Using drones for Aerial Mapping & Surveys

Drones are making mapping large areas significantly easier.  Using drones and mapping software they have the ability to capture high resolution images and create pre planned flight routes with accurate overlapping to create 2D and 3D maps and models.  As everything is automated and measured using GPS this method of mapping is overtaking manned aircraft with better results.

There are other benefits to drones being used for mapping compared to manned aircraft.  The biggest difference being the cost.  For starters drones are a lot more affordable than getting a manned aircraft in the sky, they are also a lot more portable so if the area being mapped isn’t near an airport the costs aren’t going to escalate like they would with traditional aerial mapping.

There are two main ways you can use when drone mapping.  They are photogrammetry and LiDAR scanning, let’s compare the two different options to see how they are used.


Photogrammetry uses many different images which are then stitched together to create a large high definition image of the area.  From this very accurate 3D models and 2D maps can be produced while also providing highly accurate measurements.

This is the most common method used as the cost of getting set up is a lot less than using a LiDAR scanner.  This is not to say that sometimes this is the best method to use dependant on your requirements.  The photogrammetry method works very well for large open areas of earth with no buildings or structures.


LiDAR scanners have been used buy surveyors for a long time and the ability to carry out measurements with lasers and lights bouncing and reflecting back to the machine to measure distances is nothing new.

However, the ability to now do this from an aerial perspective has changed the game.  LiDAR were placed in manned aircraft before but with the stability of a drone and accurate automated flight paths and lower flying altitudes this has given the technology even more reason to use it.

One of the main difference between LiDAR and photogrammetry is the cost.  Drones are very reasonable but LiDAR technology is still very expensive considering everything that is going on inside.

Another advantage is because of the measurements being taken by laser this is more suited to heavily vegetated areas or places with lots of obstructions.

So which one is best - LiDAR is definitely the most accurate and the images produced by photogrammetry are also useful.  Which one is best is going to depend on the type of job and the results you require, both options are great for mapping so why not use them both?

What do I need to start mapping?

There are 2 main things you need to be able to start mapping, first is a drone which is capable of mapping and secondly is an automated flying app which will work with your drone.  Read on to find out more about this.


What type of drones can I used for mapping?

As we were saying earlier, drones used for mapping are reasonably priced.  Some of the most common drones that are being used for mapping include DJI Phantom 4 pro’s, DJI Inspire 1 and Inspire 2’s and a few of the other DJI models.

All of the models above would be great fo photogrammetry but for LiDAR you would need something larger and more heavy lift.  Something like the DJI spreading wings series or an freefly ALTA 8 where you can add different payloads on and interchange them.

Most of the DJI drones are able to communicate with specialist photogrammetry apps automating this process and making it as easy as possible.  Some of the most popular apps to be used for photogrammetry are DroneDeploy and Pix4D

About DroneDeploy

DroneDeploy is a powerful piece of software that comes in app form.  Once downloaded you can create automated flight plans which take the images for you to produce accurate 2D maps, 3D models.

Flights are fully automated from take-off to landing which makes this one of the easiest apps to use and once a mission is complete all the photos will be stitched together to create the finished product all in the cloud.

The app is available on both iOS and android so you can get flying easily and quickly by using the powerful mapping tools.

About Pix4D

Pix4D has been designed to allow professionals to generate high-quality 2D and 3D data using aerial imagery captured from a drones.

The app can be downloaded and will generate results ranging from point clouds to digital surface and terrain models, orthomosaics to textured models.

Pix4D has been going a bit longer than its main competitor above but the scientific background it was built on is still there to create some powerful images if you are using it for mapping.

Is there anything else I should know?

If you are being paid to create and produce accurate mapping for clients using drones you must undertake the correct training and have all the correct permissions in place to operate.

Most national aviation authorities require commercial operators to be registered with them and have the correct permission before commencing commercial flying.

It is also best to consider getting professionally trained to fly your drone and even some professional training on using the apps and best practices to provide even better work for your clients.

In Great Britain you must be authorised and have a Permission for Commercial Operation (PfCO) to fly.  The United Kingdom aviation body is the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and they are the ones who issue all PfCO’s.

There are many National Qualified Entities that will be able to help train you in the correct way, teach you about all the laws and regulations of flying and help with the application to the CAA.

Another thing to consider if you are mapping commercially is the need to have the correct insurance in place.  Under EU regulation 785/2004 it is a legal requirement to have third party bodily injury insurance including war and allied perils when flying your drone.  We are able to provide you with the correct insurance making you compliant with the correct laws.  There may be other insurance covers which you should consider also including professional indemnity particularly if you work within the surveying industry as this is a legal requirement also.  Please give us a call to discuss the different options or if you are after a standalone drone policy you can get a quote and purchase online using the get a quote button below.

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