What are the benefits of drone surveying for construction companies?

Increased Efficiency I Reduced Expenses I Improved Safety Standards I Improved Data Accuracy


3/13/20244 min read

an aerial view of a train track in the desert
an aerial view of a train track in the desert
1. Efficiency

Anyone who has ever been through the process of manually surveying a construction site can tell you that it is not an easy process. It takes time, a workforce with a very particular skill set, money, and a willingness to redo the survey if anything goes wrong.  Approximately five acres can be surveyed per hour with traditional methods. With drone surveying, even beginner surveyors are capable of surveying 120 acres per hour for a 60x improvement in surveying efficiency. For a company with 10 different 120-acre sites that they want to survey 5 times per year, traditional surveying for each site would require 24 hours of work, taking 120 hours per site, per year. Across all sites this would require 1,200 hours of work annually.

Drone surveying in comparison is capable of completing each of the five annual site surveys in one hour each, taking only five hours per site. Across all ten sites this would only amount to 50 total hours invested to complete these surveys. Obviously, drone surveying significantly reduces the total time investment needed to survey a site. But one of the other benefits of this increased efficiency is that on a construction site work is nearly always being done across many areas.

Keeping track of everything is difficult and for many companies chaos can become the norm. With traditional surveying, larger construction sites can require multiple work days to finish, in that time there’s no telling what has changed since the survey started. This often requires re-surveying and can severely delay the beginning of new work that could get in the way of the surveyors. In a perfect world the differences in efficiency between traditional surveying and drone surveying would remain the way it is presented in a purely numerical sense. But construction is an industry where things rarely go exactly to plan, when unexpected delays and problems emerge, the inefficiency of traditional surveying can compound and cause further issues down the road. The increased efficiency, accuracy, and adaptability of drone surveying helps to make sure construction companies can deliver more projects on time and within budget.

2. Expense Reduction 

As mentioned earlier, traditional site surveying requires a much larger time and manpower investment in order to complete the survey. With those extra hours and surveyors comes salaries, equipment, and all the other expenses that come with construction work. Looking at salaries alone and assuming a traditional surveyor works for $100/hour and a drone surveyor works for $120/hour the savings can still be substantial. Even with the higher hourly rate the drone surveyor would only be required to log 50 total hours of billable work per calendar year for a total cost of $6,000 of annual surveying fees.

In comparison a traditional surveyor would require the aforementioned 1,200 hours of work. These 1,200 billable hours of work would require a total surveying cost of $2,400 per survey and $120,000 worth of total annual surveying fees. In total drone surveying is capable of saving $114,000 dollars in drone surveying fees compared to traditional surveying for a relatively small company needing to conduct 50 surveys annually. Needless to say, for larger companies these savings would only increase, and this assumes that everything related to surveying goes according to plan and does not require any rework. The different projects that could be used to calculate expenses could involve a multitude of different assumptions, but any serious look at the data regarding drone surveying compared to traditional surveying will acknowledge that drone surveying is incredibly effective at reducing time and expense requirements to ultimately make drone surveying an incredibly effective way for construction companies to reduce variable expenses.

3. Improved Safety Standards 

Construction by its nature involves work that can be dangerous. Surveying is no different from any other part of the construction process. Traditional surveying often requires workers to enter difficult-to-reach positions on worksites with many moving pieces. To really impart the value of safety in a construction company, it’s necessary to go beyond simply treating safety as a checklist item to be taken care of in order to keep a supervisor off your back. Changing work practices to reduce the total risk that workers are exposed to is an essential part of producing better safety outcomes.

Reviewing site maps and data obtained by drone surveying can be done from the comfort of an office or any area of a worksite without ever having to expose workers to significant bodily harm. Across the construction industry falls account for 34% of workers fatalities on construction sites, and 1 in 5 deaths among US workers is in the construction industry. Not only is drone surveying helpful for keeping workers out of harm’s way, but the data can be more accurately and efficiently gathered through drone surveying and can be used to spot potential hazards on a work site before they cause problems.

Of course, the main benefit of increased safety standards is the avoidance of injuries but safety also has a huge effect on a company’s bottom line. In the US, fatal construction injuries are estimated to cost $5 billion each year in health care, lost production, reduced quality of life for family members, and lost income. Any construction company that is serious about improving safety has to consider updating their surveying process to include drone surveying.

4. Improved Data Accuracy ​

The process to collect data with drone surveying is called drone photogrammetry. In simple terms drone photogrammetry is the process of measuring real-life distances from overlapping photos that take into account all different angles and perspectives. The process may sound complicated but when done with a drone it can be completed quickly and with a degree of accuracy that is very difficult for traditional surveying to match. In a single surveying flight, drone data processed with a surveying software like Propeller can produce a full map of the surveyed site with accurate measurements of distances, surfaces, elevations, volumes, and provide GPS points represented in either two or three dimensions.

Quick, accurate, and cost efficient drone surveying can be done as often as necessary, and it provides the ability to analyze the data with a cloud-based software platform like Propeller. Drone surveying also ensures that all project stakeholders from subcontractors to off-site work teams can have access to the data in an easy-to-understand format to ensure the entire project is progressing on time and according to design.

Having the right information at the right time across multiple, separate parties goes a long way to ensure that projects can come in on time and within budget.

Across the construction industry rework, conflict resolution, and looking for unavailable project data costs construction companies $177 billion annually. Propeller’s drone surveying program for construction companies can ensure that all your surveying data is processed correctly and quickly, ensuring accountability, communication, and collaboration to deliver the highest level of performance possible.