Modern Land Surveying Technology

The Impact of Technology on Land Surveying

by James Caviness

Maps are only as accurate as the data used to make them. For generations, surveyors relied on rudimentary methods to create usable maps for navigation. Today, modern surveying practices may use drones, LiDAR, and other top-tier technologies are used for land surveying, and the results are more accurate than ever before.

Traditional Land Surveying

As the need for more accurate maps became more apparent, the technology used to produce more precise representations of reality became necessary. Starting with pencil and paper, eventually, new tools could be used to help us be even more precise. Theodolites, tools used by surveyors to measure angles and distance in the field, became more common and ultimately became more advanced. Even more advanced tools like drones and LiDAR allow us to cover much more land than ever before, and the results are far more accurate (down to centimeters or millimeters in some cases).

How Has Technology Changed Land Surveying

New technology has allowed surveyors to take advantage of all the industrial tools at their disposal. These modern breakthroughs in technology create faster and more accurate results. The benefits are not limited to just the surveyor; with more accurate information, larger and more ground-breaking projects can be done with the information obtained. In surveying, a datum is an established point on the ground that is a reference for measuring distances and angles. Modern surveys use GPS, which stands for Global Positioning System. This is an electronic navigation system that provides accurate position information anywhere on Earth.


Drones and LiDAR allow one surveyor to cover significantly more ground than in the past and with a high degree of accuracy. LiDAR is capable of making measurements down to the closest millimeter in some cases, so the images produced from these scans provide information with unmatched accuracy. LiDAR is not limited to drones, and these captures can be taken from planes or satellites as well for an even greater expanse.


Not only is this type of information accurate, but it is also fast. The information captured in the field by drones or LiDAR systems is immediately processed and able to be analyzed by the surveyor. Project managers can upload this information into a Geospatial Information System (GIS), where further refinements and data manipulation can occur.


Project managers can upload this information into a Geospatial Information System (GIS), where further refinements and data manipulation can occur. This allows for large-resolution images and huge amounts of data to synthesize into one workable map.


The points on this GIS map are all associated with actual geographical locations worldwide, making this information highly valued for large infrastructure projects. City planning, building planning, and mass transportation all benefit from the information provided by this type of land survey.

Laser Scanning

Further advances in land surveying technology are being made every day. Laser scanning is one of the newer trends land surveyors are using along with the previously mentioned GPS and unmanned aerial vehicles. Another unmanned aerial vehicle used by surveyors is a global navigation satellite system. This type of surveying tool provides accurate data down to the centimeter providing information on every angle and aspect of an area or object.

Laser scanning is a popular land surveying technology that accurately measures and collects data from surfaces, objects, buildings, and natural landscapes. A 3D laser scanner assembles information in the form of point cloud data, which is made up of millions of 3D coordinates. 3D models can be created with the information. Mapping an area is then made easier. Laser scanners can use datums to collect the information needed for surveying. Datums are the starting reference point for surveying. They put a land surveyor's work into a larger perspective.

Current trends in modern surveying technology

There are several exciting trends in modern surveying technology. Due to technology being a key factor in modern surveying, advances are being made at every turn. One piece of tech that is being used currently is global positioning systems (GPS). At the end of the day, your survey is only as good as the survey data that you collect.

GPS surveying technology is a straightforward real-world application that proves just how surveying is changing with the times. Global positioning systems were something a land surveyor did not have to contend with three decades ago. Modern computer science and technology have made it possible. Today, it is vital for surveyors to understand GPS technology and its use. GPS has revolutionized modern surveying, and it will continue to do so.

Another important trend in current land surveying technology is drones. Drones have changed a lot of sectors, and land surveying technology is one of them. One of the aspects that makes these little aerial items so useful is the cost. Prices continue to decrease with the greater availability of drones. The devices are cost-effective when surveying equipment, land, or other items. Drones make aerial surveying possible.

How do advances in survey equipment progress the industry?

New survey equipment is developed thanks to advances in science. The information is now more accurate than ever before. In addition, the information is more comprehensive and valuable. Professional surveyors can easily take a land measurement of a property using items such as GPS. Modern surveying equipment such as GPS is a breakthrough area. It makes surveying measurements precise, fast, and reliable. Surveying methods and technology changes may be very different in 10 years' time. Modern surveying methods are perfect for the time being, but science is always altering how land surveyors work.

Although modern technology allows for accurate measurement when surveying, the progression of geomatics will improve the quality. It is already believed that the next big breakthrough in modern technology will be artificial intelligence. Leica Geosystems, a company based in Switzerland, is at the forefront of surveying instrument technology. Companies like Leica Geosystems are helping civil engineering and the surveying profession to improve in a built environment. Professional land surveyors are vital to the world of real estate, construction, and other areas. The latest technology will only help these individuals.

The Future of Modern Land Surveying

The future of modern land surveying seems to be taking off. Surveyors can no longer ignore the benefits of using aerial options, and options like using Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are becoming more accessible. The most common imaging technology on UAVs is LiDAR. This is because LiDAR measures very subtle changes in elevation very effectively, which is why it is so widely used in surveying. The accuracy of contour maps created with LiDAR is unmatched. GIS programs allow you to add more data to these maps, like streets, buildings, and other notable features. GIS data can be used along with Building Information Modelling (BIM) to create a full working model of a monumental project.

Industrial metal detectors cover many applications to assist modern land surveyors in their work. Think of them as the electronic tools required to complete a thorough survey. The most common categories of detection technologies include:

Cable Locators

Cable locators are used for detecting the presence and proximity of buried utilities and for preventing utility strikes. When surveying a piece of property, identifying the location of buried utilities can provide context to the survey.

Water Level Indicators

A Water Level Indicator is an economical and reliable way to measure water levels in wells. By using this type of device in a survey, it is possible to identify the location and depth of water on a piece of surveyed land.


A magnetometer is simply a device that measures a magnetic field's strength and direction. Metal objects can be found using this type of device. It can be used to locate iron or steel boundary markers. A rebar stake is commonly used as a marker. Magnetometers ignore buried targets other than steel and iron, which is the main advantage over metal detectors. A property marker search can be conducted easily this way.

Ground Penetrating Radar

Radar pulses are used to image the subsurface with ground-penetrating radar (GPR). This method allows subsurface utilities or pipes, cables, metals, and masonry to be located without causing any damage to the subsurface. Land surveyors can use these devices to identify underground formations. A thorough survey will help in a land survey.

EMS Marker Locators

EMS marker locators are an economical way to locate these buried utility location markers. At the time the utility is built underground, markers are simply buried. Every utility is marked with a unique electronic marker. Location markers include those for sanitary, power, gas, telephone, and cable tv.

Plastic Water Pipe Locators

A plastic water pipes locator is an ideal tool for locating buried nonmetallic pipes in the earth. Using this type of device can provide additional context to the land survey. Modern plastic water pipe locating systems include everything you need to locate these buried utilities easily.

With the proper electronic tools in hand, a land survey can be completed quickly and accurately. As with any profession, having the right tool in hand is key to completing a job.

Modern Surveying Technology FAQs

What is a control survey?

A control survey provides horizontal or vertical position data to support or control subordinate surveys or mapping.

How does remote sensing work?

Remote sensing is a process that detects and monitors the physical characteristics of an area. This occurs by measuring an area's reflected and emitted radiation from a distance. This is done with special cameras.

What is a geographic information system?

GIS is an application that includes cartographic data, photographic data, digital data, or data in spreadsheets containing information about how a parcel of land is used. For example, where it is used for farming, mining, or other activities.

What is a topographical survey?

A topographic survey records coordinates and height data for an area. The data can be used in multiple ways by professional land surveyors.

What is Geodesy?

Geodesy is a science that uses mathematical methods to measure and represent the Earth's surface in three dimensions. Geodetic surveying determines the exact location of permanent points on the earth's surface based on their shape, size, and curvature. Earth sciences are an evolving discipline that is being used more often to determine land boundaries in various locations globally.

Copyright 2021 Detector Electronics Corp. - Revised September 2022