by Joseph Duff, Infrastructure Specialist | ATG USA

A few years ago, the popular Land Surveying publication, Point of Beginning, published an article about drones and how they will transform the Land Surveying industry.

The article discussed five quantum leaps that Land Surveying technology has made, from the first electronic distance meters to Robotic Total Stations and Lasers Scanners. The technology we use to measure the surface of the earth has been advancing at a rapid pace, bringing us to the next leap mentioned in the article: Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or Drones.


Surveyor at Heart

At just 30 years old, I can remember when my twin brother and I would sword fight using survey lathes while we helped our dad survey. I remember as a kid thinking how cool it was for him to be looking through a telescope (manual total station), and for him to know exactly how far we were from him and where he needed to go next.

Surveying is in my blood, so when I turned 18, I decided to work with my dad. At that time, we were using manual total stations, and we had one Leica 500 GPS Base Station and Rover setup. I knew back then that GPS would ultimately disrupt the way roadways were constructed and how data was captured by Land Surveyors. Now, GPS guided machine control is fully adopted within the construction industry, and is considered by most construction companies as a standard piece of operating equipment.


Disruption for Good

Like GPS, Drones are disrupting the industry for the better. Though they are the new kids on the block in the Land Surveying industry, and have been around for years. ATG has recently partnered with 3DR to bring Drone technology to our business partners. The cost of purchasing 3DR’s Solo with Site Scan and mobile app are a fraction of what it costs when compared to standard GPS equipment setups, Robotic Total Station setups, and even Laser Scanners.

Drones provide Land Surveyors with a new tool to more accurately obtain existing site conditions than ever before. Drones are capable now, of not only producing densely populated point clouds that show the elevation changes of an existing terrain, but they are also producing high-definition aerial imagery that is accurately and geodetically referenced. This removes the need for multiple trips to job sites for obtaining site features and conditions that are often missed during the initial data collection of the topography.


Where It’s Going

With the high-quality aerials drones produce, a Land Surveyor can see exactly what is on the ground and the current site conditions better than any tool used for this purpose in the past. Just like when GPS and Robotic Total Stations allowed Land Surveyors to more efficiently allocate their personnel to field crews before, drones can be piloted by one individual. The time and cost savings executing data capture workflows with a UAV are phenomenal. What once took a multi-person survey crew days to initially capture existing site data now takes a few hours with one person flying a drone.

Land Surveyors are justifiably skeptical of this new technology and are holding it arm’s length. Any disruption to the technology that allows Land Surveyors to execute their principles and practices should be evaluated for accuracy and consistency, and I’m glad to know that many of my peers are doing just that. However, just like the GPS and Robotic Total Stations in the past, Drones are the future and will be necessary tool for any Land Surveyor’s tool belt.


Joseph Duff is an Infrastructure Technical Specialist for ATG USA, Inc., in North Little Rock, Ark. A surveyor at heart with a mind for civil engineering, Joe provides technical assistance, pre-sales technical proof, business process analysis, software training and implementation, product demonstration, and other technical business services to civil engineering firms, heavy highway construction, and land surveying companies who fall under the broad umbrella of the civil/infrastructure industry.