Land surveying is one of the most technically challenging and demanding fields in the drone industry. That’s why it is important to do thorough research and invest in a reliable drone that meets your specific surveying needs.
Hello folks! My name is Lavelle and I am a licensed drone pilot and a long-time drone operator. I’ve been using my drones professionally and recreationally for nearly a decade now. Living here in the Gulf Coast region of the United States has allowed me to use my drones for inspections, mapping, and surveying jobs.
In this article, I will cover some of the technical specifications that you should look for in drones that are used for land surveying work. I will also go over the best features and functions found on these drones and give you my list of the best drones for land surveying activities.
- Keep in mind that not all commercial-use drones are made for land surveying.
- The autonomous flight feature and long battery life are important on drones used for surveying.
- Prioritize drones with mechanical shutters.
- Camera resolution makes the difference when surveying since photogrammetry is often needed for this type of work.
- Look for drones with RTK (real-time kinematic) capabilities to achieve centimeter-level accuracy in their positioning.
It depends on the drone you choose. Drones that are specifically designed for mapping and surveying can range anywhere from $2000 and up.
Do I need to have the training to become a drone surveyor?
While training is not mandatory to become a drone surveyor, it is highly recommended that you either get some online training or partner with an experienced drone surveyor to get some hands-on experience before flying solo.
Can I get started with a lower-level drone?
Yes, you can get started in the mapping and surveying field with a lower-level drone. However, be careful to look for some of the important features that are mentioned in this article.
What Makes the Best Drones for Land Surveying
To help focus on the best drones for land surveying, here are some qualities you should look for. These qualities focus on data quality and ease of use for large-area aerial surveys.
- Mechanical vs. Non-mechanical Shutter: When conducting land surveys, one of the most important components that your drone should have is the mechanical shutter function. While it is true that you can create drone modeling outputs from any drone, the mechanical shutter is the quality standard that you want. Not only is the mechanical shutter higher quality but it also is more efficient.
- Fixed Wing: The next consideration for land surveying is the fixed wing. While many drones now have multi-rotors equipped on them, there are serious reasons for using the unique capabilities of a fixed-wing.
- Autonomous Flight Function: One of the consistencies needed for effective aerial surveying is the need to fly over the same area multiple times using the same flight pattern each time. Attempting to complete this feat manually is not very likely. Therefore, having a programmable autonomous flight feature is necessary.
- Real-time Kinematic (RTK) Compatibility: The most commonly used technique for aerial surveying is photogrammetry. To address the errors found in some inaccurate GPS data, manufacturers have now begun using real-time kinematic (RTK) technology in conjunction with GPS systems. Using the RTK technology vastly improved data accuracy down to the centimeter level.
- Payload: Lastly, detail is king when it comes to surveying and as such, one of the main things you want in a drone is the ability to accommodate different types of payload. One way to do this is by having a drone that is equipped with a LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) sensor.
The 4 Best Drones for Aerial Land Surveying
After extensive research and quite a bit of trial and error, I’ve compiled my list of the best drones for land surveying. While this list is not exhaustive, it does represent what I consider to be the best drones for this type of service.
1. DJI Mavic 3 (Best Overall)
- Sensor Type: 4/3 CMOS Sensor
- Camera: 20 MP camera resolution
- Shutter Type: Mechanical
- Flight Time: 45-minutes
- Area Range: 1.2 square miles of surveying area on one battery charge
Once again, the DJI brand steps up to the challenge and lands another drone at the #1 spot on my list. The DJI Mavic 3 is a top-of-a-class drone for mapping and surveying services.
With a huge CMOS sensor, a 20 MP camera resolution, a mechanical shutter, 45 minutes of flying time, and the ability to cover 1.2 square miles of surveying area on one battery charge, this drone stands heads and shoulders above the rest of the field.
The sensor alone makes it worth the purchase. It can produce excellent images in low light conditions and the mechanical shutter prevents any type of blur. Then we can add in the amazing 56x zoom capability.
DJI also has a fast-charging 100W hub to quickly recharge your batteries and continue your surveying mission.
Perhaps the only improvement is to possibly make the thermal imaging option a basic quality on all Enterprise drones.
My Verdict: You can’t beat this remarkable drone when it comes to surveying and mapping. It’s hard to even find any fault in this drone. While no drone is 100% perfect, this one comes really close.
2. DJI Phantom 4 Pro V. 2 (Best Range)
- Sensor Type: 1-inch CMOS Sensor
- Camera: 20 MP resolution
- Shutter Type: Mechanical
- Flight Time: 30 minutes
- Area Range: 4.3 miles
DJI continues to dominate the field and gives us the #2 drone in the form of the Phantom 4 Pro V. 2. This beast of a drone comes in at a close second to the Mavic 3 model. It has an excellent 1-inch CMOS sensor, a 20 MP camera resolution, the groundbreaking TimeSync System, and the revolutionary Centimeter Level Positioning System.
While the sensor is noticeably smaller than the Mavic 3 (which is why it comes in at #2), this drone sets the bar with its level positioning system. This system gives you real-time, centimeter-level positioning data that drastically improves the accuracy of your image metadata.
The TimeSync System is also a great addition to the capabilities of this drone. Working in concert with the level positioning system, this new feature provides a continuous alignment to the flight controller, camera, and RTK module.
It allows each image to have the most accurate metadata and then fixes the positioning data to the optical center of the camera’s lens. This process optimizes the data from photogrammetric techniques and causes the image to maximize the centimeter-level positioning data.
The only areas of improvement are the sensor size and overall weight of the drone which tends to drain the battery faster than the Mavic 3. However, this drone is built for surveyors.
My Verdict: This drone is a solid number two on my list. The new technology on this drone is quite impressive.
3. Yuneec Typhoon H (Best Wind Resistance)
- Sensor Type: 1-inch CMOS
- Camera: 20MP camera resolution
- Shutter Type: Non-mechanical
- Flight Time: 30-minutes
- Area Range: 1 mile
The YUNEEC Typhoon H drone is Yuneec’s answer to the DJI domination in the field of mapping and surveying. While they don’t quite hit the mark to replace DJI at the top of the class, they do make an impressive entry into the market.
This Yuneec hexacopter offers a wide range of options for drone surveyors. The module (also found on the DJI Phantom 4 RTK) is notable as is the non-fixed payload. The 20 MP camera is comparable to the other drones at the top of this list.
The drone is designed to be compatible with a PPK (post-processing kinematic) process which is useful when conducting surveys in areas where transmission signals can be challenging. One of the best features of this model is the wind resistance. The 20x12x18 body style design withstands heavy winds better than any other drone on this list.
My concern with this drone is that the white balance feature does not always work properly in the automatic mode. Also, the obstacle avoidance feature only works at low speeds.
My Verdict: This drone is a good, lower-cost option for entering the surveying field. It comes with some good qualities, however, I consider it the basic level drone for surveying purposes.
4. DJI Mavic Air 2 (Best Camera)
- Sensor Type: ½ -inch CMOS
- Camera: 48 MP
- Shutter Type: Non-mechanical
- Flight Time: 34-minutes of flying time
- Area Range: 6.2 miles
Landing (pun intended) at the #4 spot on my list is the DJI Mavic Air 2 drone. This drone has some impressive features that include a remarkable 48 MP resolution and just over 6 miles of range.
The 3-axis gimbal and 8K video resolution offer exceptional stability for this size drone and produce excellent video footage.
The Air 2 also features some amazing photo functions that include Spotlight 2.0, which keeps the camera focused on an object while the drone is flying. It also has Active Track 3.0 that keeps the object centered and tracks various objects like vehicles and people.
My drawback with this drone is the non-mechanical shutter, which limits the drone’s ability in surveying. Additionally, the smaller sensor limits the drone’s ability to capture more detailed pictures.
My Verdict: The Mavic Air 2 is a good drone that offers some nice add-ons and provides a nice selection of camera options. It also has some impressive in-flight features. It is an excellent drone for photography and videography uses. However, the limitations are too much to overcome in my estimation and drops it to the bottom of my list.
The field of aerial mapping and surveying is certainly one of the most lucrative fields in the drone industry. Drones are a perfect fit for conducting land surveys and offer the most efficient and precise option for this field of work. But there is a significant barrier to entry because of the technical expertise necessary for success in this line of work.
As you can see, there are a variety of drones available, and I hope that this article has provided the essential information and helped you find the best drone for work in this field.
What are your thoughts on aerial mapping and surveying? Do you have experiences you’d like to share? If so, leave your comments or questions below and I will respond to you as soon as possible.
Until next time, happy flying, be safe, and have fun!