Drone mapping companies often use top-of-the-range commercial or industrial-grade drones to collect the most accurate data for their clients. Better drones will usually result in better quality imaging and a more diverse range of services include thermal imaging and topographic surveys. Can any drone be used for mapping?
What is Drone Mapping?
Drone mapping is the process of collecting data using a drone to build a bigger picture of a site. Often this is done using photogrammetry, the science of making measurements from photographs, thermal imaging or LiDAR technology. Drone mapping is also known as UAV mapping, UAV surveying or drone surveying.
What to Look for in a Surveying Drone
1. Type of Drone
The first factor that is relevant in choosing a surveying drone is the type of drone. There are three main types: fixed-wing, single-rotor and multi-rotor drone.
Fixed-wing drones don’t have rotors, as the name suggests, which means they can’t hover in one spot. This means they are slightly less efficient at taking a large quantity of photos. However, their battery life is significantly better than other types of drones.
Single-rotor drones can carry heavy cameras and so can capture more accurate photos and video footage. However, they are more difficult to pilot than fixed-wing drones and so those just learning to operate drones tend to opt for other types.
Drone mapping companies most commonly use multi-rotor drones. They can take-off and land vertically, making them easier to pilot, but their battery life is not as good as other types of drones. Most people who use multi-rotor drones, in particular quadcopter drones, find that the 30-minute battery life is enough time to survey a standard site.
2. Camera Quality
A drone with a higher-resolution camera will produce better quality photographs and hence more accurate data. Particularly if your mapping software uses photogrammetry techniques, the camera quality is very important for producing accurate maps and models for clients.
3. Battery Life
Drones with a greater battery life will be able to fly for longer before needing to recharge. This means they are more efficient at collecting a large quantity of data quickly. Drone mapping companies conducting a drone survey of a typical terraced house can do it in 20-30 minutes, but a larger site may need up to several hours (which means several flights).
4. Compatibility with Mapping Software
Another important factor to look for in a surveying drone is the mapping software that it is compatible with. If your clients want a certain type of report and a certain type of map produced, you will need to make sure the surveying drone has the capability to do this.
5. GPS and RTK Capabilities
Most drones have GPS (Global Positioning System) capabilities, allowing them to accurately plot the coordinates of a location. They do this in a similar way to a smartphone. Without GPS capabilities, a drone is only really useful for taking pretty photos. Drone mapping companies need drones with global positioning technology so that they can accurately record the locations of sites and structures.
RTK stands for Real Time Kinetic, and it’s a GPS correction technique. This means that it corrects local measurements of location while the flight is being carried out. The photographs that the camera on the drone takes are automatically geotagged so that they can be combined using mapping software to give an overall accurate depiction of the location of the site.
Autonomous flight capability can be enormously beneficial to businesses, especially those wanting to make their processes much more efficient. These flights can save drone surveyors time and money because once the drone is off the ground, the flight runs automatically.
7. LiDAR and Thermal Imaging Capabilities
Depending on the services offered to the clients of drone mapping companies, the surveying drone may also need extra capabilities such as LiDAR imaging and thermal imaging.
LiDAR is an alternative method to photogrammetry for mapping. It works by sending pulses of light to the ground and measuring the time it takes to reflect back. This is particularly useful for identifying objects that are not easy to spot in photographs.
Thermal imaging is particularly useful for spotting abnormal heat loss or water leakage from structures. This type of imaging can also find electrical faults.
Can Any Drone be Used for Mapping?
The short answer to the question: can any drone be used for mapping? No. If you need to accurately survey areas using a drone you will need GPS capabilities and a high-resolution camera as an absolute minimum. On top of this, you may want to invest in a drone that has RTK, LiDAR or thermal imaging capabilities. You’ll need one with an appropriate battery life for the flights you’ll be carrying out, and one that is able to hover in one spot (i.e., one with rotor blades rather than fixed wings).