whether predictions of the industry’s growth hold true by 2030. 


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