Jazee

States Cracking Down on Drone Surveying Services? Where do you draw the line?

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There's been some discussion on the potential need for a Land Surveyor License to provide drone surveying and mapping service.  I saw somewhere that recently the State of California was cracking down on this.  Just got a call from an investigator from my state wanting to learn more about my surveying and mapping service.  Sounded like an older guy and thereby my hunch was this was all new to him.  He came across as genuinely curious, not like it was a sting operation.  Coincidentally this happened shortly after we started advertising on the Internet. May have rubbed one or more existing Land Surveyors the wrong way prompting a call to our department of licensing.

I explained to him that we make it explicit to all our customers that we are not land surveyors and that we just collect image data that can be used to produce things that land surveyors produce but we don't provide drafting services, and we cannot and do not certify the accuracy of our data for use in land surveying and mapping.  We work with land surveyors unwilling to this point to add a drone to their toolbox, to help them and the customer save time and money.

Here's the interesting gray area though.  In some states I believe the law is worded to define land surveying as any service that provides spatial measurements of land.  This linked in article talks about it and has actual wording from various states:

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/uas-mapping-surveying-license-required-ananda-fowler/

The big unanswered question for me though is what if the customer acknowledges they aren't looking for anything very precise?  Obviously, an orthomosaic photo of a land area would be okay in my mind.  But what if they want a contour map that just estimates/approximates land contours for their own information and the map isn't going to be part of any deliverable certified by a land surveyor?  Technically, that's still providing a service for measurement of land.  

So maybe the answer for now is, it depends on the state's wording and how vigorous they are going to try to enforce it or interpret it.

My response was that we make it explicit to anyone we work with that we are not land surveyors and do not provide certification or any other guarantees as to the data accuracy for land surveying and mapping purposes in any situation. That is the responsibility of a licensed land surveyor that the customer chooses to work with."  But what if they just want an orthomosaic with precise absolute geolocation data so we subcontract a land surveyor to lay down the ground control points, but the ortho isn't going to be used in any legal document or certified land surveying map?  Same thing for something like a topo contour map.

So what do people think, as long as the disclaimer is made to the customer and the deliverable, if its a map, DEM, DSM, etc, isn't used as part of a drawing stamped by a licensed surveyor without a disclaimer, is everything kosher?  I talked to one licensed Land Surveyor who said it is not uncommon to include information in their drawings that are for informational purposes only and are not suitable for making measurements with "survey grade" accuracy. 

I really hope smaller Land Surveying outfits or individuals look at us as a boon to save them the hassle of learning to operate and maintain a drone, as opposed to being a competitor.

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15 hours ago, Jazee said:

I explained to him that we make it explicit to all our customers that we are not land surveyors and that we just collect image data that can be used to produce things that land surveyors produce but we don't provide drafting services, and we cannot and do not certify the accuracy of our data for use in land surveying and mapping.

I explain that to every architect and civil engineer that we send utility data to and somehow that does not translate into their language. They still try and pass the information off as gospel and when it bites them, point the finger back at us and it suddenly becomes my fault that they didn't perform their own discovery required by their contract. Even a disclaimer and watermark on all of our deliverables doesn't deter them. So we quit providing any data other than points and polylines and no attribute data. 

" But what if they just want an orthomosaic with precise absolute geolocation data so we subcontract a land surveyor to lay down the ground control points, but the ortho isn't going to be used in any legal document or certified land surveying map?  Same thing for something like a topo contour map."

You can't provide a service like that without a license even if the control points were shot in by an RPLS. YOU aren't an RPLS and you can't stamp the documents. You CAN set your own control with a mapping-grade GPS and provide a "relatively" accurate product (20mm - 2-3cm depending upon your GPS capability and skill) or hire an RPLS and stamp it "For informational purposes only. Not to be used for engineering or design purposes. No guarantee of accuracy is implied nor given. Not a survey document." Add whatever else you feel is necessary to convey that you are not an RPLS and this is just for private consumption with no guarantee of accuracy implied. THAT is mapping grade and you should not need a license to do that.

I find it odd that your local shops are not embracing the technology. Two of the major firms in this area have a UAS department that does nothing but UAS land surveys (under an RPLS and field team who also spot check the data with conventional field work). It was one of these firms that got my interest and pointed me in the right direction to establish a program in my own department. Like it or not, this is the future. You can ride the wave or watch is wash over you.

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My question is a little different.  I'm looking at using a drone to collect data for fluvial geomorphic/hydraulic studies kooon streams/rivers.  I have no interest in providing surveying services or providing a data set for engineering design.

I know drones have been used very successfully in academic/government research here in the USA and Europe for several years and the DJI 4 or similar have given excellent results.

I'm looking to obtain current condition data, best quality (x,y,z) as possible to create a dsm/cloud points to bring into either GRASS GIS,  SRH-2D or HEC-RAS 2D hydraulic modeling software. I won't bore you with all those details.  I have read quit a bit about the capabilities of todays  drones and the quality of the data.

 

Ideas, suggestions and/or comments.

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8 hours ago, Geomorph said:

My question is a little different.  I'm looking at using a drone to collect data for fluvial geomorphic/hydraulic studies kooon streams/rivers.  I have no interest in providing surveying services or providing a data set for engineering design.

I know drones have been used very successfully in academic/government research here in the USA and Europe for several years and the DJI 4 or similar have given excellent results.

I'm looking to obtain current condition data, best quality (x,y,z) as possible to create a dsm/cloud points to bring into either GRASS GIS,  SRH-2D or HEC-RAS 2D hydraulic modeling software. I won't bore you with all those details.  I have read quit a bit about the capabilities of todays  drones and the quality of the data.

 

Ideas, suggestions and/or comments.

One of our students transitioned to the Trinity River Authority and is doing the same types of data collection. I think the biggest challenge he mentioned was that he could not get good shots of the bank due to the canopy in a lot of instances. I think they switched to an autonomous UAS (boat) to provide river bottom contours.

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Interesting thread. Obviously late to the discussion. :)

How would you describe aerial photogrammetry shops? Is not the drone service the exact same thing at a lower altitude? Typically, surveyors would paint targets and provide coordinates so that those types of shops could provide a geo-rectified cad file showing simple linework and contours. When this data is included in surveyed base maps, reference notes are provided to indicate the source. These base maps are then signed and sealed by the surveyor.

With drone processing options, we can get an ortho-mosaic and/or a point cloud. Simply, its the evolution of the data. The aerial company isn't signing the drawings in either case.  

Thoughts?

 

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It's not just California!  It's Mississippi, Florida, North Carolina, etc.  It seems to be directed at protecting land surveyors who just haven't gotten into the technology yet; but it's working.  It's best to work through a licensed land surveyor who can ground truth and stamp the positioning (especially elevation) results.  However, be aware of the well known Structure-from-Motion systematic doming/dishing (elevation) error; or it will bite you as well as give the land surveyors a silver bullet.

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