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A Closer Look at Drone Mapping - Part 1

Updated: Feb 29

A drone map is so much more than just a large aerial photo. They are some of the most powerful and useful outputs drones can provide. They are highly accurate 2D maps & 3D models from which teams and owners can perform all types of analysis in assessing, planning, and monitoring their land, their projects, their assets, their buildings, their campus, their farm, their ranch, their forest, their digitally reality.

Part 1 of 2 in this series will focus on the types of drone maps and the benefits they provide. We will also highlight the various businesses and industries who rely on these powerful tools every day.

Example of drone map

In order to understand the benefits of drone mapping, we need to briefly lay out some key concepts and terminology which make drone maps possible:

  1. Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) and GPS - What is commonly known as GPS has become a ubiquitous tool for many industries around the world. Most everybody is familiar with its benefits and precision GPS equipment plays a major role in producing accurate drone maps.

  2. Photogrammetry - is the science and technology of obtaining information from photographs and producing an accurate digital recreation of the physical world.

  3. Georeferenced - term indicating photos, maps, drawings, or models are accurately located on earths surface and correlate to a known geographic coordinate system. This is possible with the use of high precision GPS equipment, the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS), and land survey data.


There are two categories which are commonly referred to as drone maps. 2D Maps (Orthomosaics) and 3D Models (point clouds and meshes)

  1. Orthomosaic - A high definition 2D map created by stitching together a series of overlapping photos captured by the drone. The photos are processed with sophisticated photogrammetry software which results in an extremely accurate map which is correctly located on earths surface (georeferenced), and contains elevation and terrain data.

Forest plot orthomosaic with service road

  1. 3D Models - Photos captured in specific flight patterns and overlap can optimize the photogrammetric recreation, generating a 3D digital twin or model. These are rendered with amazing accuracy and realism.

3D point cloud is a set of data points in a 3D coordinate system, where each point represents a single spatial measurement and elevation. Dense point clouds can have millions of points where each one has an X,Y, & Z coordinate. Points can be classified, filtered, and manipulated for powerful analysis.

3D mesh utilizes the point cloud data and extrapolates vertices, edges, and polygons to generate a 3D lifelike model of the data or commonly referred to as a digital twin.



When I ventured into this world, my mind was blown regularly with the possibilities and benefits of this technology. What I have also seen over the years, is the more businesses use the technology, the more they understand its potential, fostering creative and powerful workflows.

Drone maps are typically hosted on an intuitive and easily accessable web interface, where users have powerful analytic tools available to visualize and interact with their maps. As previously discussed, maps contain elevation and terrain data, which provides information in all 3 dimensions. With a drone map you can:

  1. See the entirety of the site, no matter how large, in one navigable view, both in 2D and 3D.

  2. Gather information in hard to reach or remote areas where land based approaches are cost prohibitive or impossible.

  3. Gather reliable information in a fraction of the time/cost compared to traditional mapping methods.

  4. Get immediate feedback into site conditions with high resolution, centimeter accurate data.

  5. Visualize a site for planning and logistics.

  6. Capture moments in time to accurately document locations and elevations of critical items and infrastructure.

  7. Inspect large areas with the broader context and geographic patterns in view.

  8. Perform condition assessments of critical infrastructure and track changes over time.

  9. Monitor and quantify changes over time, with regularly captured maps of sites, assets, structures, farms, forests, etc.

  10. Collaborate with unlimited users on an intuitive and visually immersive platform.

  11. Import and overlay multiple document types such as CAD, PDF, JPGS on your map for deeper analysis.

  12. Measure distances in 2D and 3D.

  13. Calculate areas and volumes of objects, buildings, vegetation, surfaces, aggregates, and so much more.

  14. Perform cut/fill analysis for earthwork operations.

  15. Create 3D surfaces and topos for export into CAD software.

  16. Inspect assets for safety and compliance with regulatory or insurance providers.

  17. Use as a powerful tool for maintenance teams.

  18. Bring maps into GIS software to supercharge analysis and curated visuals.

  19. Combine with powerful new AI engines, enabling rapid analysis of drone data.

  20. Use maps and models for staff training.

  21. Use maps and models for promotional and marketing uses.

.........and the list goes on!!


Now that we have identified some of the benefits drone maps provide, lets highlight some of the many businesses and industries utilizing this powerful tool.

Architects, engineers, surveyors, and contractors

Agriculture and viticulture



Environmental agencies

Land trusts

Critical infrastructure managers

Event planners (particularly outdoor venues)



Government agencies

Search and rescue


Private land owners

Insurance companies


Utility companies

Sporting venues

Quarries and Aggregates

This is by no means an exhaustive list, and with technology rapidly improving, businesses continually finding new and powerful ways to implement drone maps into their operations. Figuratively, the sky's the limit.....sorry could't resist the pun :-)

Next Time - Part 2

Now that you have a better idea of what drone maps are and the many benefits they provide, we will focus on the tools, software, process, and skill needed to create these amazing maps. Stay tuned.


Mike Liggett

Owner, Aerial Ethos


  1. How are drone maps stored, managed, and shared within businesses? Drone maps, being data-intensive, require efficient storage and management systems. Typically, they are stored in cloud-based platforms, ensuring accessibility and scalability. Security measures such as encryption and access controls are often implemented to protect sensitive data. Collaboration is facilitated by features that allow multiple users to access, review, and contribute to maps simultaneously. Additionally, automated version control ensures that the most up-to-date map is always available.

  2. What are the limitations of drone maps and how can these be mitigated? Despite their versatility, drone maps have limitations that can impact their accuracy and applicability. Factors like inclement weather, electromagnetic interference, or restricted airspace can hamper drone operations. Maintaining data accuracy, especially in complex terrains or with moving objects, is another challenge. To mitigate these issues, thorough planning and risk assessment are crucial. Flight patterns and equipment calibration should be carefully selected to optimize data collection. In addition, leveraging ground control points or integrating other sensor data (such as LiDAR or RTK) can enhance the accuracy and utility of drone maps.

  3. What are the current trends in drone mapping technology and how are they expected to evolve? Drone mapping is a rapidly evolving field, with continuous advancements in technology. Key trends include the integration of artificial intelligence (AI) for enhanced data analysis, enabling tasks like object recognition, change detection, and automated reporting. The miniaturization of sensor technology allows drones to carry multiple sensors simultaneously, expanding their capabilities. Real-time data processing and transmission, facilitated by edge computing and 5G connectivity, are also on the rise, enabling live monitoring and analysis. Additionally, there is a growing emphasis on sustainability and environmental monitoring, driving the development of specialized sensors for applications like wildlife tracking and habitat assessment.

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