Drone mapping is beginning to take off in the commercial drone industry as a new way to conduct business operations. Having eyes in the sky provides better access in hard-to-reach places, a way to collect information faster, and the possibility of taking employees out of harm's way.
We caught up with Lorenzo Martelletti, sales and marketing director for mapping software-solution provider Pix4D, to talk about the importance of drone mapping and how it can transform a business.
InterDrone News: What benefits does drone mapping bring to the business?
Martelletti: Drone mapping is a very new mapping technology that is already disturbing previous techniques. Of course, satellite mapping still makes sense, and airplane mapping still makes sense, but it all depends on the resolution you want or area you need covered.
Drone mapping comes especially in handy when there’s a need for information on areas that change over time. Construction sites, agricultural fields, or mining sites are places where you need high-resolution surveying or measurements, and that change pretty frequently. That is where the drone becomes very valuable. A plane or satellite cannot compete with a drone that generates data on demand. Users and operators can take their own tool, fly over their own field, construction site, or whatever site they are measuring, and create their own mapping data.
What are some common use cases or industries you see drone mapping being used in?
Our main industry is land surveying—for instance, professional certified surveyors or service providers who serve a variety of industries, such as environment studies, mining, surveying quarries, and so on. You have a range of land surveyors and professional surveyors that are using drones as a surveying tool.
Then, of course, construction is an interesting application. You can monitor construction sites over time very easily with a drone. You may have regulation problems in cities for flights, but apart from that, construction is very compatible with drone mapping.
Drone mapping also provides those doing inspection with real-time video that can also serve as data for modeling. With our software, anyone with a good drone and a camera can make a 3D model or map of a building, and can inspect infrastructure.
Mining was one of the first industries for monitoring and mapping, and precision agriculture is another application; multispectral mapping of fields in order to derive plant health information, spot disease; and more.
Forensics is also an exciting application. More and more police and forensic professions are using drones for accidents and scene reconstruction. Drones help survey the scene and produce visual documentation.
And then a new sector we are seeing is architecture or real estate. Here, an aerial photography professional or aerial filming professional can make videos, create 3D models and and provide communication material for properties.
What does a business or enterprise need to look for when seeking a drone mapping solution?
That depends on the type of specialization. If you are a land surveyor or professional surveyor using drones as a tool, you need the software to be accurate, and to perform good-quality assessment and quality control.
We offer those capabilities through both a desktop and cloud solution. With our cloud solution, users can get a fully automated, quick processing platform. With our desktop, users can process data, control the quality and accuracy, and do precise measurements. This is typically something professional mapping and surveying providers are looking for.
For service providers in agriculture, it’s important to be able to handle accurate metrics, use multispectral sensors, and produce highly accurate radiometric maps. You want to be able to always produce comparable results. For forensics, typically I would say it is the accuracy that matters, such as performing measurements.
Lastly, I would say for larger clients there is another layer of needs. How do they integrate drones and drone mapping into their workflows and solutions? They may care less in terms of accuracy, but more in terms of a global, higher level of consultancy.
What pain points does Pix4D aim to address?
We always care about accurate results and software quality. We care about giving professional support and the proper education to users. Drone technology and photogrammetry is not the easiest discipline. Our software is relatively easy to use, but we always share our understanding with our clients and give professional support with our software to assist users. In addition, we care about being compatible with the platforms and the sensors that are around. Our software can process data from any camera, and adjusts for rolling shutter, fisheye sensors, and more. We also have a free mobile app to fly the most popular drones such as DJI, 3DR and Parrot drones.
Are there any limitations or improvements that will need to be made with drone mapping?
Drone mapping is something that is just starting, and the photogrammetric process and workflow is always getting stronger. Development is going toward more tools for specific uses, to give not only the professional and service provider tools, but also to some extent the site manager. In this sense, there are a lot of companies working to improving their work and create a solution.
In addition, the speed and resolution that comes from drone mapping is always improving. Apart from the resolution, what is improving all the time is the processing speed and the ability to get quick results while still having accurate results.
Where do you think the drone industry is going, and how is drone mapping going to be a part of that future?
The drone industry is growing, with the whole market of professional applications just starting. There are millions of drones already flying and sold, but mainly in the consumer space with prosumer drones. The professional drone industry and specialization space is still starting. You see a lot of companies doing a lot of services, but the goal is to go toward full automatic solutions so drones can fly over a power line and inspect it completely without human interaction.
The same thing goes for farming and agriculture. At some point there will be an automatic understanding of plant health and fertilization maps that are fed automatically into the tractor.