Are Drones Replacing Surveyors?

Projects unfortunately run late or go over budget. Reason being, every day, managers battle to communicate with clients, contractors and stakeholders whilst maintaining visibility of every change on every job site, simultaneously. How can drones help with this?

Projects unfortunately run late or go over budget. Reason being, every day, managers battle to communicate with clients, contractors and stakeholders whilst maintaining visibility of every change on every job site, simultaneously.

You may need walk the site with clipboards, taking photos for stakeholders, some of whom may actually have to visit the site themselves to check progress.

For large sites this is especially difficult where there are rapidly changing contractors, equipment and building projects.

It is impossible to make fast informed decisions without consistent site visibility.


Some of the difficulties being:

Inefficiency - Expensive contractors and rental equipment often go unused, due to bottlenecks that could have been prevented with better information.

Project Delays - waiting for customers to get to site to approve a portion of the work to release funds for the next stage.

Low Profits - when projects go over budget, it usually comes directly out of the companies own profits.

Lost Customers - Unhappy, may not use you again.

So, a surveyor would be employed to collect accurate site data.

Land Surveying and Safety

Land Surveyors are responsible for surveying a job site, gathering data to provide up to date, accurate maps and site data. They may face obstacles in terrain, difficult to cross on foot or dangerous sites with moving plant.

A manned survey can take time to collect and process data which depending on the size of the site, may be time consuming and costly and the data could potentially be days or weeks old before it is delivered to the customer.


Drone Mapping

In contrast to a traditional land survey, by drone the workflow is usually:

  • Gather requirements from client
  • Plan flight
  • The drone flies an automated route, captures data via aerial imagery (or LIDAR)
  • Data is processed, outputs created.
  • Job site analysed via outputs generated from detailed data.


  • Outputs from the done are not just photos or video.
  • For a drone mapping job, outputs
  • Orthomosaics
  • Take measurements
  • 3D volumetric analysis
  • Contour mapping
  • As built vs planned comparison
  • Visual inspection
  • Compare to previous data sets

So... Are Mapping Drones Replacing Surveyors?

Automated flight plan for drone mapping
Automated flight plan for drone mapping

The answer is a definitive NO. Absolutely not.

There may be scenarios where a drone cannot gather the data. Under thick tree cover for example.

Or if you do not need the data urgently and have the advantage of time for it to be collected / processed manually.

However, drones are not intending to replace a Surveyor.
The practice of using drones for land surveys & mapping can compliment traditional methods of surveying.

Data can be captured quickly, in greater detail, for a surveyor to work with, saving them time, allowing them to be more productive, especially for larger areas.

Drones allow data collection without putting surveyors at risk. For example, traversing a busy construction site, or rough open terrain.
Drones can collect more data, in less time with more detailed outputs, some of which are not possible from a traditional land survey (3d models, orthomosaics).

The answer is a definitive NO. Absolutely not.

Drones are not a replacement for surveyors. Drones can help surveyors carry out their job safely, quickly and increase productivity. This would enable the same team of surveyors to be more productive.

Combined with the correct knowledge and equipment, drones can capture geo-spatially correct data, to survey grade standards.

Data can be processed and made available quickly, giving clients confidence that the data is current, allowing them to see a near real time state of their project in order to make informed decisions.

On a fast moving job site, old data is wrong data.


A time saving use of drone mapping is the ability to generate an accurate orthomosaic, which can then be used to take measurements and create accurate topographic drawings from accurate, ortho-rectified aerial imagery.

Because a drone can collect data more quickly, the process can be performed consistently and more regularly if required.

The combination of speed, reduced cost and precision makes the use of drones in surveys a growing trend.

Mapping drones can be a land surveyors best friend!

It is a tool to increase productivity, not a replacement.

  • Speed
  • Accuracy
  • Safety

However, to do this correctly, the correct equipment and knowledge is required and of course, always use a responsible, CAA approved drone pilot.

Data processed from images to create 3D model