The Best Drone For Land Surveying

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The Best Drone For Land Surveying

THE BEST DRONE FOR LAND SURVEYING

Q4 2020 Update

At Aerotas, our primary focus is processing the drone data that surveyors collect in the field. Aerotas does not make any drone hardware, nor do we have an exclusive relationship with any drone manufacturer. Aerotas has formed opinions about the best drones for land surveying due to processing tens of thousands of drone survey projects that have been flown with hundreds of different drones. Thousands of surveyors and civil engineers use Aerotas to process drone-collected data, and this is what we have learned from seeing all of these drone platforms in action.

( the copyright of the post belongs to the market research group linked below, and had been used here as a demo purpose only)

One of the most common questions we get is, what is the best drone for surveying?
Well, the answer depends on your business. Companies with different types of jobs and different budgets will have different drones that work best for them.

If the stated goal is to produce a topographic or planimetric survey, then these are the drones that Aerotas recommends. Aerotas does not base our recommendations solely on which drone has the best specs. Before making a recommendation, we consider several factors: reliability, usability in the field, data quality, the complexity of processing the data, and value (how quickly can you see a return on investment).


OUR TOP PICK / BEST OVERALL: DJI PHANTOM 4 RTK

The DJI Phantom 4 RTK remains the best overall drone for land surveying on the market right now. The camera is of high quality, the RTK capability leads to very high accuracy, and it is highly reliable and easy to use. Since DJI released the Phantom 4 RTK, advances in RTK and PPK processing have further improved this system’s overall value by allowing for larger projects with higher accuracy and less ground control than ever before. The main advantage of the Phantom 4 RTK, when compared to the Phantom 4 Pro V2.0, is that you will need to shoot far fewer ground control points to achieve 0.1’ vertical accuracy. Fewer ground control points translate to significant time savings in the field. As before, where the Phantom 4 RTK outshines the competition is its reliability and ease of use. While considerably more expensive than non-RTK enabled drones, its cost is a fraction of what you might spend on other RTK surveying drones. The fantastic overall balance of accuracy, reliability, and value wins our top pick as the best drone for land surveying.

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BEST HIGH-END:
DJI M300 RTK + P1 & L1

Many people have been drawn to the DJI M300 series because of its rugged airframe and interchangeable payloads, and camera system capability. But, until very recently, none of those camera systems were suitable for surveying applications. That has all changed with the release of the Zenmuse P1 photogrammetry sensor and Zenmuse L1 LiDAR sensor. These sensors are due to be released in early 2021, and all indications point to them being some of the best payloads available for drone surveying. However, they are not without compromise. The sensors, combined with the M300 platform, will be quite expensive, and the overall workflow, from flight planning to data processing, is likely to be considerably more complex. Ultimately, first-party LiDAR integration is new for drone surveying, and this setup will likely end up being the highest data-quality option available. Read more: Article on Zenmuse P1 & L1.

Contact us to request a quote or pre-order your M300 RTK system.


BEST ENTRY-LEVEL:
DJI PHANTOM 4 PRO V2.0

The Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 is the best non-RTK drone for the creation of topographic and planimetric surveys. This platform is cost-effective, easy to use, durable, and dependable. The Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 is the best non-RTK drone for surveying because it just works. The main drawback of the Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 is that it has consumer-grade GPS, so you need a lot of ground control to anchor and correct the model; the quantity and distribution of ground control are critical to achieving survey-grade accuracy with this drone. On smaller 5 acre sites, the difference between the Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 and the Phantom 4 RTK is negligible in terms of the number of control points needed and time saved. But, as the site’s size increases (e.g., 20+ acre sites), the Phantom 4 RTK quickly differentiates itself. Read more: Comparing the Phantom 4 RTK and the Phantom 4 Pro V2.0. You will get 0.1′ vertical accuracy with the Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 and the Phantom 4 RTK because they have the same 1-inch 20MP CMOS sensor with a mechanical shutter.

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BEST FIXED-WING:
SENSEFLY EBEE X + SENSEFLY S.O.D.A.

Fixed-wing drones have always been a niche in the drone surveying market, but they provide immense value if you fit into that niche. If a typical site is above 50 acres, then using a fixed-wing aircraft will save a lot of time, and the senseFly eBee X is the best of the fixed-wing aircraft out there. We recommend the senseFly eBee X with RTK/PPK Activation paired with the senseFly S.O.D.A. 1-inch 20MP sensor. With high quality, swappable payloads, the data quality is excellent. The only downsides are the price and the inability to fly small sites or at low altitudes — fixed-wing aircraft just cannot fly low and slow.


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OTHER DRONE SYSTEMS

Aerotas is frequently asked about the following drone systems. While these drones were not among our top picks, we have provided our thoughts on these select drone platforms below.


DJI MAVIC 2 PRO

For land surveying, the Mavic 2 Pro provides significantly worse overall accuracy and reliability than the Phantom 4 Pro. A combination of image quality and geolocation issues make the Phantom 4 series far superior to any of the Mavics for survey purposes. Plus, the geolocation issues with the Mavic 2 Pro lead to longer data processing times. While camera specifications look similar, the Mavic 2 Pro has a linear rolling shutter (vs. the global mechanical shutter on drones like the Phantom 4 Pro series). This shutter makes a significant difference when it comes to mapping accuracy. The Mavic 2 Pro is a perfectly good drone for site photography, imagery, and video, so long as you don’t need high accuracy. But if survey-grade accuracy is your goal, avoid the Mavic 2 Pro and stick with the Phantom 4 Pro instead.

Learn More >

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YUNEEC H520
NOT MADE BY DJI

The Yuneec H520 has attracted a small fan base simply because it is an affordable, mapping capable drone that is not made by DJI. The H520 with its E90 sensor is very comparable in mapping performance to the Mavic 2 Pro, but it is much larger. It suffers from issues with its rolling shutter camera and cannot provide the same level of accuracy or ease of use as the Phantom 4 Pro. If DJI equipment is not allowed, you can use the H520, but the accuracy will not be as good as comparable DJI products.

Learn More >


DJI MINI 2 | MAVIC AIR 2 |
MAVIC MINI

Many people like the very small, lightweight, and portable form factor of these drones that DJI makes. And while that is great, they simply don’t make for good drones for land surveying. The cameras simply aren’t high enough quality to get survey-grade accuracy out of a final deliverable. These drones are super fun to fly and take great-looking photos. The Mavic Mini is a staff favorite here at Aerotas for flying around and taking pictures. However, they simply do not work for land surveying.

Learn More >

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M210 RTK V2 + ZENMUSE X7 + 24MM

The DJI M210 RTK V2 was once the best high-end commercial photogrammetry drone, but the M300 RTK has surpassed it because DJI released the Zenmuse P1 image sensor. The M210 RTK V2 is still a great aircraft with swappable payloads and fully capable of collecting survey-grade data when paired with the X7 sensor and a 24mm lens. But, the M300 RTK is simply better across the board.

Learn More >


INSPIRED FLIGHT IF750
AMERICAN-MADE AND FULLY-COMPLIANT

Some clients require an NDAA-Compliant drone that is entirely manufactured in the USA to fly sensitive sites, critical infrastructure, and military bases. If that is your situation, the Inspired Flight IF750 quadcopter paired with a Sony Rx1R II (42.4 MP) or Sony A6500 (24 MP) and Trimble MB-Two RTK GNSS is a very appealing choice. This drone is fully compliant with the National Defense Authorization Act Section 848, which prohibits procurement and operation of foreign-made unmanned aircraft systems, allowing it to be used on very sensitive and secure projects. While this drone can provide excellent results when used correctly, it is a very complex and expensive system with a steeper learning curve than other DJI projects. But, if you have to have a fully compliant American-Made drone with transparency into sourcing, this is likely the right one to get.

Learn More >

( the copyright of the post belongs to the market research group linked below, and had been used here as a demo purpose only)

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Author Since: September 16, 2021

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