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Mapping The Land With Drones

Updated: Dec 29, 2020

Drone in action.

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, or drones) have been a key technology inspiring new thinking and disrupting land practices over the past few years. The flexibility and affordability of UAVs make them a very efficient tool between more expensive and time-consuming (but highly accurate) field surveys, and classical aerial (or satellite) mapping methods. UAVs deliver tailored orthoimagery, from which other forms of spatial data can be derived. Planning and flying drones requires knowledge of the rules and regulations and knowing the characteristics of the landscape being mapped (or photographed).

FAA drone authorizations zones surrounding Dane County (WI) Regional Airport.

Local Laws and Regulations

Knowledge of local laws and regulations relating to UAVs is crucial. Laws relating to the use of UAVs have been developing rapidly. A major challenge in developing regulations is finding the right balance between the demands of different parties. Government institutions and regulatory bodies, although supportive of the technology, are aimed at ensuring public safety and security, while the research and development sector strives for innovation, and, of course, commercial companies are focused on selling their products. Drone operators need to be acutely aware of, and keep up to date with, local UAV regulations, and also be aware of local laws and administering authorities (e.g., the FAA). For instance, flight space authorizations are needed in and around airports, and temporary flight restrictions can occur near and around any type of outdoor event. Other regulations require the registration and identification of UAVs, the licensing of pilots, and strict limitations including flying height, flying over people, time of day, and line of sight.

Project characteristics

Prior to flying, land administration project characteristics need to be assessed against the capabilities of UAVs. Like all other mapping tools, UAVs will be highly suited to some applications, but not all. If the project area is regional or larger, then satellite imagery or conventional aerial imagery will probably be more appropriate. If the project area involves only a few land parcels and demands high accuracy, then utilizing UAVs with GPS (GNSS) ground control points is a great option. Fixed-wing UAVs are highly suited to larger tracts of land of over 200 acres. Synonymous to conventional aircraft, they can perform longer flights than rotary-blade types, but require wider space for take-off and landing. Rotary-blade UAVs (e.g. quad-copters) are generally suitable for smaller, more complex areas, having the ability to remain stationary in the air, and are highly suitable for 3D modelling of stockpiles, buildings and infrastructure. Either way, UAVs are likely the quickest way to obtain near-real-time imagery at a low cost and desired quality. If these characteristics are fundamental to the project, UAVs might be the best way to go.

Drone flight planning app.

Sound flight planning combines the rules and regulations for safe and effective drone operations with characteristics of the land being mapped. Incorporating a proper selection of flight parameters with necessary ground sampling techniques can make it easier to plan and complete flights, and support more accurate results. As UAV technologies are continually advancing and flying capabilities are constantly improving, UAVs will continue to offer a low-cost and efficient way to map land assets.

Geographic Techniques LLC offers UAV-based mapping solutions on any size land parcel. Having flown a variety of landscapes ranging from a few acres to over a thousand acres, including forests, prairies, wetlands, and agricultural lands, we would love to help you formulate a plan and get you a quote. And we can offer you options to stay within your budget.

Contact Us

Let us know if you are interested in a drone mapping project. And, if you would like, we would be happy to give you a short demonstration on site! * After all, we are here to help.

Douglas Norgord


* Within a reasonable distance from home base or current operations. Please inquire.

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