Mapping Drones

UAVs and Drones for Mapping

What is UAV mapping?

UAV mapping uses drones to gather aerial data such as high-resolution imagery and sensor readings that can be used to create accurate maps and models. Using UAVs for mapping is less expensive than manned aircraft, as power requirements are often less, and missions can be automated thus cutting down on the manpower needed. Drones can also fly at lower altitudes than manned aircraft, leading to higher resolution imagery.

SUI LT VTOL Endurance Quadcopter Mapping Drone
SUI LT VTOL Endurance Quadcopter Mapping Drone

UAV mapping systems

Drone mapping can be done with fixed-wing, single-rotor (helicopter) or multirotor UAVs, with advantages and disadvantages for each.

Borey-10 Automatic Fixed Wing Drone

Borey-10 Automatic Fixed Wing Drone

ixed-wing UAVs typically have much longer flight endurance than multirotor systems, meaning that they can map a larger area in a single flight, and can carry heavier payloads. However, they need larger amounts of space to take off and land, and may also need specialised launching equipment. They are also unable to hover in place.

Multirotor and helicopter UAVs both have VTOL (Vertical Takeoff and Landing) capabilities and can both hover in place. Helicopter UAVs are typically larger and have superior range and payload capacities, especially those with combustion engine propulsion systems. Most multirotor systems are battery-powered and thus limited in flight time, meaning that mapping missions will require more flights.

UAV photogrammetry

Microdrones mdMapper1000DG Aerial Surveying and Photogrammetry VTOL UAV

Microdrones mdMapper1000DG Aerial Surveying and Photogrammetry VTOL UAV

Photogrammetry is the derivation of precise measurements from photography. These measurements can be used to create accurate maps. UAV photogrammetry for mapping uses a downward-facing camera mounted on the drone, with mapping missions being flown autonomously by programming the drone with a series of waypoints that are navigated using GNSS. Flights are performed so that multiple overlapping photos of the target area are captured, leading to increased accuracy.

The images from UAV photogrammetry surveying are used to create orthomosaics – stitched-together images that have been corrected for camera distortion, noise and topographical relief. Orthomosaic maps are highly accurate representations of the surface of the Earth and can be used to measure distances accurately.

UAV LiDAR mapping

LiDAR measures the reflections of pulses of laser light to calculate the distances from objects, and a survey-grade LiDAR payload mounted on a UAV can produce highly accurate dense point clouds that can be used to create detailed 3D models of landscapes and objects. One advantage of LiDAR technology for UAV mapping is that the laser pulses are able to penetrate through gaps in vegetation, thus giving an idea of the nature of the foliage.

The data captured from UAV LiDAR mapping can be used to create 3D models and contour maps, as well as perform accurate volumetric calculations.


UAV mapping software

Drone mapping software is used to preplan UAV mapping missions, to process the resulting data, or both. Planning software allows operators to set waypoints and other mission parameters before going out into the field. Processing software takes the data gathered during a UAV mapping flight and creates maps, models or other desired outputs. Some UAV mapping software can provide real-time analysis of field data.

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