Using sUAS', or drones, for mapping is quite affordable and efficient if the operator has a working knowledge of mission software, including flight software, and image processing software, as well as an understanding of the sUAS platform operational capabilities and camera parameters. Finally, the mission design must be tailored to the environment being imaged and the desired end result, whether it be an orthorectified image, DEM or 3D model all require a slightly different approach to the capture process.
It's my goal to guide you through the processes I use for my mapping including the drone make and model I use, the mission software that controls the drone and the software and/or services used for image processing, some free and some not. This will be a multi part blog post covering the aforementioned elements starting with the platform I use and it's operational strengths, limitations and flight characteristics.
From the platform I use we will discuss the types of products produced as well as the image capture requirements. I currently use RGB color imaging and haven't gotten into thermal imaging from the drone nor do I have LiDAR capabilities. That being said I will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of these technologies as well as give examples of and references to case studies of these technologies
From the products topic I will move on to the types of terrain to be mapped and the various considerations that should be noted when planning a mission, such as topographic relief, vegetation cover, shadows and more. Most of my mapping occurs in heavily timbered mountainous terrain which poses some interesting operational restrictions and requirements.
After terrain I'll go over the different mission control software I use for different situations as well as the camera settings within the software. There are many choices when it comes to mission software and and I'll go over the strengths and weaknesses of the mission software I use for my particular platform. Most of the actual images I'll be sharing of mission software will be taken from an Android device, but I let you know of the iOS versions and differences if any.
Mission control software will lead into the actual flight of the mission. When in the field there are many considerations to take into account in order to successfully complete the mission and from my experiences I will relate some equipment both required and desirable as well as recommendations for lists and peripheral hardware that I have found to be, if not mission critical then, vary helpful.
Once out of the field we will discuss the image processing software used to produce the desire results. Here, again, we have many choices ranging in price and usability and we'll cover the ones that generally use structure from motion (SFM) algorithms, but I will discuss other solutions as well and go over the advantages and disadvantages of paid, subscription and free solutions.
Finally, to wrap up the drone mapping section we'll talk about some of the peripheral software and services available ranging from drone insurance to computer requirements and recommendations to process image sets and where to store your data as well as web locations to showcase your end results.