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Drone Mapping in Engineering & Surveying

Drone mapping and modeling is changing the way engineering and surveying professionals capture high quality data. It is now faster, cheaper, and easier to develop survey reports, engineering designs, and construction bids. LiDAR scanning and photogrammetry flown by drones is the ultimate way to meet the demands of the current engineering and surveying market.

DJI Mavic 3 Enterprise Hovering
Mavic 3 Enterprise Hovering

The Challenges of Data Collection

Traditional methods of topographical data capture come with many difficulties and limitations. Deploying ground crews to generate map data is not only highly time consuming, but it greatly increases costs and risk. Demanding more employees be hired, paid more hours, and putting more people at risk of injury. These factors threaten the profitability and timeliness of a project. In today’s fast-paced and highly competitive market, these are risks businesses must mitigate. 

You wouldn’t want to be here…

Surveyor in deep swamp

Previously, manned aircraft have been utilized to overcome these challenges for large areas. However, in many cases it’s hard to justify the use of these systems because they are extremely expensive. LiDAR payloads on a plane or helicopter are multimillion-dollar systems, and they charge hundreds of thousands of dollars to deploy. Only the largest sites can justify these expenses, and most projects will not meet these requirements.

Drone systems are the ultimate solution! 

Drones can capture data faster, cheaper, and with less manpower and risk. 

Let’s look at an example, creating a topo for a 100-acre property. Traditional survey ground crews have 2-4 people that can measure around 2-5 acres a day. That means it would take the ground crew 20 days to complete the data capture, in the best-case scenario. And the best-case scenario is almost never reality. Factoring in days off, weather and land features like mountains, cliffs, and swamps, it can take many weeks on top of that to finish. And then you must wait the weeks it takes to process all the data in the office.

Now compare that to a drone flying a LiDAR payload. The entire mission can be planned, flown, and delivered in as little as 1 day! Not only has so much time been saved but it’s also significantly cheaper and puts no personnel at risk. It gets even better because LiDAR delivers a lot more data than traditional survey methods. Up to hundreds of points per square foot which allows reports to be more accurate. And since it’s much easier to capture this data, maps can be flown at regular intervals, giving an up-to-date perspective on projects.

LiDAR vs Photogrammetry

There are two methods in which we can capture data for maps and models. Let’s explore each and see what the best uses are for each method.

Photogrammetry compared to LiDAR


Photogrammetry is the science of taking measurements from photos. Drones are equipped with high resolution cameras that can be programmed to take hundreds or thousands of photos in regular intervals. These photos are then processed in advanced software that stitches them together to create 2D & 3D maps and models. These deliverables can be tied to their location on earth and accurate measurements can be taken from them.

Photogrammetry is the cheapest and fastest method of map and model generation. Since it utilizes the typical RGB cameras we are familiar with, smaller and more accessible drones can be used to capture the data. However, there are limitations. Photogrammetry can only map what it can see, so areas concealed by vegetation cannot be visualized.


LiDAR stands for Light Detection and Ranging, it works by shooting millions of lasers pules a second to measure its surroundings. LiDAR has a distinct advantage over Photogrammetry, in the fact that a LiDAR scanner is an active sensor. Meaning it is sending out information and receiving returns, whereas a normal camera is just taking in the light that hits it. The benefit is that LiDAR can penetrate vegetation, so vast spans of forest can have ground topography captured with ease. LiDAR is also able to more accurately model small objects like power lines and utility cables. 

LiDAR is more expensive and requires more sophisticated drone systems than photogrammetry but compared to traditional methods it’s still a huge cost saver. LiDAR is often combined with photogrammetry to create colorized point clouds, making the LiDAR data easier to understand. LiDAR is the clear choice for those looking for high accuracy and vegetation penetration. But it’s not always the best choice for every occasion, photogrammetry is better for projects like roadways, where light is easily absorbed into the dark colored materials. Photogrammetry is also favored in some 3D model generations because it can be more visually appealing.

What deliverables do I get?

Both photogrammetry and LiDAR provide maps and models in various file formats that can easily be viewed, annotated, and imported to other software. This is part of the streamlined process drone mapping provides, allowing industry professionals like you to directly submit this data into CAD programs. Drone maps can also be overlayed with site plans, or planimetrics can be generated for existing sites. Some deliverables include: Orthomosaic Maps, Point Cloud Models, Contour Lines, Digital Terrain Models, Planimetrics, and more!

LiDAR Point Cloud of building
LiDAR Point Cloud

Planimetrics of suburban neighborhood.
Planimetrics of Neighborhood

Let’s get started!

Get started on your project by contacting us at the number below. Also check out our other resources on our website and social media…


Submit your project > Get proposal > Fly the Mission > Process the Data > Receive Deliverables

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