Drones have become so advanced that more and more industries are using them to automate time-consuming tasks. A drone for mapping replaces surveyors; in other words, instead of spending time to cover large areas, such as construction sites or farms, these small gadgets can quickly investigate the place.
In addition to this, a drone for mapping is also able to collect large amounts of data and prepare 3D maps and other models that offer immediate insight into different aspects, such as crop health, measurements, and others. The next sections narrow down the characteristics of a great-quality drone for mapping and select the best models of this year.
What Is A Drone For Mapping?
A drone for mapping must have certain characteristics to be compatible with mapping software. In general, the newer the model is, the better its performance. There are certain technical specifications that define the amount of data the drones can collect and whether they can be used for large aerial surveillance.
Since a drone for mapping is often required to cover a large area, autonomous flight systems are a must. This is extremely important as flying over the same area several times is necessary if you want to generate highly accurate maps. In order to achieve this, a drone for mapping should be programmed to follow the same path each time. Not many drones have this option; some of them might require you to use additional software to create the path.
Most drones have a shorter battery cycle if they are not created specifically for this purpose. As a result, a standard model would not be able to finish the entire flight, resulting in delays. In the case of an exceptionally large area, you might want a drone model with swappable batteries.
This type can be set to land at a designated spot so you can swap the batteries before it continues the flight. As expected, landing and changing batteries can take significant time, so a drone that can fly for at least 30 minutes would be ideal.
A drone for mapping must have excellent camera quality. The most common technique used in aerial surveying is photogrammetry. In other words, the drone’s camera takes a series of overlapping photos in order to create the map. The key to this process is the resolution, so most people opt for 4K cameras to capture as many details as possible. Based on this data, mapping software can create 3D models and maps. The common option nowadays is a 12MP camera and 4K video; for professionals or larger businesses with adequate budgets, you can choose the highest resolution available.
Commercial drones have a built-in GPS system that allows you to track their location. Apart from stabilization, this feature is a must for autonomous flight. When the drone takes the geotagged photos for mapping, the GPS system allows the creation of maps by enabling the mapping software to put the photos together accurately.
Unfortunately, GPS systems have limitations. In most cases, there are errors of a few feet; while many pilots would not mind this shortcoming, it can be detrimental in fields such as construction or farms because planning can be easily biased.
To solve this issue, there are drones for mapping with Real-Time Kinematic (RTK) technology. This helps to improve the GPS system and correct the errors by identifying the drone’s location using a fixed point on the ground. This makes the measurements correct down to inches.
If your activity field requires excellent detail, photogrammetry might not be the best choice. LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) sensors are used to send light to solid objects on the field. The sensor then calculates the time required for the pulse to return to the sensor, being able to create highly accurate data regarding size, shape, and other measurements.
Best Drones For Mapping
DJI created the first integrated LiDAR drone solution that takes accuracy and detail to a whole new level. Designed for photogrammetry, the Zenmuse P1 boasts a full-frame sensor with an accuracy of 2 inches vertically and 1.2 inches horizontally. The 45MP sensor stands out from the competition, delivering unmatched precision.
The 3-axis gimbal favors the creation of 2D and 3D models, it has a smart oblique capture feature, while its high-quality camera takes photos every 0.7 seconds when flying. Other smart features include fieldwork reports, detailed modeling, and a centralized storage location.
The runner-up is another commercial drone that combines one of the best obstacle avoidance systems on the market with impressive aerial awareness. This makes the Matrice 300 one of the safest drones, while the RTK capability offers high accuracy. It is ideal for lengthy missions due to its ability to schedule more than 65,000 flight points.
With a maximum of nearly 10 miles per flight, the drone comes with 1080p video transmission. It supports both older or newer payloads, including the Zenmuse H20. Similar to other high-end drones, the DJI Matrice 300 RTK is customizable depending on your needs and is only available via quote.
SenseFly has extensive experience when it comes to drones for mapping. One of the best choices is eBee X, a versatile choice that is compatible with both RTK and PPK and different payload options, including 3D mapping cameras and third-party sensors.
Fortunately, the eBee X is a fixed-wing drone. This means that it can fly for longer on a single battery charge – up to 90 minutes. The drone is compatible with the Pix4D mapping platforms that can help you create the maps and models you need.
The Phantom 4 drones have long been considered the standard on the commercial drone market. The RTK version has all the capabilities of the standard Phantom 4 drone, such as 30-minute flight time, 1-inch CMOS sensor, but it has an RTK module placed on its top. This technology allows you to collect highly accurate data, as discussed in the section above.
Other upgrades of the DJI Phantom 4 RTK include a microSD card that can store all the relevant data, an improved controller, and a special RTK app that was created for this drone. It is designed to ease your experience by allowing you to easily fly the drone.
One of the best drones without RTK technology, the DJI Phantom 4 Pro is suitable for both planimetric and topographic models. It is highly dependable, robust, and appeals to lower budgets. One of its drawbacks is related to its GPS; this can be mitigated by ensuring proper ground control in order to correct the data.
For instance, if your field has less than 5 acres, there are no differences between the Phantom 4 RTK and 4 Pro in terms of time and control points; both of them come with the same vertical accuracy, for instance, since they have the same CMOS sensor. However, as the area is larger, i.e. 10-20+ acres, the 4 RTK comes with significant benefits.
This is the first drone for mapping developed by Yuneec and is currently recognized as one of the quickest RTK drones in the world. As its name indicates, it has RTK technology that improves accuracy and detail.
Yuneec has a plethora of accessories for the H520 which makes it highly customizable. For instance, customers can choose a thermal or a high-speed camera, depending on their needs. These must be purchased separately but surely add versatility to this model.
The camera is compatible with PPK. This technology is used by professionals when the ground station might not communicate efficiently with the drone; in this case, the PPK process allows the drone to correct the data collection after processing.
If you are a beginner or your budget is more limited, Parrot Anafi is one of the best choices in terms of value for money. This entry-level drone for mapping has a gimbal and a 4K, 21MP camera, which translates to a powerful performance. These high-end features are embedded into a cost-friendly design.
Although Parrot drones are often made from foam, the Parrot Anafi is made from durable plastic. This keeps it lightweight and is relatively sturdy. The Parrot Anafi has replaceable batteries for an extended flight time.
The best drone for mapping depends on your purposes and industry. Nowadays, drones have revolutionized many aspects in different fields, including farming, construction, city planning, and many more. Also, it is important to acknowledge the fact that these drones for mapping also require skills and knowledge, especially since you will need mapping software to create 2D or 3D maps.
If you do not have much experience, it is recommended to start with an entry-level drone for mapping and then purchase more advanced models as you learn how to operate it. Fortunately, all of the models above come with significant advantages from this perspective, so you can make an informed decision according to your needs, budget, and the size of your business.