How I conduct My Drone Surveys

How To Conduct A Drone Survey | My Guide For 2024

To conduct a drone survey, start by defining your objectives and obtaining necessary approvals. Choose the right drone and equipment for the job, and acquire insurance. Plan your flight mission and set up ground control points. After flying the mission, transfer the raw data and process it using specialized software.

Check the accuracy and quality of the data before exporting final deliverables. Create a summary report to deliver to your client or stakeholders.

By following these steps, you’ll be well on your way to executing a successful drone survey. Let’s explore each step in more detail.

Me checking out my yuneec dji alternative drone

Define Objectives and Area of Interest

Before launching your drone, clearly define the survey’s objectives and carefully delineate the area of interest to make certain you collect the right data.

What’s the purpose of your survey? Are you inspecting a construction site, mapping vegetation, or evaluating storm damage?

Nailing down the specifics upfront will save you time and headaches later.

Once you’ve got your objectives sorted, it’s time to establish the boundaries of your survey area. This could be a single property, a stretch of coastline, or even an entire city block.

drone photogrammetry 17 11zon

Use maps, GPS coordinates, or good old-fashioned landmarks to define the perimeter. Don’t forget to account for any obstacles or restricted airspace that might impact your flight path.

When you’re clear on what you need to achieve and where you need to fly, you can start planning the detailed details of your survey.

This includes choosing the right drone and camera, determining the best flight altitude and pattern, and figuring out how many images you’ll need to capture to get the desired level of detail and accuracy.

drone pilot skykam 11 11zon

Obtain Approvals and Permissions

To legally fly your drone for a survey, you’ll need to secure the necessary approvals and permissions from the FAA. First, you must obtain a Remote Pilot Certificate by passing the Aeronautical Knowledge Test and completing the certification process.

This certificate proves that you understand the regulations and procedures for operating drones safely.

Next, you’ll need to get approval for flying in controlled airspaces.

The FAA’s LAANC system provides near real-time automated approvals for certain areas, but others require a manual authorization process that can take up to 90 days.

Be sure to clearly define your proposed flight area, maximum altitude, and operation details in your request.

Remember, compliance with US drone laws is essential. Always maintain visual line of sight, fly below 400 feet, and steer clear of restricted areas. Trust me, getting these approvals and permissions sorted out beforehand will save you a lot of headaches down the road.

Think of it as a friendly chat with the FAA. They just want to make sure you’re on the same page when it comes to safety.

Once you’ve got the green light, you’ll be ready to take your survey to new heights – literally!

drone batteries and sensors 29 11zon

Choose the Right Drone and Equipment

Now that you’ve got the FAA’s blessing, it’s time to pick the perfect drone and gear for your survey mission.

First off, make sure your drone has enough juice to cover the whole survey area without needing a million battery swaps.

Something like the DJI Phantom 4 RTK can give you around 30 minutes of flight time, while the M300 RTK can keep you in the air for up to 55 minutes.

Next, check that your drone can handle the payload you need, like high-res cameras, thermal sensors, or LiDAR systems.

The M300 RTK, for example, can carry up to 2.7kg and mount three payloads at once. And speaking of cameras, go for the highest resolution you can get for those crisp, detailed images.

The Phantom 4 RTK rocks a 20MP camera, and the M300 supports some sweet Zenmuse camera payloads, like the 48MP Zenmuse P1.

If you want to get really precise with your surveying, look for drones with Real-Time Kinematic (RTK) technology.

It’ll bump up your positioning accuracy to centimeter-level precision.

Both the Phantom 4 RTK and M300 RTK have built-in RTK modules, so you’re covered there.

Lastly, if you need some 3D point cloud data, think about drones that play nice with LiDAR sensors, like the Zenmuse L1 that works with the M300 RTK.

Take your time, weigh your options, and pick the drone setup that’ll make your survey mission a success.

crashed drone 7 11zon

Acquire Drone Insurance

You’ll want to get your drone insured before taking off on any surveying missions to protect yourself and your business from potential liabilities.

While the FAA doesn’t legally require drone insurance for recreational or commercial use, it’s highly recommended for businesses.

Most job sites and companies will mandate at least $1 million in liability coverage before they’ll hire you as a drone operator.

Liability coverage protects you from third-party claims for property damage, injuries, or privacy invasion caused by your drone operations.

Limits can range from $500,000 to $10 million or higher, depending on the project requirements. Hull coverage is also available to insure the physical drone against loss, theft, or damage, with premiums typically 10% of the drone’s value.

You can choose between on-demand insurance providers like SkyWatch, which offer hourly liability coverage from $10/hour through mobile apps, or annual policies that may be more cost-effective for frequent commercial operations.

Premiums will vary based on factors like drone type, industry, location, accident history, deductibles, and operator training, so it’s a good idea to shop around and compare policies.

Many job sites and clients will require proof of adequate insurance coverage before hiring you, so having an on-demand app can be convenient for instant policy access.

By securing appropriate drone insurance tailored to your operations, you can mitigate risks, comply with client requirements, and guarantee financial protection for your drone surveying business.

weighted landing pad

Plan Flight Mission and Ground Control Points

With your drone insurance secured, the next step is planning your flight mission and ground control point placement to guarantee accurate data capture.

Trust me, taking the time to properly plan is absolutely essential for a successful drone survey.

First, you’ll want to use a flight planning software like Pix4Dcapture or DroneDeploy. These tools will help you create the perfect flight path, set the right image overlap (aim for 75-80% front and side overlap), and figure out the best flight altitude based on the accuracy you need.

Next, it’s all about those ground control points (GCPs).

drone gear in scottish highlands 2 4 11zon

You’ll want to place at least 3-5 of them throughout your survey area, making sure they’re visible from multiple angles. And don’t forget to measure their exact coordinates using an RTK/PPK GNSS receiver – precision is key!

Once you’ve got your GCPs sorted, the software will generate an automated flight plan that optimizes the path for efficient data capture.

It’ll make sure you get the right overlap, altitude, and GCP distribution for high-quality data that’ll give you accurate photogrammetric mapping and 3D modeling.

James Leslie Drone Pilot

Pre-Flight Checks

Always conduct a thorough pre-flight check before launching your drone to guarantee a safe and successful survey mission. Start by inspecting your drone for any signs of damage or wear, paying close attention to the propellers, motors, and camera gimbal.

Make sure your batteries are fully charged, and don’t forget to charge your remote controller and mobile device too.

It’s a good idea to carry extra propellers and batteries, just in case.

Next, verify that your drone’s firmware is up to date, and check that you have enough space on your SD card for all the data you’ll be collecting. Confirm that your drone has a strong GPS connection and that the compass is properly calibrated.

This will secure accurate navigation and data collection during your survey.

Before heading out, always review the weather conditions using a reliable source like You’ll want to avoid strong winds, rain, or other adverse conditions that could impact your drone’s performance or safety.

drone gear in scottish highlands 6 11zon

Set Up Ground Control Points

Place high-quality ground control point (GCP) markers at strategic locations to guarantee your drone survey is accurately georeferenced.

You’ll want to choose spots that are easily visible from the air, so steer clear of areas with trees or buildings blocking the view. Opt for markers with distinct patterns like checkerboards, and make sure they’re firmly secured to prevent any shifting.

When it comes to distributing your GCPs, aim for even coverage across the survey site.

Position them at the corners and center, and if you’re dealing with varying elevations, include points at the highest and lowest points. As a general rule, you’ll need at least five GCPs for a medium-sized area, and try to keep them no more than 400 meters apart.

Just remember, while it’s important to have enough GCPs, you don’t want to go overboard and cluster them too closely together. It’s all about striking that perfect balance!

drone pilot 12 11zon

Connect To RTK Base Station

To ensure your drone captures highly precise location data during the survey, you’ll need to connect it to an RTK base station.

Start by setting up your RTK base, like the Reach RS2/RS2+, on a tripod with an unobstructed view of the sky.

Fire up the Emlid Flow app and connect to your Reach device.

If you’re going for a local setup without internet, choose the Local NTRIP option in the Base output settings.

Make sure your drone controller is on the same Wi-Fi network as the base – no long-distance relationship drama here!

For internet-based setups, use Emlid Caster to get your NTRIP credentials. Plug those into the Emlid Flow app and connect your base to the world wide web.

On your drone controller, navigate to the RTK settings, select Custom network RTK, and enter the NTRIP credentials. Once you’re connected, double-check that your drone has a clear view of the sky. You don’t want any trees or buildings photobombing your survey!

With everything set up, you’re ready to take off and capture those geotagged images.

Just remember, the RTK base station is your drone’s reliable companion, providing the accurate location data needed for excellent survey results.

abort drone flight 1

Fly The Drone Mission

Now that you’re connected to the RTK base station, it’s time to take flight and execute your meticulously planned drone mission.

Fire up your drone and let it soar, but remember to keep your eyes on the prize – maintaining visual line of sight at all times.

Safety first, right?

As you guide your drone through the predetermined flight path, make sure it’s capturing all the necessary images and data.

The RTK connection should help keep things precise, but it never hurts to double-check. And hey, while you’re at it, take a moment to appreciate the bird’s-eye view.

It’s not every day you get to see the world from a drone’s perspective!

Throughout the mission, stay alert and adhere to all safety regulations. Keep an eye out for any potential hazards or obstacles that might pop up unexpectedly.

If anything seems off, don’t hesitate to make adjustments or even abort the mission if necessary.

Better safe than sorry!

As you wrap up the flight and bring your drone back home, take pride in knowing you’ve successfully completed another step in the drone survey process.

With the images and data safely stored, you’re well on your way to creating some impressive and informative deliverables.

Just remember, flying the mission is only half the battle – there’s still plenty of work ahead to process and analyze all that valuable information you’ve collected.

But for now, give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done!

repair drones 17 11zon

Transfer The Raw Data From The Drone To The Computer

With your drone mission completed, it’s time to transfer the raw data from the drone to your computer for processing. The first step is to power off your drone and remove the SD card that contains all the captured data.

Make sure you handle the SD card carefully to avoid any damage or data corruption.

Next, grab an SD card reader and connect it to your computer. Pop the SD card into the reader, and your computer should recognize it as an external storage device. Open up your file explorer and navigate to the SD card’s directory.

You should see folders with labels like dates or mission names that contain your survey data.

Now, create a designated folder on your computer where you want to store the data. Then, simply copy the relevant folders from the SD card to your computer’s storage.

It’s always a good idea to double-check that all the files have been transferred successfully before formatting or reusing the SD card.

If your drone supports direct USB connection, you can skip the SD card step altogether. Just connect your drone to the computer using a USB cable, and access the data directly from the drone’s storage.

This method might be a bit slower, but it’s a convenient alternative if you don’t have an SD card reader handy.

Once the data is on your computer, you’re all set to begin processing and analyzing it.

Just remember to keep your data organized and backed up for safekeeping!

drone software survey processing2

Upload and Begin Processing the Data Using Software

Once you’ve transferred your drone survey data to your computer, import the images into photogrammetry software like Pix4D, Agisoft Metashape, or DroneDeploy to begin processing.

The software will guide you through the steps, but here’s a general overview of what to expect.

First, create a new project and add your images. Double-check that the correct camera model and coordinate system are selected.

Then, let the software perform its initial processing magic, which includes extracting and matching keypoints across the images.

Next, the software will generate a dense point cloud, a digital surface model (DSM), and an orthomosaic. The dense point cloud is a 3D representation of the surveyed area, while the DSM shows the elevation of the surface, including objects like trees and buildings.

The orthomosaic is a high-resolution, geometrically corrected aerial image created by stitching together the individual photos.

Take some time to review the outputs and make any necessary adjustments. You might need to tweak settings or remove low-quality images to improve the results.

Once you’re satisfied with the quality and accuracy, you can move on to analyzing the data and creating the final deliverables, such as maps, 3D models, or measurements.

drone software survey processing1 1

Process LiDAR Data (if applicable)

LiDAR data processing transforms raw point clouds into valuable 3D insights, but it’s an optional step that applies only if your drone survey included LiDAR data collection.

If you’ve got LiDAR data to work with, here’s what you’ll need to do:

First, transfer the data from your drone to your computer. You’ll need specialized software like Leica Cyclone, Terrasolid, or Pix4D to handle the processing.

Start by creating a LAS dataset and importing your LiDAR data into the software.

Next, you’ll want to clean up the data by removing any noise and classifying the point cloud. This means identifying ground points, buildings, and other features. Use the classified ground points to generate a Digital Elevation Model (DEM) and extract 2D building footprints if needed.

Finally, use your software’s tools to generate a detailed 3D point cloud.

This is where the magic happens!

You can analyze and visualize this point cloud for all sorts of applications, like urban planning, terrain modeling, and environmental monitoring.

Processing LiDAR data takes some specialized knowledge and tools, but it’s well worth the effort. The highly accurate 3D models you’ll generate can provide insights that traditional surveying methods simply can’t match.

drone operator

Check Data Accuracy and Quality

After processing your drone survey data, it’s important to conduct quality control checks to guarantee the accuracy and completeness of the final products.

Start by using survey checkpoints to validate the data accuracy. Place these checkpoints in the survey area and compare their known coordinates with the coordinates derived from your drone data to calculate the Root Mean Square Error (RMSE).

This will give you a good idea of how accurate your data is.

Next, review the data thoroughly for any gaps or inconsistencies. Use software tools to help you identify and correct errors.

If you’ve collected LiDAR data, apply QA/QC protocols like noise filtering, point cloud classification, and cross-referencing with ground truth data. This will ensure your data is clean and reliable.

Don’t forget to regularly calibrate your equipment and use high-precision GNSS receivers to enhance accuracy. It’s also critical to maintain a consistent and repeatable data processing workflow.

Document all the steps you take during the survey and processing phases to maintain transparency and traceability.

James Leslie Flying A drone

Export Final Deliverables

Export your processed drone survey data into the required file formats to share the final deliverables with stakeholders and import them into other analysis tools.

After you’ve processed your collected data using photogrammetry software, it’s time to navigate to the export options within the program.

For orthomosaic maps, you’ll want to select the GeoTIFF format (.tiff) to guarantee you’re getting high-resolution georeferenced images.

If you need 3D point clouds, opt for the LAS or LAZ formats, which are the standard for LiDAR data and work well with most GIS and CAD software.

When it comes to 3D mesh models, your best bet is to export in OBJ or FBX formats, as they’re widely used for 3D modeling and visualization.

Just make sure you configure the export settings to match the required coordinate system and resolution – you don’t want any surprises later on!

Once you’ve got your settings dialed in, save the exported files to your computer and give them a quick once-over to verify their integrity.

Trust me, it’s better to catch any issues now before you share them with stakeholders or try to import them into other analysis tools.

With your final deliverables exported and ready to go, you can pat yourself on the back for a job well done – your drone survey is complete!

Me checking out my yuneec dji alternative drone

Create Summary Report

Crafting a thorough summary report is the final step in your drone survey journey, allowing you to share the project’s methodology, findings, and conclusions with stakeholders. Start by clearly stating the survey’s objective and scope, so everyone’s on the same page.

Then, delve into the details of the equipment you used – the drone model, cameras, sensors, and any advanced tools like RTK or PPK systems.

Paint a picture of your survey methodology, covering flight planning, ground control point setup, and data acquisition procedures.

Next, guide your readers through the data processing steps.

Explain how you imported images into photogrammetry software, generated orthomosaics, 3D models, or point clouds, and any quality control measures you took to ensure accuracy.

Now, it’s time to showcase your findings! Use visual aids like maps, 3D models, and graphs to highlight key insights and measurements.

Don’t just throw numbers around; provide context and analysis to help stakeholders understand the significance of your data.

Wrap up your report with a discussion of any observed trends, potential issues, and recommendations for future actions or studies.

Remember, the goal is to inform and guide decision-making, so keep it clear, concise, and technically sound.

With a well-crafted summary report, you’ll leave stakeholders impressed and well-equipped to take the next steps based on your drone survey results.

drone contour photogrammetry 1

Deliver to Client/Stakeholders

Your hard work culminates in the crucial step of delivering the drone survey results to your client or stakeholders, ensuring they receive the insights they need to make informed decisions.

When sharing the results, use high-quality visuals like orthomosaic maps, 3D models, and other visual aids created with tools like Pix4D or DroneDeploy.

These will help clearly illustrate the survey findings. If possible, provide access to interactive platforms like Propeller, allowing clients to explore the data themselves and boosting engagement.

Don’t forget to create a detailed report that summarizes the survey methodology, equipment used, data processing steps, and key findings.

Use annotated maps and graphs to support the narrative and highlight the most critical insights. Compare the results to traditional methods to emphasize the benefits of drone surveying.

Remember to use secure methods when sharing sensitive data and adhere to data privacy regulations. If needed, rebrand the reports to reflect the client’s branding.


You’re all set to conduct your drone survey! Remember, planning is key – define your objectives, obtain permissions, choose the right equipment, and guarantee data quality.

Once you’ve completed the flight mission, export the deliverables and create a summary report for your client or stakeholders.

With careful preparation and execution, you’ll be able to deliver accurate, high-quality results that meet everyone’s needs.

Good luck, and happy flying!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *