POB Column: From Drone to Drawing: the Full Workflow

In the conversations we have had with hundreds of land surveyors, civil engineers, and other mapping professionals about starting a drone program, we often see themes arise. One of the most problematic of these is the tendency of businesses to go about the process of setting up a drone program completely backwards. 

Though intuitive, it is not ideal to start building a drone program by selecting a drone. Instead, smart businesses start at the end: by specifying the deliverable they need and then identifying the workflow that will get them that deliverable in the most optimal way possible. This is the approach we took when designing our complete drone mapping solution, and several dozen clients benefit from it every day.

If a business starts by focusing on the drone without having determined the workflow, they risk purchasing the wrong drone, since it is the workflow that clarifies what the drone needs to be capable of. This is a recipe for headaches and wasted investment. In our most recent guest column in Point of Beginning, we outline the most effective workflow for drone mapping:

  1. Collect the right data in the field
  2. Stitch photos into an orthophoto and digital elevation model
  3. Extract survey surface and line-work from the 3D surface model

Step 3 is the most often overlooked, and the most critical. Read an excerpt from the article on this step below, or the full article on the POB website. To learn more about our approach to drone mapping, visit the Aerotas Mapping System page.

From drone to drawing: the full workflow

3) Extract survey surface and line-work from the 3D surface model

This last step is where we see many survey firms stumble when trying to build their own drone program. Though 3D modeling programs like Civil3D are technically able to handle any 3D file, they are not designed for the large and detailed drone-generated surface models, and are thus slow and cumbersome. This is where post-processing solutions like the Virtual Surveyor software included in the Aerotas Mapping System come in.

This post-processing software allows a surveyor to effectively conduct a survey as if they were in the field, but do so directly on the digital surface model. The surveyor takes survey points by simply clicking on the digital surface, and each point is recorded by the software as a set of coordinates. Survey points can be collected in layers that match the surveyor’s Civil3D (or Carlson, or other) layering conventions. This way, when these points are exported from Virtual Surveyor, they open in Civil3D as if from standard GPS rover or total station equipment. Virtual Surveyor even allows for creating exportable 3D poly-lines, TINs, and contours, meaning that the complete line-work can be finished in that software.