3D Drone Mapping

The Inflights Service

Why Are Drones So Effective At Mapping?

We’ve all been there. Unexpected results from the previous project impacting the next one. The triple constraint can ultimately limit the results of an entire program. There is only so much we can do to manage time, scope and budget. In the business of land surveying, the size and homogeneity of a terrain defines the scope and the time it takes to survey land impacts the critical path. Leveraging drones addresses the question of how to reduce not only time, but also budget. Which means that the scope of the land survey is also reduced. This may provide the buffer you need on a new project or even get an entire program back on track.

What exactly is 3D Drone Mapping?

Land surveys that are developed by flying drones instead of walking around on foot is referred to as mapping with drones or drone mapping. Because drones can achieve quite literally, a bird’s-eye view, the perspective that the cameras capture can provide a level of detail that is not possible on foot. Either on foot or with drones, the collection of captured photos are weaved together with powerful software and used to measure distances between objects. This practice is known as photogrammetry has been the basis of land surveying for over 150 years.

This might sound familiar because we use maps developed from photogrammetry everyday. From the highest vantage point, we are all familiar with Google Maps in satellite view. The 3D version is Google Earth. This is an excellent tool for everyday use, but it has its limitations for commercial use.

To achieve greater accuracy and precise measurements, a drone captures images not only from a closer distance but also starting from the lowest vantage point to cover nearly every angle. The high resolution pictures coupled with the proximity to objects renders centimeter-level precision on measurements. The final deliverable is an orthomosaic map.

What is an orthomosaic map and how does that compare to Google Earth?

The Inflights crew gets this question a lot. Simply put, an orthomosaic map developed from drone photos is a significantly more detailed and more recent version of Google Maps.

Both make use of high resolution pictures, but drones take those pictures from close up and a multitude of angles. When using Google Earth, you can only zoom in so far.

Fact is that everyone starts with accessing information online using free tools. This includes us. Google Maps and Google Earth are extremely useful for getting rough approximations quickly. These tools work great for initial land survey research, but the tools soon reach their limits. Once vegetation or erosion are introduced or the terrain goes beyond homogeneous and gets complex; more precise data and measurements are needed. This is where an orthomosaic map developed by drone data comes into play.

An orthomosaic is an extremely detailed map that is built by weaving individual pictures together called orthophotos. The orthophotos are taken by drones carrying high resolution cameras. Then powerful software removes all levels of distortion. This includes lens distortion, camera tilt, and topographic displacement caused by both the perspective geometry of the camera and the terrain at different elevations. This leaves a highly detailed picture of the terrain with a consistent scale across the entire image.

Details in the data

The images below depict an example of the typical differences between the two. As you can see, the perspective of the camera in a normal aerial view from Google may show the side of a building or what appears to be walls (see red arrows). The orthomosaic corrects this and removes the distortion. While not immediately obvious, these distortions will produce errors in the measurements.

Another challenge that one faces with these maps is that the images are not always up to date. Changes to locations are affected by natural causes such as vegetation growth or natural disasters as well as man made such as new construction. Having the latest view of the location optimizes planning and implementation. The blue arrows illustrate new construction that was not present when the Google imagery was produced.

3D Modelling yield accurate measurements

The Inflights engineers can also leverage the photos to create a 3D model of the terrain, buildings, or other structures. 3D modelling is a process that uses special software to create a mathematical rendition of any object in three dimensions.

Ok sounds great, but what if you do not have a drone pilot on staff at the location you need to survey?

Well, it can take time to find a pilot, figure out how to get around flying restrictions, negotiate a price, and all of the particulars. This does not seem to provide the time and cost savings you need. Or does it?

The Inflights difference

That’s where Inflights provides a unique value proposition. The Inflights crew has developed a set of key components to deliver a faster turnaround on the end-to-end service.

The Inflights streamlined process can get a drone in the air within a few days and provide you with the final deliverables within a week.

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