Survey Grade? Only if you're a Surveyor®

There’s a myriad of challenges facing the surveying profession today. Is a paradigm shift needed to protect the validity of hiring a licensed professional surveyor in the advent of the information age?

As we face these challenges, the public trusts surveyors (and only surveyors) as the authority when creating and retracing property boundaries. Additionally, surveyors are still highly regarded in the geospatial industry. However, hobbyists with drones are claiming to provide “survey grade” data quality, with no background in the fundamentals (or other tools required) that would be necessary to produce a professional product.

I started to notice something last summer while attending a seminar at an aviation event. One of the speakers was sharing the data he collected with his drone. During the presentation of his 3D model, he continually used the terms “surveying” and “mapping” with his drone, although he had no professional background in photogrammetry, surveying, or aviation.

I was in the audience thinking, “Do we really want to have people claiming they can ‘survey’ with their drones?”

Someone in the audience with obvious experience in aerial mapping asked, “What method did you use to establish ground control?”

The presenter responded, “We closed off the area to the public by posting people at the perimeter of the project site.” Okay, not exactly the ground control the person who asked the question, nor I, was thinking.

With the availability of online photogrammetry solutions increasing almost daily, paired with drone technology, there is an ever-increasing number of people collecting data and reporting precise/ accurate results. Could the paradigm shift be achieved by a body like the National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS) trademarking the terms “surveying” and “surveyor” to differentiate our professional practices from that of others?


1) It doesn’t require any new infrastructure. The NSPS and the state licensing boards already exist.

2) This would give NSPS a huge boost in membership, as you would need to be an active NSPS member to call yourself a Surveyor®. Together with a current NSPS membership, you would need to be a licensed professional surveyor in any states you practice. This body of united surveyors will be crucial to move forward with one voice.

3) The public would be aware of who has the tools to provide reliable data and who holds a license to practice as a professional.

The public needs to know there is a difference between the services we offer and what other non-licensed individuals who are creating maps offer. This would help give us visibility, at the same time allowing our profession to remain exclusive.

It’s the right time to take a step forward and trademark our profession. We are regarded as experts by the public; now let’s keep unlicensed people from purporting to be “surveyors,” completing a “survey,” or generating “survey grade” data. 

This article was published in the May 2016 issue of xyHt.