Less Buck, More Bang: Surveying with Drones is a Game Changer for Real Estate Developers

Updated: Mar 30

The following is a guest post by Jason Worley, CEO & Co-founder of Asset Drone.

For real estate and land developers, drone surveys have opened up a world of options. Drone imagery has changed the front end of the project, offering highly accurate and detailed photographs and videos that give the total view of an entire expanse of property. This information can be retrieved within days rather than weeks, so that a developer with just an idea can validate the vision of the project before spending any more time or money.

Less Buck, More Bang

No developer can justify spending tens of thousands of dollars to stake acreage for development, or to commission aerial photography by plane, until the project feasibility is fully assured. But for a fraction of the cost of traditional survey means, developers can use drone services to survey a large land parcel to determine if it will fit their needs, before investors are even on board.

The envisioning stage of a project has always been hindered by reliance on old surveys or the lack of sufficient detail from aerial and satellite imagery. How much time and money do you tie up in an idea, to get to the stage of knowing it will be profitable? Drones now supply superior detail and accuracy up-front to identify more opportunities, and reveal more pitfalls, within an area.

While it now costs much less to survey specific parcels that a developer is interested in, using drones allows developers to take a deeper look at more parcels up-front. If you look at more parcels, you will always make a better land purchase. A drone can survey a 100-acre property in three days for a few thousand dollars.

One or two parcels thus become five or 10 properties under consideration. Big IS better when it means finding that perfect site for development. Using high-accuracy topography and orthomosaic maps from qualified drone companies can make this a reality.

The envisioning stage of every project involves a feasibility study across a number of fields, from funding to approval, to construction to ultimate return on investment. All the professionals involved in this process – from contractors to zoning boards, county authorities and local inspectors, and from investors to architects – will look at photographs first as the realistic view before moving on to any of the detailed drawings.

Drones can quickly and affordably fly over areas of varied terrain and capture potentially millions of data points for later software manipulation, all the while bringing back superb, high-resolution photographs that present all this data in a way that humans can immediately relate to.

Survey Accuracy

While drone affordability and rapid delivery time make drone surveys a game changer in the initial thinking and investment stages, the great feature of drone imagery lies in its accuracy, which benefits subsequent development work. Photographs and videos present a mass of data in a clear way, but engineers need drawings and measurements.

As planning evolves, the data returned from the initial drone survey can be overlaid into maps, topographic contour lines and even 3D models. These output files can be imported as shape-files, Autocad/DXF files and other industry-standard formats, integrating right into your existing workflow. Because the drone can fly close to the ground, and can maneuver dexterously around structures, true oblique imagery is returned showing side features that can’t be captured from higher above by satellite or plane.

Assuming the data commissioned is dense enough, drone survey images will be orthorectified to match not only their map coordinates but the elevations at each point also. Orthomosaic mapping results, with all images stitched into a coherent whole. Drainage and elevation calculations can be made from drawings all produced at scale across the parcel.

The great bonus of the drone is that its spectacular photography is also accurate enough to offer precise measurements, to within centimeters or finer. Many times, depending on the level of service commissioned, the exploratory survey data can be incorporated into the eventual construction work.

The Industry

The skill sets of a drone company and a survey firm are quite different, and as the field of drone surveying evolves, developers are using specialized drone service companies that also work extensively with surveyors. Piloting drones and investing in their rapid technological innovations typically takes a specialized drone company, while surveying is a professional skill. The two fields are synergizing well together, and real estate development loves it.

To gain a clear vision of our land we once had to go to the mountain top. Then we had planes, and then we had satellites, and now finally drones have supplied the missing piece of land development. Land surveying, and real estate developers, were always waiting for drones.

Worley, Jason. “Less Buck, More Bang: Surveying with Drones Is a Game Changer for Real Estate Developers.” Drone Life, 14 June 2018, dronelife.com/2018/06/14/less-buck-more-bang-surveying-with-drones-is-a-game-changer-for-real-estate-developers/.

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