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Benefits of Drone Mapping (Explained for Beginners)

Drone mapping is a tool used by multiple industries and expert pilots. One could address the benefits of drone mapping all day, from how it can be specialized across industries such as construction, video game design, real estate, and more.

 In this article, we’ll do just that!

The benefits of orthomosaics or orthophotos

One of the most obvious uses of drone mapping is the creation of orthophotos or orthomosaics. 

Orthomosaics are known as georeferenced images or TIF Files. In order to create an orthomosaic,  the pilot will program the automated flight plan into the drone.

The automated plan usually has the drone taking pictures every so often. These pictures must have at least 70 percent overlap with one another to create a detailed orthomosaic.

Orthomosiacs benefit several industries, including photography, construction, real estate, environmental science, and more.

Let’s take a closer look at how.

Construction

Image Courtesy of Unmanned Aerial Operations

Focusing on construction, an orthomosaic used to monitor site progress is a better way than simply taking ground-level or even singular aerial photos.

The orthomosaic consists of thousands of images taken at low altitudes. 

Compared to the Google Earth image of the construction site, the orthomosaic can be up to 50 times more detailed. This is important on any construction site as there are many areas of progress. 

Real estate

Image Courtesy of Unmanned Aerial Operations

For the purposes of real estate, orthomosaics are an extremely useful tool to create an up-to-date and highly-detailed image of a property.

Oftentimes, Google Earth imagery will not cut it when trying to sell a property or when looking to invest in buying one. 

Realtors turn to drone companies to go out on-site and collect and produce orthomosaics so they can identify features that may be prominent selling points of the property.

In clear enough weather, an orthomosaic can identify which types of trees may be on the property. This is useful if a landowner is looking to purchase a property for its timber value. It’s highly beneficial to know whether hardwood pines or softwood pines are on the property because both go for different values.

Sometimes a property owner may wish to have an orthomosaic done in the winter so that features of the property beneath the canopy are more identifiable. Usually, this is only done where it is a heavily forested area such as the southeast of the United States. 

In other places such as the deserts of the American southwest, an orthomosaic can be done at any time of year and canopy coverage will likely not affect what is visible on the property.

Photography

Image Courtesy of Unmanned Aerial Operations

Sometimes orthomosaics are simply used for photography purposes such as if a school wishes to have an overhead view of their campus. However, the legal height for a drone is 400 feet, so it would be impossible to capture the entire campus in one picture at that height.

In this case, the school may hire a pilot to conduct a drone mapping mission to produce an orthomosaic. Shown above is an example of an orthomosaic used for photography.

Environmental science

Image Courtesy of Unmanned Aerial Operations

As for the benefits of orthomosaics in environmental sciences, these mosaics can be used in a similar way to real estate investors where identifying the type of trees can be evaluated from a low altitude.

This is extremely important to environmental agencies because there are some tree species that are at risk of blight such as the chestnut oak, and other trees that may be affected by invasive species. 

If a known bug that causes blight has been found in the area, an environmental agency may hire a drone pilot to conduct an extremely beneficial orthomosaic of the tree canopy. 

The benefits of plant health maps

Image Courtesy of Unmanned Aerial Operations

Another huge benefit of drone mapping is plant health maps.

Continuing on the topic of environmental agencies, plant health maps can be made from an orthomosaic by using RGB reflectivity in the mapping engine that creates the orthomosaic.

This is an automated process so most of the heavy lifting is taken out of the creation of the plant health map.

There are other ways to produce a plant health map such as infrared or multispectral cameras mounted on the drone as it conducts its drone mapping or aerial survey. These plant health maps are extremely useful to all agricultural industries.

Large corporate farms often use drones to create these plant health maps so that they can identify areas where their crops are not as healthy as the others. This can be due to a plethora of reasons, such as less moisture in that area of the field, wind disturbances, erosion disturbances, or animal/wildlife disturbances.

The benefit of conducting a plant health map mission is that the farmer can identify the areas that need extra care or where action needs to be taken such as putting a fence up or installing sprinklers in that area of the field.

Going along with the environmental and agricultural industries that benefit from drone mapping, soil moisture maps can be created using thermal infrared cameras mounted to the drone as it conducts its drone mapping mission. 

This is not an easy process for the pilot, as it takes multiple processing engines to create the final product.

The first step in creating a soil moisture map is setting up the automated flight mission, then continuing to execute the mission with the thermal infrared camera mounted on the drone. 

After this, the pilot or GIS technician will produce an infrared orthomosaic. A series of algorithms has to be run on the orthomosaic after the processing is done to create the soil moisture map. This is often done in GIS software such as ArcGIS.

The benefits of topographic maps

One of the most common and useful benefits of drone mapping is producing topographic maps.

This is a deliverable that is useful and often requested across multiple industries as touched on at the beginning of the article.

Real estate, construction, developers, environmental scientists, and agricultural farmers alike all benefit from topographic mapping via drone.

Construction

Image Courtesy of Unmanned Aerial Operations

For example, a grading company that is embarking on a new project with a property with an uneven grade may request a drone pilot to conduct an aerial mapping mission to produce a topographic map.

A grading company is a company that brings the land to the right level for the build. The benefit to the grading company is that they have a blueprint of what the final grade of the property should look like. 

By having an initial topographic map made of the property or project site they can compare and estimate how long it will take to reach the end goal of an even grade on the project site.

In some cases, the grading company may wish to have multiple topographic surveys done via drone mapping to capture progress as well as make sure the site reaches the grade that they want it to be.

Environmental agencies and farmers

Image Courtesy of Unmanned Aerial Operations

Environmental agencies as well as agricultural farmers largely benefit from topographic mapping because they can analyze where moisture will collect on their project site or field. 

It’s also important for farmers to know where pesticide runoff will go so that they do not end up poisoning a well or waterway.

In the case of environmental agencies, topographic maps benefit them in identifying where an oil spill or other contaminant was leaked into the ground. Knowing where the liquid will collect in the water table is extremely important when trying to contain leakage.

Real estate agents, buyers, and developers need topographic maps in areas of properties with stark landscapes such as the Appalachian Foothills and Mountains.

Real estate

Image Courtesy of Unmanned Aerial Operations

A real estate agent may benefit greatly by using the largely flat land of a property to sell to a buyer. A buyer also benefits from a topographic map via drone mapping by knowing and planning where to build their home. 

A developer will need to know the elevations and changes in elevation in order to build a structurally sound home or apartment. 

Topographic mapping is undoubtedly one of the most beneficial versions of drone mapping and has revolutionized the way that information and maps are created. 

The maps can be made by a simple RGB camera taking photos and using the science of photogrammetry, or in the case where a heavy canopy covers the land, a Lidar survey can be taken from the drone mapping to create a true topographic map of the land. 

As discussed previously, in many areas of the United States, it is crucial to have a Lidar survey taken as opposed to a photogrammetry aerial survey. Both are forms of drone mapping, but in many cases, Lidar is beneficial when there is a heavy canopy. 

3D modeling

Image Courtesy of Unmanned Aerial Operations

A largely underutilized form of drone mapping is 3D modeling.

A company called Unmanned Aerial Operations conducted a large 3D model of property for Mossy Oak Properties, a big player in the real estate industry. 

The property was 600 acres and located in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina. The goal of the drone mapping mission was to create a highly detailed 3D model of the property to identify features, roads, waterways, and possible areas to build on.

Such a large-scale property benefited greatly from the drone mapping mission and the 3D model because the owners of the property were able to effectively analyze the property as a whole with reference points.

This is much more helpful when compared to a series of aerial photos with little to no reference points.

The 3D model was as good as being in a plane and flying over the property yourself, being able to see all aspects of the property as well as zoom in and identify features with high detail. 

Video game design

3D modeling via drone mapping also has made waves in 3D art design and video game design.

If a company wishes to have realistic details in a video game, it may opt to hire a drone service provider to scan a building, region, or structure to create a true model of the subject. 

These models are easily implemented into any video game design and give a basis for the designers to continue creating and adding detail to the structure.

Some drones are now equipped with cameras and software specifically made for 3D modeling and produce highly detailed 3D models on their own.

Final thoughts

Drone mapping is a huge technological development within the last decade. It will definitely continue to be utilized in many fields and grow in others!

Resources:
Unmanned Aerial Operations (link)