Can AI and Land Surveyors Play Nicely?

Can AI and Land Surveyors Play Nicely?

Author: Michael Clifford, PLS, Co-founder & Principal of DGT Associates

As early adopters of technology in their industry, American land surveyors are trailblazers in the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) community. Surveyors are known to lean into technological advancements that enable the delivery of accurate and efficient services. Long before computers were found in a construction trailer or on an architect’s drafting table, surveyors were using hand-held calculators to adjust traverses and calculate earthwork volumes, as well as global positioning systems (GPS) and electronic distance measurement devices to accelerate their fieldwork. More recently, drones, radar tomography, LiDAR, and additional mobile mapping applications have surfaced as a cost-effective method for mapping utilities above and below ground, capturing high-resolution surface imagery, and locating utilities and aging infrastructure. 

Now, the surveying industry needs to consider the next emerging technology: artificial intelligence (AI). The current surge in AI research and investment has made it a popular topic in the news cycle, including extreme scenarios where robots take all of our jobs and societies transform into Schwarzeneggerian “Rise of the Machines” dystopias. Meanwhile, newly released AI-learning programs like ChatGPT have captured the attention of consumers and professionals alike. But the concept of “machine learning” isn’t new. AI has been around since the 1950s as a scientific, and academic discipline and its application in professional services work is inevitable. There are already significant AI use cases impacting major industries—such as data mining in healthcare, fraud detection in banking, and industrial robots in manufacturing. Land surveying is no exception. 

So far, there doesn’t appear to be widespread adoption of ChatGPT or the other commercially available AI programs by practicing land surveyors, except perhaps with proposal writing or website creation. Certainly, it behooves any surveyor to acknowledge AI’s potential and explore ways to improve their technical practice by implementing AI into their workflows. 

Admittedly, some areas of surveying do not lend themselves to AI. For example, boundary surveying, or determining lines of ownership, is often referred to as “the art and science of surveying,” as it isn’t as simple as measuring between physical monuments and certifying the results. In this regard, it seems unlikely that an honest professional would cede their judgements to a machine. However, there are plenty of areas that could offer opportunities for AI to enhance the industry. 

Potential applications for AI in surveying:

  • Utilization when researching a title report
  • Reducing the overhead of having professionals manually capture data
  • Accelerating data extraction for GPR data
  • Reducing the timing gap with data post-processing

Further, there are additional areas that could benefit from the use of AI:

  • Construction control and layout
  • Deformation monitoring
  • Processing of remote readings LiDAR
  • Compiling results from SUM in scaled base mapping

In construction control and layout, AI could help with technical tasks, such as marking out a theoretical building geometry on the ground so builders can assemble the concrete and steel components. The AI program would have to make positional verifications and adjustments on the fly, which can be difficult for a worker. Additionally, AI could assist with deformation monitoring as it involves precise instrument readings performed at regular intervals and notifications for indications of movement. In subsurface utility mapping (SUM), AI could offer value in the intake of record utility location data, the analysis and processing of remote LiDAR readings, radar tomography, and other remote-sensing devices. Finally, AI could assist with compiling results from these activities in scaled base mapping. 

As other industries have already proven, combining the power of AI with talented individuals can improve accuracy and create efficiencies in professional services work. So, of course, the answer to the question, “Should land surveyors adopt AI?” is a resounding “yes.” However, the details of its application remain murky. While it’s quite simple to identify how and what AI could assist with in surveying, it’s more difficult to pinpoint when and how soon. Surveyors should stay tuned in, and even advocate for their profession, as more and more AI programs continue to get developed and released for real-world applications. One day, AI could be yet another tool in the surveyor’s high-tech tool belt.  

To learn more about DGT’s services and how we embrace traditional practices with modern technology, visit our website

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