Drone surveys VS traditional surveys

Updated: Jan 4

A survey is typically the first step in the process for infrastructure site development, so it’s important that the survey reflects the land in its truest possible form so that developers and people on the site know exactly what they are working with. Failure to do so results in pitfalls and complications later down the line. Topographic surveys are particularly useful for architects, contractors, engineers and designers, where a survey will provide exact and precise plans and coordinates to help assist with the planning and layout process.


Traditional methods of survey and inspection will always have a place in the industry. Hands-on inspection can occasionally be the only method that works. However, drones have become an important part of the data mix for infrastructure projects and management. They offer a good balance between accuracy, efficiency, and safety while still producing diverse, versatile datasets.


Mapping and surveying has experienced its biggest evolution in the past few decades from the increased integration of technology, especially unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones. However, there are still questions around the pros and cons of drone-based topographic surveys compared to traditional ground surveys.


What is drone data and how does it work?


Drone data is really “aerial data” and can be split into two camps: photogrammetry and LiDAR. Drone data capture works similarly to other aerial capture methods, whereby a sensor is flown over or around an area or object of interest collecting data. The differentiating factor for drones is that they can get far closer to the site than other methods, which, in most cases, leads to greater levels of accuracy and higher detail.





The most widespread application of drones in construction is through using them to capture a large number of high-resolution photos over an area. In a similar way that the human brain uses information from both eyes to provide depth perception, you can use these multiple vantage points from the images to generate a 3D map. This is called photogrammetry–and has become increasingly popular due to its low cost and weight requirements. You can use these digital 3D maps to track progress, monitor earthworks, and take measurements without actually having to step foot on site.


Additionally, when using a drone there are often added safety and efficiency benefits over the heavier, more expensive systems, due to being lightweight, electric, and ability to get to places people can’t.



Traditional ways of working just aren’t cutting it


Traditional ways of surveying can be expensive, time-consuming, and require lots of time and resources. On a large site, it can take anywhere from weeks to months to complete a single survey. By which point, the gathered data is out of date and new problems can arise before old ones get resolved.


Manual surveys can also be unsafe for workers. Health and safety in construction is critically important–it’s an industry that by nature is prone to hazardous situations and these must be avoided at all costs. Although there are some situations that call for inspection by a person on-site, many workplace injuries can be eliminated by simply keeping people out of harm’s way. During any construction activity conducted on busy roads, for example, the interaction of workers and traffic always adds additional risk.


The COVID-19 pandemic means that even more safety measures are being put in place on all construction sites and building projects to ensure people are kept safe. Industry leaders are adopting new remote work technologies and procedures to limit the impact of the pandemic on their employees. Utilising drones to remotely capture and monitor site data is one-way companies throughout the UK are getting employees safely back to work.


For outside stakeholders, this means now more than ever, that getting to site is often not possible, and traditional methods for engaging others are a poor substitute for in-person visits, where they lose a lot of context in translation. With the right solution, these challenges can be overcome, meaning sites can be captured, and data shared in platforms so that projects can be viewed and decisions made.



Integrate drone data with a visualisation platform


It’s important to note that drones, and the data they produce, are not the silver bullet for infrastructure projects. They must be used within a well planned and agreed-upon data mix that delivers on a project’s objectives. And ultimately, the data collected by these platforms must be interoperable and easy to access.


A digital representation of a real-world location or asset infused with real-time datasets from a variety of sources is essential to viewing an asset in its entirety and making informed decisions. Visualisations derived from drone data allow anyone in your team to work with a visual and intuitive 3D representation of your project. Share snapshots of your site with stakeholders and clients to seamlessly communicate progress on a project’s status and easily detect problems. Topographic data hosted on online platforms, like Sensat's, enables vital collaboration and information exchange where traditional systems have been stretched.


For example, in Sensat’s visualisation platform it’s possible to get access to all above and below ground data and information, including:


  • Geospatial and topographic site information

  • Integration of buried services and below-ground utilities

  • Masterplan models and BIM integration of all associated commercial

  • Residential structures, and all engineering design information for the associated infrastructure.


Data captured via drone and visualised in Sensat's Platform



Sensat prides itself on being industry leaders in drone data, quality and accuracy. Through the use of drones, we are able to collect and visualise up-to-date and highly accurate data that is valuable throughout the different design and construction stages of any infrastructure project.


To see Sensat's drone data quality for yourself, request sample data at data.enquiries@sensat.co.uk. Alternatively, check out our survey data guide to discover when and why to use drone data for your project.