Drones for
Surveying

X, Y and Z made easy

There are several reasons why land surveyors are increasingly adding drones to their portfolio of instruments.

Firstly, using a drone can vastly reduce the time spent collecting accurate data. By acquiring raster data from the sky – in the form of geo-referenced digital aerial images, with resolutions as sharp as 1.5 cm (0.6 in) per pixel – you can gather millions of data points in one short flight.

More time still can be saved by using a survey-grade drone such as the eBee RTK.  Such GNSS/RTK receiver systems are effectively flying rovers, capable of receiving data corrections streamed from a base station or via VRS to achieve absolute X, Y, Z accuracy of down to 3 cm (1.2 in) – without needing Ground Control Points.

With collection made so simple, you can focus your energy on using and analysing data, rather than working out how to gather it.

With such a large increase in the amount of physical data being collected, this does mean an increase in office time spent processing and utilising this data. However this expansion is cancelled out many times over by the huge time savings a drone produces out in the field. Many of senseFly’s surveying customers say, for example, that large jobs that once took weeks can now be completed in just a few days, and that a week’s worth of traditional data collection is now achieved in just one day.

Last but not least, less time spent on the ground means staff safety is improved by minimising risk to surveying teams when measuring sites such as mines, unstable slopes and transport routes. Simply choose take-off and landing locations that are out of harm’s way.

Typical drone surveying workflow

Flight planning

  • Choose/import base map
  • Highlight coverage area (rectangle/polygon)
  • Set desired Ground Sampling Distance (i.e. 5 cm (2 in) / pixel)

    • Flight altitude defined automatically as a result (e.g. 5 cm/pixel = 162 m altitude using default eBee WX camera)
    • This altitude determines maximum single-flight coverage possible
    • Automatic definition of flight lines & image capture points

  • Set image overlap

    • Necessary for stereo coverage

  • Define safe landing zone

Setting of on-site GCPs

  • For absolute X,Y, Z accuracy of down to 3 cm / 5 cm (1.2 in / 2 in)
  • No GCPs required, to achieve similar accuracy, if using eBee RTK
  • Optimal size & shape of GCP targets defined by GSD of imagery

Flight

  • Autonomous flight
  • Monitor progress/change flight plan via flight control software
  • Automated landing as per defined landing zone

Import images

  • On-board SD card contains images and flight log (.bbx file)
  • Images geo-tagged according to flight log during importation
  • Generate Quality Report on site to verify quality and coverage

Generation of orthomosaics and 3D point clouds

  • Using post-flight photogrammetry software
  • Relative orthomosaic/3D model accuracy: 1-3x GSD

Analysis/production of deliverables

  • Creation of break lines, reference points, digital elevation models, contour lines
  • Calculation & analysis of volumes and stockpiles
  • Export of output files (geoTIFF, obj, dxf, shape, LAS, KML tiles etc.) to third-party software as required (see below)

Final report/deliverable creation in third-party software

Flying the Guayllabamba point cloud

Case studies & reports


Explore how surveying professionals around the world are increasingly using mapping drone technology to collect their data in place of traditional surveying instruments.

Angry birds at altitude

Tasked with a large and topographically challenging survey near Quito in Ecuador, AOC Ingeniería used an eBee UAV to collect its point data. But the terrain wasn't the only problem its team faced.

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Drones vs traditional instruments: corridor mapping in Turkey

Awarded the Turkish government’s first UAV survey contract, Artu Harita used an eBee to map a 140 km-long rail corridor — impressing its client and outperformed its traditional surveying counterparts.

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Play the movie

UAS Photogrammetric Point Clouds: A Substitute for LiDAR?

Jarlath O'Neil-Dunne of the University of Vermont's Spatial Analysis Lab describes the pros, cons and suitability of LiDAR and drone point clouds.

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Taming a monster – large-scale RTK corridor mapping in remotest Australia

Geospatial projects don’t get more intense than Survey Group’s eBee RTK drone survey of the Talawana Track road where complex logistics, dusty terrain and bird attacks had to be overcome.

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Can UAVs replace GPS ground topographic surveys?

McIntosh Perry Surveying and UKKO teamed up to compare the accuracy of an eBee RTK survey with that of a traditional base station and RTK rover approach. 

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eBee saves the day: mapping Greenland’s Zackenberg Research Station

When COWI was employed to map 125 sq. km in remotest Greenland, its staff took two drones into the field: a long-range UAV system and a backup eBee. When the larger system developed technical issues, the senseFly proved its mettle

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NewFields independent UAS accuracy assessment

McCain Murray of consulting firm NewFields ran a full survey and accuracy assessment with the senseFly eBee drone, finding it "capable of generating products with accuracies that meet the expected relationship with the survey GSD and NSSDA standards".

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Assessing flood damage at one of Europe’s largest mines

When the Serbian government urgently needed to map water damage at the Kolubara lignite pit, it turned to GeoGIS Consultants, whose team used an eBee to provide the client’s deliverables in a matter of days.

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Mapping the Matterhorn

Read how a team of senseFly engineers teamed up with Drone Adventures, Pix4D and Mapbox to create the first ever 3D digital model of the Matterhorn, Switzerland's 'beautiful mountain'.

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Surveying a repository site in Chile

See how OZS Ingenieria surveyed a windy, dusty repository site in Antofagasta, Chile, creating an orthophoto and digital elevation model.

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Mapping and modelling a Bulgarian mountain

Using drones to create a large-scale topographic map and 3D model of Buzludzha, a historical peak in Bulgaria's Central Balkan Mountains.

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Using drones to map a sensitive Australian heritage site

For the past two years Australian UAV has undertaken an annual drone survey of the Lake Victoria shoreline. This immense heritage project brings with it three key challenges: big birds, even bigger datasets and lots of very fine sand.

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Monitoring material usage during road construction

Colombian company Dymaxion SAS used a drone to monitor the materials and equipment used during the construction of a new road, in order to comply with safety regulations.

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Surveying an African pipeline with an eBee drone

Mapping a pipeline from Bolgatanga, Ghana to Bingo, Burkina Faso using a senseFly eBee drone‬.

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Golder on using unmanned aerial vehicles

As the commercial unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) industry rapidly accelerates, Golder’s own program is expanding as well to cover real-time inspecting, documenting, monitoring, and survey work.

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Drones are taking off in Canada

Read how drone technology is booming in Canada (includes an interview with Cenovus Energy's geospatial specialist Wade Ewen).

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Accuracy of automatic photogrammetric techniques on ultra-light UAV imagery

This paper analyses several UAV datasets and examines their accuracy, finding that drone technology "can compete with traditional mapping solutions".

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Small Unmanned Aerial Systems (sUAS) for volume estimation

This Honors College Thesis examines how stereo imagery obtained by a small UAS can be used to respond to natural disasters by estimating volumes, "on a par with terrestrial LiDAR sensor technology".

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"Since acquiring our eBee RTKs, we have mapped a 30 mile corridor for California High Speed Rail, six miles of double track for Union Pacific Railroad, two rail yards for CSX Railroad and five miles of coastal right-of-way for Southern California’s Commuter Rail System. These projects have yielded phenomenal quality, accuracy and ROI—our costs were approximately 50% when compared to using manned aircraft and we cut our delivery times by more than half."

Marc A. Cañas GISP, Vice President
J.L. Patterson & Associates, Inc., United States
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Marc A. Cañas GISP, Vice President

"We are having a great experience with our five eBees. We fly these simultaneously to produce aerial cartography and to monitor and survey different architectural, agronomy and landscape projects, often on a large scale. We really enjoy interacting with the different files the eBee’s software produces, since each pertains to a specific discipline."

Dr. Mario Rossi, Landscape Manager, Operations / Facilities Section
The Office of H.H. The Crown Prince of Dubai (Government of Dubai), United Arab Emirates

Dr. Mario Rossi, Landscape Manager, Operations / Facilities Section

"The eBee is perfect for high-altitude engineering projects, because it can perform over difficult terrain, in low air density, and with very few requirements in terms of landing space. We found its ROI can be as quick as getting our investment back by working on just one large job."

Juan Pablo Solorzano, Transport and Geomatics Division,
AOC Ingeniería, Ecuador
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Juan Pablo Solorzano, Transport and Geomatics Division,

"We use an eBee for many different projects: mapping, road and railway projects, power lines, dam and construction projects, renewable energy and more. For us, it is the most effective drone on the market. It is the perfect intersection of user-friendliness, quality, price, support, and software."

Diner Yılmaz, General Director
Artu Harita Bilişim GIS Mühendislik, Turkey
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Diner Yılmaz, General Director

"Our senseFly UAVs have quickly become essential tools. They are deployed quickly and allow us to survey entire sites in a short space of time — from wind farms to dams, historic sites, and music festivals. With our drones we can produce crystal clear orthomosaics and accurate elevation models, more cost effectively than traditional aerial surveying, and more quickly than using terrestrial surveying methods."

Mark Entwistle, Managing Director
KaarbonTech, United Kingdom

Mark Entwistle, Managing Director

"The eBee has given me the best R.O.I. of any surveying tool I own."

Prof. Tosa Ninkov Ph.D., Owner
GeoGIS Consultants, Serbia
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Prof. Tosa Ninkov Ph.D., Owner

"We currently operate two eBee UAVs, which have completed well over 1,300 flights, so we’ve given these aircraft quite a workout. For us there is no typical project; we undertake work across Australia in plantation forestry, mining, land development, aboriginal heritage, flood prevention survey, insurance, agriculture and natural resource management. Our experience has been very good—the eBee system is easy to use, has proved reliable and its data is well received by clients. At this stage we’ve been unable to find a UAV that is as versatile."

James Rennie, Director
Australian UAV

James Rennie, Director

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