Drone Mapping Saves Time and Reduces Costs for Landscape Architects

Antonia Bava Landscape Architects Uses DroneDeploy to Enhance Design Documents and Reduce Site Documentation Time by 90%

DroneDeploy's Blog
Published in
7 min readApr 4, 2017


The first time landscape designer Eric Arneson fired up his new drone, he immediately saw the potential for using UAV photography as a design tool. A landscape architecture student at the time, he knew a birds-eye-view would allow him to see the land he works with from a new perspective. Then Eric discovered drone mapping, and he quickly realized that instead of simply giving him a new perspective, his drone could serve as an essential design tool. For landscape architects like Eric, drone mapping saves time and money by streamlining the site survey process. It also helps designers create ortho-realistic design plans and allows clients to better conceptualize projects.

Eric Arneson recently obtained a degree in landscape architecture and his work has already won several awards. As a student, he used drone mapping to enhance projects through aerial land surveys, renderings and analysis. He is now a designer at the San Francisco-based firm Antonia Bava Landscape Architects, where he recently used DroneDeploy to create a phased master plan for a residential design project in Sonoma County. He shares how drone mapping became an essential tool during the process.

“Learning about DroneDeploy has increased my passion for drones exponentially. It’s an incredible tool and I didn’t even know this type of technology was possible.” — Landscape designer Eric Arneson [click-to-tweet]

Landscape Architect Uses Drones for a Phased Design Plan

Sonoma County is right in the middle of California wine country, with rolling hills and lush greenery abounding. Against this backdrop, Eric is currently working on a landscape design project at a four-acre private residence. The lot itself is largely a blank canvas, with few landscape elements save a row of hedges and a scattering of trees. The owners have tasked Eric with creating a master plan that can be implemented logically in several phases over time.

Seeing the opportunity to put his drone into action, Eric took his Phantom 3 Advanced to the property, where he spent about four minutes flying the site at an altitude of 150 feet. He spent another few minutes capturing orbitals of structures like the house, greenhouse and pool cabana. He then took ground-level photos for further perspective and several reference measurements at each of the four corners of the property. All told, he spent an hour onsite.

Future site of a 4-acre landscape design project in Sonoma County. Explore the orthomosaic map

Drone Mapping Reduces Site Documentation Time by 90%

Typically, a project like this begins by gathering documentation and measurements of a property. This involves Eric and a colleague visiting the site to hand measure key reference points on the property, such as the greenhouse, swimming pool and vegetable gardens. Elevation points are also taken in order to help designers understand the grade on a property. For the Sonoma project, Eric estimates it would have taken two people about six hours to complete these measurements, costing the firm twelve valuable man hours. Instead, Eric spent just one hour flying the site with his drone.

After processing the images in DroneDeploy, he then applied the software’s built-in measurement tools to an orthomosaic map of the site, taking measurements in a matter of minutes.

Switching to the elevation layer, he was then able to easily visualize the twenty-foot grade change that exists from one end of the property to the other. All told, Eric was able to save about 11 man hours on measurements alone, gathering the information more than 90% faster than if he hadn’t used drones.

Explore the elevation map

Data Export Helps to Create Ortho-Realistic Image Trace

The next phase in Eric’s site documentation workflow was to create an image trace of the property, outlining roads, building footprints and existing landscape features. In the absence of an option like drone mapping, this process would entail taking satellite imagery from Google Earth and tracing the elements in AutoCAD. However, with satellite pictures, Eric often encounters low resolution imagery, which makes the process of creating an accurate image trace all that much more difficult. Add to that the fact that the Sonoma property includes new construction which is not yet visible on satellite maps.

This time, Eric bypassed satellite imagery altogether and simply imported the drone-generated orthomosaic map of the property into AutoCAD. He used the manual measurements he took at the four corners of the property to scale the map in the program, a process he says took him only a few minutes.

“The great thing about DroneDeploy is that it produces very accurate, crisp clear images,” says Eric. Thanks to drone mapping, Eric had an ortho-realistic representation of the property, which he then used to easily create the image trace.

Image trace overlaid onto ortho-realistic map, created in AutoCAD

Drone-Generated Contour Map Saves $1,000 in Land Survey Costs

To create a landscape design plan, Eric also needs to understand the topography of the site, which he does by generating a one-foot contour map. This typically entails hiring a land surveyor to create a topographic survey. On a four-acre property like the Sonoma site, Eric estimates this would cost about a thousand dollars and take 5–6 hours to complete, essentially adding a full day day to the design timeline.

Eric eliminated the need for a land survey by importing the 3D model from DroneDeploy into Rhino3D at 1/1000th scale, and using the program to generate one-foot contours. This took him about thirty minutes. By using drone mapping to create a contour map, Eric saved the firm a thousand dollars and sped up the design process by an entire day.

For DroneDeploy users who don’t want to manually create contour maps, DronDeploy’s business and enterprise plans offer a contour export option.

AutoCAD base with contours
Watch a video of the contour map rendering

Drone-Generated 3D Model Gives Architect Better Understanding of Design Site

In addition to these cost and time savings, Eric also used the high-resolution 3D model to gain a better understanding of the site. “You can’t go to a site once and understand it. There’s a lot to retain about a property,” says Eric. “Now, I can scroll around the 3D model anytime I need.”

Ultimately, a better understanding of the site helps Eric create a higher-quality, thoughtful design. As an added bonus, when it came time to experiment with new configurations for the property’s existing trees, Eric used DroneDeploy’s annotations feature to note tree locations, species and trunk diameters, keeping the information easily on hand for reference.

Explore a 3D model of the property

High-Quality Design Documents Help Clients Conceptualize Project Proposals

At the end of the day, all of Eric’s hard work must pass muster with his clients. He is still in the middle of the design process for the Sonoma property, but he anticipates using the orthomosaic map as the base for his final design rendering. He will then use photoshop to add in the planned landscape elements.

In the absence of drone mapping, he would have given the client a diagrammatic rendering of his proposed landscape design. Now, he will instead present an ortho-realistic design that will give them a far better understanding of his plans for the property. The client is already excited.

“It’s cool enough to see a drone fly around your property. And [the client] will be really excited once they see all of the visuals.” — Eric Arneson

Eric is looking forward to using drone mapping in future design projects. When asked why other landscape architects should integrate drone mapping into their work, Eric’s answer says it all: “Why not?”

Where to Learn More

To learn more about some of the tools discussed here, check out our support documentation, including:

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