What is the Return on Investment for a LiDAR Drone?

Whether you're a surveyor, engineer, GIS Professional, or starting your own drone business- how much can you really make with LiDAR?


What is the Return on Investment for a LiDAR Drone?

Aerial LiDAR mapping is an established industry with a history that dates back to the 1960's.  What is new is the ability for low cost and rapid deployment of an unmanned system to capture highly-accurate 3D LiDAR data of areas of several 10's of acres to 10's of thousands of acres. 

Right now the return on investment is considerably high when servicing the land surveying and utilities, film and TV, and other growing sectors. 

A typical job that covers an area of roughly 500 acres would take a 2-3 man survey crew many weeks if not months to traverse and generate a detailed topo survey. With an unmanned LiDAR system like the R360 on the DJI M300, this can be flown in a day and processed in the ROCK Cloud in as little as 1 additional day. 

A job of this size is easily won for a bid of $30,000 USD.

How can I price the use of LiDAR in my workflow? 

LiDAR is a tool to help us do our jobs better, faster, and with more detail. With this in mind, don't price LiDAR by the hour or by the day, etc. The amount of time YOU spend is not the measure of the cost, it's the amount of time your client SAVES. 

As with all projects, you should consider the final deliverable type, quality, and tolerance when pricing jobs. To make it simple, use the project management princple of Scope, Schedule, & Fee. 

Scope- what are you providing (and not providing) and what is your client providing you in order to do that

Schedule- when will you do this work and deliver- with drone work always leave a contingent for bad weather 

Fee- how much will you get paid and what are the pay terms / schedule

Want to discuss a project with experts? Post it in our Facebook Group: Commercial Drone Mapping and Surveying

How do I use the LiDAR in my field deployment workflow? 

If you're already in the business of collecting data in the field, whether it be utilities or surveying or whatever it may be, a LiDAR drone can make a big difference. 

Here's a suggested workflow and ROI on this 500 acre project based on real life examples:

1.  Deploy the drone and NTRIP enabled GPS or Base/Rover to capture check shots and ground control points. 

2.  Capture check points and place any aerial targets and capture their location. Also, capture your known point to setup the base on.

3. Fly the LiDAR mission and / or photogrammetry.

4. Setup the project in ROCK Cloud and upload your photogrammetry from your preferred software.

5. Order ROCK Surveyor and ROCK Planimetrics.

6. Use the deliverables to help determine the rest of any field work needed. 

What is the breakdown of the Proposal?

For this 500 acre job the winning bid was broken down into 4 service items:

1. Scope-

  • ACME Surveying will provide a 1 foot topographic survey of the project to ASPRS standards and provide the data in shapefile and CAD formats (.shp and .dxf/.dwg), including breaklines and a point grid (client to decide interval and email to ACME Surveying).
  • ACME Surveying will establish ground control on the site and tie into any known or found monuments.
  • ACME Surveying will provide an accuracy report or summary to the client.
  • As shown on Exhibit A, ACME Surveying will provide topographic and planimetric data in the attached area. 
  • ACME Surveying will provide any available planimetric data in the area shown on Exhibit A. If any additional data is needed, ACME can complete on a Time, Materials, and Expense basis  with field crews per our rate sheet. 



2. Schedule - ACME Surveying will deliver this data to the client in 15 business days (3 weeks), weather permitting. Should weather or other factors out of the control of ACME Surveying affect the timeline, ACME will provide an update via email within 1 business day of discovery. 


3. Fee (these are the proposal costs, not the cost to the provider)

  • Mobilization cost - $4,000
  • Equipment Fee- $2,500/day @ 3 Days = $7,500
  • Part 107 Drone Pilot - $750/day @ 3 Days = $2,250
  • Data Processing  - see below = $16,250
    • Ground Control Survey - ROCK Base and EMLID RS2+
    • Topographic Contours- ROCK Surveyor with Breaklines along any roads
    • Planimetric Linework - ROCK Planimetrics (assuming half the site is developed), Semi Urban, with Custom Symbols
  • Total Proposal Fee: $30,000
  • Payment Terms: Net 30 with a 25% deposit within 3 business days upon approval of the proposal

You don't have to be this detailed, but some clients require it. If you don't have to be this detailed, just make it one line with the total price.