The global demand for high-quality aerial data capture is simply staggering. What’s driving this increasing demand is the availability of tools that not only make this job easy and cost-effective, but more time-efficient and precise than ever before.
Today, drones are helping organisations map large areas and provide instant and precise data to help expedite workflows in a wide and varied range of commercial applications.
Indeed, only a few years ago, the only way to get an aerial map of high-accuracy and resolution was to fly the area with a manned aircraft—or have access to a satellite! Since the rapid advancements in drones and their accompanying payloads, as well as their decreasing costs, high-quality aerial mapping has become available to a multitude of people and industries.
So what is aerial mapping?
In simple terms, aerial mapping is carried out via a technique called photogrammetry. This is essentially the science of making measurements from photographs. The output of this is normally a map, measurement, or 3D model of a real-world object or scene.
Now, being able to map with drones as opposed to manned aircraft means much higher-quality imagery and data at a much lower cost as drones can fly lower, slower and with much greater flexibility than large aircraft.
So what outcomes make a great mapping drone?
Mapping with drone technology really needs to meet four key criteria.
Mapping drones need to be able to fly and capture data over your intended target area quickly and efficiently. While this may sound obvious, it is the selection of the right equipment for the application that will determine this.
For commercial applications, the drone mapping ‘system’ you use combined with the data it collects and processes must be at a level that meets civil and surveying accuracy specifications.
The time your drone is in the field and the time it takes to secure and process data will, of course, be directly linked to the economy (or cost) of your project. Again, equipment selection for the application will be central to success.
Sounds obvious, however, the complete workflow from data capture to data processing and deliverable results must be seamless. It is generally the case the more sophisticated and carefully considered your drone technology, the easier the process becomes
Let’s look at some mapping drones
There are many drone choices for just as many commercial applications. The challenge is aligning your application to the right drone technology. This is not as easy as it may appear! So before we list aerial drone mapping options, we always recommend you speak to a commercial drone expert that can help guide, advise and indeed, develop a solution for your mapping application.
These small, agile and cost-effective mapping drones are easy to set up and fly and feature solid design and data collection attributes such as 30-min flight time, obstacle avoidance and Advance Aerial Imaging Technology. While they don’t have the range and scope of larger and more sophisticated drone mapping solutions, they are still highly capable drones with camera payloads capable of shooting 4K video and Burst Mode stills at 14fps. Overall, they offer sound mapping accuracy and are suited to smaller, less detail essential applications.
The DJI Matrice 200 is a step-up from the Phantom range and is ideal for applications that need a robust, expandable and feature-rich mapping and aerial inspection package. It also offers some functional features including obstacle avoidance technology and easy ‘snap’ fold up and down for portability. More importantly, it’s X4S camera payload is a professional and high-resolution Super 35 option with integrated gimbal (mount). With a mapping accuracy of 50-75mm it is, overall, a professional mapping package that is well suited to small to medium mapping applications with greater data accuracy requirements.
A professional mapping and aerial photography system, the DJI Matrice 600 mounted with the Zenmuse X5S, is simple and easy to set up and fly. It offers increased and improved flight performance over the Matrice 200 and has the very latest DJI technology including A3 Pro Flight Controller, Lightbridge 2 HD transmission system and intelligent battery management.
With the PPK integration, it reduces the need for Ground Control Points (GCPs), is plug and play and can integrate with the many camera payloads. It also has centimetre level camera positions which means mapping and modelling has the highest possible 3D accuracy.
Overall a professional mapping package suited to medium to large mapping applications with greater data accuracy requirements.
The Delair UX11 range is a globally recognised mapping solution. Fixed-wing, they offer easy field operation via their ‘hand-launch’ ability, have a one hour flight times and precision ‘deep stall’ landing technology. This means they can undertake mapping in almost any environment easily, safely and effectively.
The UX11 PPK has embedded on-board data processing technology and a purpose-designed mapping camera. It can also operate Beyond Visual Line Of Site (BVLOS) and with its 3G/4G telemetry, it has important redundancy features and communication confidence.
With a mapping accuracy of 30-50mm, it is a more serious and professional mapping package suited to medium to large mapping applications where detailed data is essential.
A high-end mapping option, the DT18-HD with PPK and Direct Georeferencing (DG) is a professional fixed-wing, best-in-class mapping drone package.
Its operating system includes embedded PPK and DG which, in simple terms, is a highly efficient method for connecting aerial images to their geographic position.
It can carry a high-end metric camera which, with a low distortion metric lens and reliable construction, allows it to maintain accurate calibration. It can also be (dual) mounted with the Micasense RedEdge-M to capture NDVI data.
Overall, a truly professional mapping package with a 20-30mm mapping accuracy that ensures a fast and seamless workflow from drone through to analytics.
Considered one of the most advanced aerial mapping and surveying drones on the market today, the md1000DG covers more area per flight and has longest flight time on the market. In addition to its many technology features, it offers remarkable stability and resistance to rough winds, harsh weather, hot temperatures, high voltage, and strong magnetic fields.
With DG, surveying and mapping professionals can achieve significant cost savings, the highest level of accuracy and dramatic time savings – and all with no ground control points.
This is a truly serious and professional mapping package suited to large mapping applications where detailed data is essential.
Want to learn more about aerial drone mapping?
If you are new to drone technology or simply want to learn more, we highly recommend you speak to a drone specialist that can advise you on both drone options and the best approach to their commercial use in mapping and general aerial applications.
Sphere Drones is arguably Australia’s leading source of expertise on commercial drone technology solutions in Australia.
Their Sydney-based operation is a state-of-the-art solutions development facility with some of the drone industry’s leading personnel – making it (or their website) a logical first step to learn more about or identify a solution for your commercial needs.