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Of the numerous employments of drones, mapping appears to be some with a seamless mix and match. By leveraging this flying machine, you will not have to go through days or weeks in the survey area and measuring stuff manually – for example. Drones not just make your job done with more ease but generate models and data with higher accuracy.
But on the other hand, not any random drone can do the job. That is why we are here to bring you a rundown of the best drone for aerial mapping.
One thing to note, in the guide, we also refer to the term ‘drone’ as UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle), crewless aircraft, flying robots, or flying machines.
Drone mapping: Specifically, what is it?
It is an airborne survey made by a UAV and specialist cameras. These can come with LiDar (light detection and ranging), thermal, multispectral, or photogrammetry RGB (Red Green Blue) sensors.
Thanks to this technique, you can get an assortment of super-accurate data extra fast. For your information, according to a study, UAV solution for mapping gathers data about ninety percent more quickly compared to manual techniques.
Additionally, it is a safe approach to collect data. It is not necessary for you to get employees to work at height or walk over hazardous terrain. UAVs will do on your behalf.
The processing of such data is made easy via drone mapping software. The result is the production of various assets, for example, digital elevation models and 3D models. You will want to use those to extract significant info such as precise measurements.
Such info assists with the most informed adoption of decisions possible. With it, you also gain necessary insights – for instance, detecting issues and keeping track of the project progress. Better yet, drone mapping helps with smoothing out successful communication with partners and the community.
Your best drone for aerial mapping
Now that you see more about drone mapping’s importance, let’s maximize what it has brought to the table by selecting a suitable drone.
1. senseFly eBee X Fixed-Wing Mapping Drone – by senseFly
Not many firms have as much involvement with airborne mapping as senseFly. That is why it is legit reasonable for one of their models to be this rundown. The eBee X Fixed-Wing Mapping Drone is the best bet as it delivers sufficient flexibility for any mapping demands.
This product unit is amazingly adaptable. Aside from accommodating RTK (Real-time kinematic) and PPK (Post processed kinematic) workflows alike, it suits various payload options from not only senseFly but also 3rd-party enterprises. The Parrot Sequoia revolutionary multispectral sensor is one of those.
What is more to boast? The drone model belongs to the fixed-wing type. And the best part about operating this kind is it can remain in the air for a genuinely long time on one battery cycle.
Speaking of this senseFly, you may appreciate that its playtime is as long as an hour and a half uninterrupted. That is super helpful in case you plan to survey a wide area. With regards to survey planning, the drone work with the popular Pix4D suite.
On the one hand, this product unit’s price is not low. However, we are confident that many drone mapping experts will find the eBee X is worth the cost. It is such a particularly reliable and excellent flying robot.
2. Yuneec Typhoon H3 Hexacopter – by Yunee
Are you in the market for the best drone for aerial mapping that lies in the consumer category? Then, you cannot go wrong with the top-of-the-line Typhoon H3 from Yuneec.
This amazing flying machine comes with an incredible Leica camera fantastic for handling your airborne capture undertakings. Better yet, there include several software flight techniques that help to fly a grid.
Generally speaking, if you can searching for a decent crewless aircraft vehicle that is not remarkable but enough for mapping, check out the H3.
3. Parrot PF728000 ANAFI Drone – by Parrot
The Anafi is a respectable consumer drone, to begin with. Yet the brand has since introduced versions such as the Anafi Thermal that please the commercial market’s needs.
What is cool about this model, it works to direct the camera upwards. While looking up is a niche attribute, it proves the value in several inspection tasks. Plus, it is likely valuable to your aerial mapping demands.
In general, on the one hand, the product unit is an older one initially released as an average consumer drone. But on the other hand, its capability of looking upwards and the brand’s successful involvement in making other mapping UAVs have made it and the upgraded versions one of the standouts out there.
4. DJI Phantom 4 RTK – by DJI
For seemingly forever, this DJI model has been regarded as the professional-grade UAVs’ standard and the best drone for aerial mapping. Indeed, as the RTK version was launched a few years ago, it quickly became a game-changer when it comes to mapping. The unit boasts the inclusion of the DJI Phantom 4’s industry-defining attributes and further improvement thanks to RTK innovation.
To be more specific, this RTK keeps the very most desirable characteristics of the standard version intact. These include a three-axis gimbal, a one-inch CMOS sensor, and a battery with a capacity of 5870 mAh and a flight time of as long as half an hour.
The trademark RTK module is positioned at the highest point of the robot. In combination with the D-RTK 2 high precision ground station, the Phantom 4 RTK manages to gather spatial data at centimeter-level precision.
Further, this model features an upgraded controller whose battery is swappable. There is also a microSD card slot, allowing you to put away survey data. What is more? You have a cloud-based backup through leveraging 4G connectivity.
Still, that is not all. The unique GS RTK application is explicitly for this product unit, which enables intuitive flight arranging and simple execution on the field.
With that being said, the DJI Phantom 4 RTK is not flawless. And the biggest drawback is, it is not intended to work with a PPK workflow. Likewise, this drone lacks an interchangeable payload, resulting in your restricted accessibility in mapping through photogrammetry.
5. DJI Mavic Air 2 – by DJI
The above-mentioned DJI is a high-end drone explicitly intended for mapping. But if you are looking for the best drone for aerial mapping that is less costly, do consider the Mavic Air 2. With a smidgen of tweaking and a few trade-offs, this model works to do certain light mapping tasks.
It is one of the latest, extra compact UAVs made by the reliable brand DJI. Also, the model is an improvement from the super famous DJI Mavic Air drone.
This enhanced version comes with a camera with the ability to take 4K videos at 60 fps and 48-megapixel photographs. It is among the most impressive cameras in the prosumer UAV market and is unquestionably incredible enough for photogrammetry.
One thing to note, as the Mavic Air 2 is small, it will be difficult for it to cover plenty of ground. That reduces the drone’s helpfulness for mapping. Assuming the land you plan to survey has an area of a few hundred hectares, chances are you need a more robust and sizable UAV.
Thus far, the most considerable challenge of leveraging this DJI in mapping is the way of concocting a flight plan. All things considered, even the brand’s mapping software Terra has not supported arranging the flight with the Air 2. We are expecting Litchi to do the job. That is because it is said to be compatible with the Mavic Mini and the Air 2 in the future.
Key factors to consider before you buy the best drone for aerial mapping
To assist you with narrowing down the broad range of drones for mapping, how about we dive into the characteristics you should search for in these machines.
1. Multirotor or fixed-wing?
More often than not, picking one over the other has to do with your budget, your competencies as a UAV operator, and your survey area’s size.
Flying multirotor UAVs is way simpler, generally on the grounds that they work to hover in place. As they are mainstream today, they are additionally far less expensive than professional-grade fixed-wing robots.
Notwithstanding, because they produce propulsion and lift depending on rotors, their downside lies in battery effectiveness. Assuming your survey area is just several acres in width, your good bet is a multirotor UAV.
Speaking of fixed-wing type, it is a fantastic selection in case you are looking over some hundred hectares of land. Thanks to its construction, the drone can produce lift simply through gliding over the air.
Nonetheless, you are better off being more skilled to operate these UAVs.
2. Autonomous flight capability
Most of the time, airborne mapping surveys necessitate that your drone flies over an area numerous times to guarantee data precision and consistency.
For that, you should make certain that the flight path the robot works along is the same each and every time. It is unfeasible to do so manually. Thus, leveraging a flying robot that gives you the choice to customize for autonomous flight is necessary.
3. Long flight time
As you are in the know, it takes plenty of valuable minutes to land and deploy the UAV numerous times in one survey. To make the best of the time invested in the field, you will need a flying machine whose playtime is somewhere around half an hour uninterrupted. Practically, this is a standard amount for many present-day drones.
4. RTK drones
As you may notice, as of late, drone brands have integrated RTK innovation into their best drone for aerial mapping. Thanks to this technique, GPS data can become enhanced by differential measurements.
The method depends on a steady rectification of GPS data with reference to a fixed ground station. RTK allows for way higher locational accuracy to centimeter-level.
On the one hand, UAVs with this technique integrated give a substantial jump regarding data precision for mapping. But on the other hand, the improved models to RTK from standard GPS are likewise pricey.
5. 4K camera
The camera’s resolution is a deciding factor to data quality in photogrammetry (known as one of the most popular methods used for aerial mapping).
You will need to leverage a camera with the capability of taking a considerable amount of fine details on the ground as could reasonably be expected. That way, the software will recreate those features during 3D modeling with ease. Cameras that manage to shoot 12-megapixel photographs and 4K videos are standard these days. With that being said, feel free to select a higher resolution if accessible.
6. Interchangeable payload
Again, photogrammetry is among the mainstream mapping technique leveraged. But it has not been the best. Assuming further detail in your model is what you want, you may depend on a LiDar sensor.
What is more? UAV mapping innovation can be in combination with thermal imaging and other imaging innovations to create an assortment of data maps. This helps in some industries such as utility pipes surveying and crop farms handling.
On the other hand, please keep in mind that UAVs featuring integrated LiDAR sensors and whatnot are rare. In case those capabilities are important to your work, you will need to use third-party accessories and a UAV compatible with various kinds of payload. Such product units are definitely way more costly compared to many commercial drones.
Overall, mapping is an exceptionally technical application of UAVs, you do not necessarily buy a super sophisticated UAV to get the job done. At least, consider a model with a GPS receiver, autonomous flight functionalities, as well as a decent camera. If you want to scale up operations with a more cutting-edge machine, you will need to spend a huge amount of money. On the other hand, with this, you can charge premium rates.
We hope that the above list of the best drone for aerial mapping helps you find your best fit. They have specific features that will help you do the job.