Clogworks drone with Riegl laser scanner payload

Drone Mapping: Exploring the Benefits

Drone mapping surveys or drone topographic surveys have now come into their own. Imagine a world where you can survey vast areas of land, generate intricate 3D models, and obtain highly accurate data, all without setting foot on the ground. Welcome to the fascinating world of drone mapping! This transformative technology has revolutionized various industries, offering significant advantages in terms of cost, speed, and accuracy over traditional survey methods.

DJI M300 with a GeoSlam payload. The GeoSlam was used to measure internally and externally – both from the ground and the air – for this land survey & measured building survey planning application site

Short Summary

  • Drone mapping is an efficient surveying method utilizing aerial data to generate maps and 3D models for various industries.
  • Data acquisition and processing are automated with human input, while key outputs of drone mapping include point clouds, digital elevation models (DEMs), and orthomosaic maps.
  • Drone pilots must obtain the necessary licenses and skills to become effective mappers. Using the right software packages, such as DJI Terra or Esri Site Scan, provide unique features for different requirements.

What are the benefits of a drone survey?

Aerial-based Land Surveys offer the best data coverage, and accuracy, with highly visual deliverables using Airborne Photogrammetry and Lidar/Laser Scanning.


Faster than a conventional survey


More cost-effective than a traditional survey


Fewer boots on the ground in risky or inaccessible locations


High relative and absolute accuracy


Targeted and repeatable data acquisition


Maximised efficiency, data coverage and deliverables

Understanding Drone Mapping

Aerial mapping is the process of utilizing aerial data collected by drones to generate maps, 2d and 3d models for surveying, achitecture, planning, the contruction industry and analysis purposes. By leveraging advanced drone technology and data processing techniques, drone mapping enables industry professionals to collect highly accurate data and create detailed visual representations of worksites.

But how exactly does drone mapping work, and what makes it so efficient compared to traditional land surveying methods?

The Technology Behind Drone Mapping

Rapid advancements in drone technology have significantly contributed to the rise of drone mapping. Recent developments in semiconductors, electric propulsion, cameras, and batteries have made high-precision enterprise solutions accessible and affordable for small businesses. In contrast, consumer camera drones have become increasingly popular among the general public.

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) equipped with advanced imaging technology, such as ultrasonic, laser or lidar distance sensors, and stabilization and orientation sensors, form the backbone of a UAV topo survey. These cutting-edge sensors enable drones to capture high-resolution aerial imagery. Processing drone data transforms them into accurate detailed maps, digital terrain models and 3D models.

For instance, Real-Time Kinematic (RTK) technology enhances the precision of maps generated by land surveyors, making drone mapping an essential tool in various industries. Ground Control Points (GCPs) provide accurate reference points and checkpoints to maintain quality across a survey area.

Remote sensing technologies for drone mapping

Drone mapping surveys use remote sensing technologies to measure and monitor features from the air – drones, helicopters, aeroplanes and satellites being the main observation platforms. These technologies use light on the electromagnetic spectrum to take measurements. Surveyors use Light Distance and Ranging (LiDAR) and Photogrammetry (visible light) for measurements. Although, near-infrared along with thermal and multi-spectral cameras can be employed as well.

Photogrammetry for Drone Mapping

Drones have brought about a renaissance in Photogrammetry. Photogrammetry is a subset of Remote Sensing where visible light is captured with a camera. Photogrammetry then uses image overlap between multiple images to create a model of the landscape or object.

The origins of Photogrammetry stretch back over 100 years. Photogrammetry, until recently, has been limited to large-scale airborne flights using aeroplanes and helicopters. Yet, Advances in drone technology and the photogrammetry software behind them have revolutionized survey work.

Overlapping photographs are used to calculate 3d points in a sparse point cloud, and then a dense point cloud before a 3d mesh model is created. The final step is to apply textures to the model.

3d model view of drone land survey using photogrammetry and laser scan for land & measured building survey

Dense point cloud of a planning application site.

High quality textured model of a planning application site

High-quality textured model of a planning application site

Once the model has been created orthographic images can be exported for use in GIS and CAD software. From this, we can extract a Digital Surface Model (DSM) and a Digital Terrain Model (DTM).

Street scene of photogrammetry model to show the planning application site in context

Street scene of photogrammetry model to show the planning application site in context to its surroundings or setting

We digitize the model to produce a drone topographic survey which is comparable to a traditional ground-based land survey. To ensure a clean accurate model it means we have to follow a process to ensure complete coverage to produce a quality drone map. Our drone mapping services follow land surveying principles and are of a higher quality than simple drone mapping you might get from a drone pilot who isn’t a land surveyor. This rigorous approach allows us to vary the Level of Detail (LoD) to match your needs, maintaining accuracy & precision where it counts.

AI is used to classify the model and point cloud data. Classification allows us to extract a bare-earth model or Digital Terrain Model. Classification also allows power lines, buildings and trees to be isolated from the data and processed separately.

Drone quarry survey: Preview of ortho projection image and DSM altitude layer with scale
Drone quarry survey: Preview of ortho projection image and Digital surface model (DSM) altitude layer with scale

LiDAR for Drone Mapping

LiDAR stands for Light Detection and Ranging

Drone Surveying DJI M300 drone with L1 lidar scanner

Drone Surveying DJI M300 drone with L1 lidar scanner

LiDAR survey of a complex wooded lanscape showing hidden detail and topographical features beneath the tree canopy

‘Seeing’ inaccessible places hidden by vegetation with Lidar data makes valuable point clouds for drone mapping. In this example, bunds can be seen underneath the tree canopy. Gathering this data by traditional means would be very time-consuming.

AI classification of LiDAR data to identify individual trees

AI classification of LiDAR drone data to identify individual trees

ai classification of individual trees ftom a drone mapping Lidar survey

Cloud data with AI classification of individual trees

Drone mapping services

We are able to produce drone mapping surveys & models of ground survey-grade quality. We have a sound appreciation of data quality. Our skills as Land Surveyors, acquired with over 30 years of working in the trade, allow us to match the survey method to a client’s needs and specifications. For some projects, we can use the full range of methods and apply them to a project. We can combine photogrammetry data, Lidar data and ground survey data as required to produce a quality drone land survey or integrate the survey with a measured building survey for complete coverage of your project.

The most basic deliverable is a rectified and geo-referenced orthographic photograph of a project area. For construction monitoring/progression monitoring, this may be sufficient on its own. However, a drone land survey will take the 3d data created and convert that into a survey-grade topographical survey.

Drone Mapping Applications

Drone mapping has found widespread applications across diverse industries, including construction, mining, green energy, city planning, architecture, and entertainment. Drone mapping has a lot of applications, such as land surveying, roof inspections, bridge and building surveys, infrastructure maintenance, asset management, waste management and construction site monitoring. These are only some of the common uses of drone mapping.

A drone flying over a landscape, collecting data for drone mapping applications

For instance, in the mining sector, drone mapping is employed for stockpile management, water drainage, erosion detection, and pit and dump management. The use of drones in mining not only enhances safety but also generates cost savings and reduces the presence of personnel in hazardous areas. Read more about volume calculations for quarry and landfill management.

A quarry with many dangers for a traditional survey crew measuring volumes and site progress

A quarry with many dangers for a traditional survey crew measuring volumes and site progress.
A drone mapping survey is quicker, safer and more cost-effective with fewer boots on the ground.

The versatility of drone mapping is further augmented by the availability of various drone mapping software packages, which play a crucial role in processing and assembling drone data to generate maps and models. These software packages cater to specific industry needs, allowing professionals to tailor their drone mapping applications to suit their unique requirements.

Comparing Drone Mapping to Traditional Survey Methods

When comparing drone mapping to traditional survey methods, it becomes evident that drone mapping offers significant advantages in terms of cost, speed, and accuracy. For instance, a high-end surveying drone is capable of providing absolute accuracy of 1 cm (0.4 in). In terms of speed, drone mapping can deliver required outputs much faster than traditional methods, enabling industry professionals to make timely decisions and evaluate project progress more efficiently.

Nantmawr Quarry drone survey - aerial photograph

Complex data about the arrangement, topography, construction and landscape of a project can be gathered in hours not days. Survey crews would traditionally have to walk every square inch of a site

Moreover, drone mapping is typically more economical than traditional survey techniques, making it an attractive option for various industries looking to optimize their surveying and mapping processes. As drone technology continues to advance, it is expected that drone mapping will become an increasingly indispensable tool in the world of surveying and geospatial analysis.

Top 5 Drone Mapping Software Packages

To fully harness the power of drone mapping, it is essential to choose the right software package that best suits your needs. The top 5 drone mapping software packages include DJI Terra, Esri Site Scan for ArcGIS, DroneDeploy, Pix4D, and Agisoft. Each of these software packages offers a unique set of features and benefits that cater to the specific requirements of different industries. Free Open Source software is a available which is very capable too – WebODM, CloudComapre to name a couple. After extensive trials we have a robust workflow using the best software available to achieve the best results. Only software that supports our integrated survey approach to mapping made the grade.

drone land survey for a planning application- initial process and point cloud classification

After extensive testing we selected the right software package to deliver the best results for your projects supplying valuable insights and actionable information.

For example, DJI Terra is designed to provide users with a comprehensive 2D and 3D image creation experience, offering exceptional processing speeds and the ability to generate highly detailed 3D models. Esri Site Scan for ArcGIS, on the other hand, is a cloud-based software suite that provides a comprehensive drone mapping workflow, integrating seamlessly with other software platforms and offering capabilities such as drone flight planning, fleet management, image processing, and data analysis.

Drone mapping: choosing the right drone

Not all drones are created equal but they all have a role in drone mapping

The quality of a drone is of great importance for drone mapping, as it affects the precision of the collected data. High-quality drones are capable of capturing more intricate data, which can then be employed to construct more accurate maps.

Choosing the correct drone for the topographic survey required is important. The battery life, the camera type, wind resistance, flight height, ground sampling distance, the survey specification, and the site itself are all important considerations when choosing which drone to use on-site.

Having chosen the correct drone, using the correct payload to get optimal results for the drone topo. Accurate measurements can then be taken across the site or project of the correct precision to ensure you get the results you need.

We have a number of drones of various sizes and capabilities. Small drones can collect data for drone mapping in all the tightest places. Large drones with different payloads to collect data for drone mapping across small to large areas. Enterprise drone are the best for drone mapping being designed for that purpose and having quality sensors.

In conclusion, drone mapping has revolutionized the way industries approach surveying, planning, and analysis. By leveraging advanced drone technology and data processing techniques, drone mapping enables industry professionals to collect highly accurate data and create detailed visual representations of worksites, all while offering significant advantages in terms of cost, speed, and accuracy over traditional survey methods.


What is drone mapping?

Drone mapping, sometimes called drone topo surveying, is a powerful and efficient way to collect data from aerial views using unmanned aircraft systems. By capturing imagery of a given area, it can be used to generate orthomosaics, digital elevation models, 2d & 3d drawings with contour lines and triangle models, and even 3D models that are highly useful for analysis.
These models can be used for a variety of applications, such as surveying land, monitoring construction sites, and assessing environmental conditions.

What is the average cost of drone mapping?

The cost of drone mapping can range from £500 to £1,500 per day depending on the specific requirements. Factors like location, equipment, skills, and deliverables will affect the final price.

What is needed for drone mapping?

For successful drone mapping, a reliable drone with advanced features such as geotagging capabilities, a powerful onboard camera for capturing photos, and reliable GPS navigation is necessary.
Moreover, software tools are needed to stitch images together to create the finished map.

What is the purpose of using drones for mapping and GIS?

Using drones for GIS and mapping is an efficient way to collect data quickly. They provide accurate, up-to-date information for use in various types of geographic analysis. From terrain data to detailed street views, drones are a powerful tool for surveying large areas with great precision.
Drones are becoming increasingly popular for GIS and mapping applications. They are cost-effective, easy to use, and can cover large areas in a short amount of time.

Can you carry out White Label work for other survey companies?

Yes but it does depend on the task and the scope of the work required. Drop us a line to find out more

Can you help us set up a drone program for our own survey practice?

Yes we can but there would need to be some common understanding and trust for that to succeed. If you are a survey practice looking to start a drone program and want some help let us know

Safer, quicker & cheaper