Drones for Surveying

Improved Mapping and Surveying with UAV Technology From Microdrones

Sky High UAVs

Drone Surveying Equipment Deliver Practical and Highly Technical Mobile Mapping

The most rapid development in the UAV industry today is the dramatic improvements in GNSS/inertial for direct georeferencing (DG) and imaging sensors, purpose-built for mapping and surveying from UAVs.

By Brad Schmidt

Read the full article as published in xyHt November 2022 or the condensed version below:


Collecting imagery with uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs) is ideal for a variety of applications including topographic mapping, forestry ground, and canopy measurements, powerline corridor mapping, Digital Terrain Model (DTM) generation, high-resolution digital imagery, and orthophoto production, along with support for a variety of other mapping needs.

Historically, aerial surveys were performed only by large, crewed aircraft and not UAVs, due to the size-weight and power constraints of the professional sensor payloads that made them impossible for use on the smaller aircraft. Additionally, it was a challenge for the earlier UAVs carrying basic cameras to meet the requirements for measuring position and orientation with a high enough degree of accuracy to support surveying and mapping requirements, for example when georeferencing a point cloud data set. This meant a network of ground control points needed to be established for georeferencing, greatly increasing the cost.

The mdLiDAR1000HR


The most rapid development taking place in the UAV industry today is the dramatic improvements witnessed in new and improved GNSS/inertial for direct georeferencing (DG) and imaging sensors, purpose-built for mapping and surveying from UAVs. 

Red, green, and blue (RGB) cameras, for example, are continually evolving to hold smaller and lighter form factors, while seeing ongoing improvements in resolution and image quality. Some of these payloads, such as Phase One’s iXM 50 and 100 MP cameras are producing results superior to previous generations of medium-format metric sensors being flown onboard crewed aircraft.

Similarly, lidar sensors continue to improve with smaller more powerful point cloud imaging systems. High-end, compact, professional mapping lidars, such as those available from Riegl and GeoCue, are designed specifically for UAV platforms. 

These imaging sensors are integrated with next-generation, miniaturized yet full-featured GNSS/inertial systems for DG, and can achieve survey-grade accuracy without the use of ground control points. Furthermore, lidar systems are now being combined with RGB cameras to produce true color point clouds as the ultimate UAV surveying payload.

All these advancements can be expertly combined to produce results to meet project requirements, including accuracy, cost, and usability.

The mdMapper1000DG


Surveyors tasked with collecting and analyzing data from the field can face a myriad of challenges. From inclement weather to uneven terrain, paired with the added inefficiencies of inputting and then analyzing data, a standard survey project can easily extend to several days of work.

Utilizing a UAV to survey an area can be an alternative option to avoid demanding environments in the field. Microdrones, a leader in drone lidar and photogrammetry surveying equipment and software for geospatial collection and processing, was challenged to deliver point cloud data according to updated survey-grade standards.

Microdrones found a solution by adding high-accuracy DG of lidar data to its technology stack. DG directly measures the position and orientation of an airborne mapping sensor, such as a digital camera or a laser scanner. This makes it possible to assign a geographical location on the earth to a pixel from a camera image or a digital point from a laser without the need for any ground points or additional measurements referencing the ground. For this level of accuracy, Microdrones turned to Applanix, a Trimble company. As a prerequisite to implementation, Applanix needed to meet specific requirements to reduce the weight of the hardware, while keeping the accuracy and performance of the inertial measurement unit (IMU).

This integration of hardware and software solutions offered cost and time efficiencies in mobile mapping with UAVs. Microdrones could provide its geospatial customers with a fully integrated system to rapidly capture accurate lidar data for surveying, mining, construction, oil and gas, and precision agriculture industries. A simplified workflow involves flying the drone, uploading the data to the cloud for processing, and then downloading the final processed data—thus making it possible for users to access the most accurate and simplified georeferencing data available via post-mission production. A quick, uncomplicated, and inexpensive turnkey solution like this can make it easier and more affordable for surveyors to have access to everything needed for complex surveying work.

A point cloud created with drone LiDAR from Microdrones


Several scenarios exist where the risk posed to a survey crew is significant. One such example is seen in a section of lime-stone cliffs in France where the natural degradation can generate landslides and falling debris, threatening the land, roads, and people beneath.

Without the ability to map and accurately assess the stability of land formations, the management of this risk currently relies primarily on trajectory analysis. This consists of simulating falling rock masses from ridges to the valley floor, using calculations that consider the size, energy, and shape of the material. While this allows for some risk assessment, detailed and correct maps based on high-resolution UAV lidar DTM and integrity analysis is required for complete risk analysis.

The configuration and hazardous nature of the limestone terrain does not allow for crews to operate traditional survey equipment on the ground. Using a UAV lidar system enables the rapid generation of cost-effective, accurate DTM and 3D products. In addition, the data can be captured safely in what would be otherwise considered an unreachable area, along with the ability to perform repeat monitoring.

Drone Surveying Equipment can keep surveyors out of harm's way.


Impacting everything from how roads are built to extinguishing forest fires to managing the efficient growth of crops, UAVs deliver important information that can be difficult to obtain otherwise. And today’s technology is making it possible to achieve far superior results to other technologies in mapping and surveying. Using methods like DG combined with multiple sensor integrations, professional survey-grade aerial mapping systems for UAVs are becoming more widely available. This uncomplicated and inexpensive solution is not only practical in the ability to combine lightweight equipment specifically designed for airborne hardware, but also more affordable for companies of any size wanting to take on more challenging mobile mapping projects.

To learn how you can start putting UAV technology to work for your mapping and surveying needs, schedule a meeting with one of our knowledgeable sales managers today.