Can Surveyors Do More with Less by Using Drones?

In a recent interview with Commercial UAV News, Aerotas Co-Founder Daniel Katz discusses the crucial stakes for the Aerotas Mapping System -- and the drone industry writ large -- to solve a critical challenge in the land survey industry.

The land survey industry is in a unique and tenuous position. After the recession hit in 2008, a huge share of early-career surveyors left the industry -- they either fled to industries less prone to fluctuation, or else went back to school and became engineers (a bit more school in exchange for pay). But now the development and construction market is back with a vigor, with the 2017 construction season being higher than pre-2008 levels.

We are hearing the same stories from land surveyors around the country: they can't keep up with demand, are working 100+ hour weeks, and can't find anyone to hire. I have business owners telling me "if I could hire 5 crews right now, I would in a heartbeat." No one can find enough staff to keep up with current demand, and from everything we hear, 2018 is going to be even busier.

Even beyond this immediate short-term crisis is a bigger, longer-term existential one: the average age of a licensed surveyor in the US is between 57 and 60. There are not enough young surveyors to keep up as the older ones are retiring.

The industry desperately needs to change and evolve, to become focused on tools that enable businesses to run more efficiently and allow them to do more work with fewer people. Otherwise land surveying risks being a drag on the entire economy. This is where drones come in.

Read an excerpt of the interview below or the full text on the Commercial UAV News website. If you are ready to learn how you can grow your business without hiring, contact us about the Aerotas Mapping System.

Can Surveyors Do More with Less by Using Drones?

Being able to “do more with less” is practically a necessity, but how do you position that concept with surveyors who don’t think that’s possible? I imagine there are professionals who believe they’re already being as efficient as they can be, and if they had anything less they wouldn’t be able to do their job.

You are highlighting a definite challenge: helping survey business owners understand how to strategically do “more with less.”

First, it’s important to set some basic expectations: a drone is never going go replace a surveyor fully, nor eliminate the need for surveyors to put their boots on the ground on a project site. What it does, however, is dramatically reduce the amount of time they need to be on-site — that’s where that 90% time savings comes in.

There is definitely some “too good to be true” bias we face when introducing surveyors to our system, which usually boils down to two concerns: accuracy and total workload.

  1. Accuracy. The hype-storm of the drone industry led to some over-ambitious accuracy claims, complicated by drone makers not understanding how surveyors undersatnd accuracy. We have done exhaustive research and testing to support our system’s all-in accuracy as better than 0.1′ vertical — which is industry-best. This accuracy comes from comprehensive field testing and statistical analysis based on ASPRS Positional Accuracy Standards, not just ground sampling distance nor selective spot-checks.

  2. Workload: the 90% field time savings is real, and comes from being able to substitute a quick drone flight for the time-intensive process of walking a grid over an entire site. However, it still requires office-work to produce their final survey, and this is where many surveyors get burned, spending 2-3x longer in the office wrestling with image-stitching and CAD than they would have conventionally. Our system solves for this, by implementing a complete workflow that is surveyor-specific and side-steps the most time-intensive components. Our clients regularly report that they spend the same amount of time in the office as if they had done the same project conventionally. This usually equates to a total project savings of 50-65% man-hours.

Ultimately it all comes down to workflow. The drone is simply a tool that enables a new workflow — the drone may be the exciting part, but the right workflow is what makes it a profitable and effective tool.