In a relatively short period of time, drones have become a disruptive technology in many commercial sectors including surveying and agriculture. One key area where these flexible and affordable machines are used today is photo mapping.
With high-resolution cameras and accurate geotagging from GPS data, once you have the appropriate software it’s now relatively easy to create a photo map of any area of land.
What is Photo Mapping?
In the past, you would have needed to take aerial shots from a high vantage point or by using an aeroplane or helicopter. Even with that, being able to size and geotag those images was limited as was the stitching software being used.
Drones have all but helped solve this problem in the last few years. Carrying high-resolution cameras, they can operate at a carefully controlled height and take individual still images of a location which are then stitched together using highly effective photo mapping software.
If done well, the result is an accurate 2D map of the landscape. More sophisticated drone technology is also now allowing us to produce 3D maps and the latest sensors allow us to deploy thermal imaging and airborne laser scanning.
Drone mapping uses a process called photogrammetry which allows you to make measurements between objects and produce accurate topographical representations. These maps can be used for a variety of purposes and even imported into platforms such as Google Maps.
The Benefits of Using Drones for Photo Mapping
The huge benefits of using drones for photo mapping are fairly evident.
First of all, there’s the lower cost involved. Hiring a helicopter or aeroplane to survey an area of land is very expensive. A drone is light, flexible and can get closer to the ground than a traditional aircraft. It can be carried in the back of a car or van and operates in almost any location.
With the high definition cameras that are available nowadays, along with GPS data tracking, very accurate representations can be obtained in a relatively short space of time and with minimum effort. Essentially, the software does all the heavy lifting for you.
Drone photo mapping is used in many industries and sectors today including surveying, construction, land development and agriculture. It’s also being used by smaller commercial ventures to create bespoke maps that can then be uploaded to platforms such as Google Maps.
Multi-Rotor Drones and Photo Mapping
If you are using drones for your business, your options will be between multi-rotor and fixed-wing aircraft. The former is more often used in photo mapping simply because it offers greater flexibility of movement. Multi-rotor drones also tend to come at a lower cost and can take a relatively heavier payload, in this case, the camera.
Drone Mapping Software
The key to photo mapping is the software that is used. This needs to be able to create what are called orthomosaic photos – in other words, images that can be geometrically corrected so that you don’t have any distortion spoiling the map.
A drone will take many overlapping images of a particular landscape and these are then added into the software which stitches them together in order to form the map. Along with the image itself, a Ground Control Point or GCP is used to render accurate information. This usually consists of a fixed base GPS that sends out signals to regularly correct information collected by the drone.
The number of different drone mapping software choices on the market has grown considerably in the last five to six years. Some are relatively easy to use, while others require a good deal of expertise. Here are just a few examples:
- Drone Deploy is probably one of the most well-known and has been in circulation since 2013. It provides solutions for a number of industries including agriculture and construction.
- If you’re looking for a software package that has more whistles and bells on it, however, Pix4D offers specific versions tailored to certain industries. The cost is higher than with many other packages but worth it if you are searching for a greater degree of functionality.
- For those searching for open source photo mapping software, WebODM is able to generate maps and 3D models, although it does have it’s limitations.
- Maps Made Easy Make your own Orthophoto Maps and 3D Models. No branding. No resolution limits. No subscriptions. Unlimited free processing for small jobs.
Integrating With Google Maps
If you have created a photo map of a specific location you can also integrate it with Google Maps. Simply head into Google My Maps and click on Create a New Map. This gives you the opportunity to embed your map along with the GPS data in both a KML and GPX file.
Check out an example of HeliDrone Surveys photo mapping, this was using an orthographic mapping technique (CLICK HERE) and zoom in on the building below its a great example of integrating Google maps and photo images