The advances in drone technology are affecting countless industries in a variety of ways and land surveying is not exempt. From package delivery to surveillance and data gathering, drone surveying is fast becoming a tool that surveyors too are incorporating into their work. Drone precision and technology is advancing so quickly that a drone now has the potential to collect some of the data needed for completion of an ALTA survey quicker than conventional, on the ground total station collection.
Challenges to Using Drone Technology for Surveyors
Using these resources, a surveyor would still need to perform some “on the ground work” to uncover survey monuments, set control and tie into GPS coordinates. However, the drone could then be utilized to scan the property using technology such as LiDAR to pick up the ground control points and improvements. LiDAR (Light Imaging, Detection and Ranging) is a method that measures the distance to a target by illuminating that target with a pulsed laser light and measuring the reflected pulses with a sensor. The differences in the time it takes for the laser to return, and in the wavelengths, are then used to make digital 3D-representations of the target. Though extremely forward-thinking there are still some challenges in implementing drone technology for surveying.
Some of these challenges include licensing the drone, navigating FAA restrictions to obtain permits within certain airspace and surveying properties where a tree canopy deters data collection. A surveyor using drone technology must obtain a commercial drone license from the FAA and comply with all rules, restrictions and requirements set forth. In some cases, these rules may make utilization of the drone impractical for the property to be surveyed and conventional methods would then be performed.
Clients and surveyors have always had the opportunity to discuss alternative survey methods by addressing and discussing Optional Table A Item 15 of the Minimum Standard Detail Requirements. When utilized, the surveyor notes and reports the methods utilized on the ALTA Survey and includes a qualification statement regarding a negation of the precision requirement set forth in Section 3.E. of the standards. Most likely, the 2021 Standards for ALTA/NSPS Land Title Surveys will explore and include the newer technologies such as drones and LiDAR in detail as the precision capabilities are ever changing and more exacting.
Drones Spark Interest in Younger Generations of Surveyors
As a footnote, another benefit of the introduction of drones into surveying is that it is generating new interest in the industry. Over the last 30 years, there has been a steady decline of individuals pursuing a career as a Licensed Surveyor. All states now require a college degree to become a surveyor. Frequently those who obtain the degree then take a different career path for either monetary or professional reasons. When the education requirement was not necessary, an individual could obtain a surveyor’s license by sitting for and passing the state examination eliminating the time and expense of obtaining a college degree. This allowed the industry to employ many surveyors who ran small businesses with two or three employees who were experts in the field. Unfortunately, many of these small companies have closed and there aren’t many coming through the pipeline to fill the vacancies. The average age of a licensed surveyor is 55 and the number of individuals seated for licensing examinations at the state level has declined significantly. Fortunately, drones have sparked a new interest in the younger generation which will hopefully translate to more individuals pursuing a career in land surveying.