Best Commercial Drones For GIS Mapping Purposes In 2019.

Like the internet and GPS before them, drones are evolving beyond their military origin to become powerful tools for business. They’ve already made the leap to the consumer market, and now they’re being put to work in commercial and civil government applications from mapping to firefighting to farming.

Field Survey and Mapping activities have become one of the greatest applications of drone technology. With applications in construction, surveying, real estate, and infrastructure development, drone technology has been tapped by numerous companies worldwide to conduct drone mapping services that are faster, cheaper, safer, more accurate, and more efficient.

In this article, we will review some of the best and most affordable commercial drones for geospatial and mapping purposes in 2019.

1. DJI Phantom 4 RTK.

The DJI Phantom 4 RTK (Real-Time Kinematic) is an enterprise version of the popular prosumer DJI Phantom 4 Pro. The Phantom 4 RTK gets a hat up the top of it to fit in a real-time kinematic (RTK) positioning system, which combines with its other GPS, GLONASS, Galileo and BeiDou positioning systems to offer extreme positioning accuracy.

With the RTK system in place, the drone knows where it is within 1 cm + 1 ppm, both horizontally and vertically. The Phantom 4 RTK comes with its own flight planning app, specifically designed for photogrammetry and waypoint flight. DJI Phantom 4 RTK comes at a price tag of $6,500 which is an extra $5000 over the price of the Phantom 4 Pro ($1,499).

With a built-in flight planning app (GS RTK) and an easy method to collect RTK data (RTK Network or D-RTK 2 Mobile Station), pilots have a full solution for any surveying, mapping or inspection workflow – right out of the box.

Features and specifications.

  • Weight: 1.391 kg.
  • Camera: 1” 20 megapixel CMOS sensor.
  • Maximum Flight Time: Approx. 30 minutes.
  • Max Speed: 31 mph (50 kph)(P-mode), 36 mph (58 kph)(A-mode).
  • Software: GS RTK App (Purpose-Built Flight Planning Application).
  • GNSS: GPS+BeiDou+Galileo*(Asia); GPS+GLONASS+Galileo*(other regions.
  • Positioning Accuracy: The RTK module can provide positioning accuracy of 1cm+1ppm (horizontal), 1.5cm+1ppm (vertical), and 5cm absolute horizontal accuracy of photogrammetric models.

Also Read: Introduction to Turf.JS – JavaScript library for Geospatial Analysis.

2. SenseFly eBee X.

The SenseFly eBee X is the fixed-wing drone for all your mapping needs. Designed to boost the quality, efficiency, and safety of your mapping and data collection activities, it has a camera to suit every job, the accuracy and coverage to meet every project’s requirements, and can work virtually every type of site.

The eBee X allows you to work virtually every site, no matter how demanding, thanks to its space-friendly Steep Landing technology, ultra-robust design, live air traffic data and more. Price is US ranges from $1,099 to $1,200 (Excluding Sales Tax).

The eBee X can fly a maximum flight time of 90 min—for vast coverage of up to 500 ha (1,235 ac) at 400 ft*—while its High- Precision on Demand helps you achieve absolute accuracy of down to 3 cm (1.2 in), without GCPs.

Features and specifications.

  • Weight: 1.1 kg – 1.4 kg (2.2 – 3.1 lb) depending on camera and battery.
  • Cruise speed: 40-110 km/h (11-30 m/s or 25-68 mph).
  • Wind resistance: Up to 46 km/h (12.8 m/s or 28.6 mph).
  • Maximum flight time: 90 minutes.
  • Max. flight range: Standard: 47 km (~30 mi) Endurance: 95 km (~60 mi).
  • Maximum coverage (single flight): 500 ha (~1,250 ac), with senseFly S.O.D.A. 3D / Endurance Extension
  • (Automatic) Landing: Linear landing with Steep Landing technology (5 m/16.4 ft) accuracy in 35° angle cone).
  • Software: eMotion (Flight planning & control software (supplied)).

3. HiTEC Xeno FX.

The XENO FX is a fixed-wing drone optimized for efficient and cost-effective area survey and monitoring missions. With the Xeno FX, you can easily program your flight plan before launch to ensure thorough coverage of target region.

The drone hand-lunch (can be launched by just tossing it into the air) and it can fly for about 60 mins at a stretch. The hardware is perfect for all types of mapping activities because it supports interchangeable payload and sensor packages.

By default, the hardware comes with a 12MP MAPIR Survey3 Sensor which has filters ranging from RGB, RGN(NDVI), OCN(NDVI), NGB(ENDVI), NIR, and Red-Edge.

Features and specifications.

  • Weight with Standard Camera: Approx. 2.35 lbs. (1.1 kg).
  • Wingspan: 49 in. (1245 mm).
  • Cruise Airspeed: 27-45 MPH.
  • Flight Time: 60 Minutes.
  • Max. Survey Range: Up to 675 Acres per Flight (2.73 km2) @ 400’ AGL.
  • Software: HiTEC Mission Control Application.
  • Sensor: 12MP RGB (RAW+JPG, JPG).
  • Filters: RGB, RGN (NDVI), OCN (NDVI), NGB (ENDVI), NIR, Red-Edge.

Also Read: All you need to know about ArcGIS Full Motion Video (FMV).

4. Delair UX11.

The Delair UX11 is an ideal solution for highly precise and safe mapping in a number of industries such as surveying, construction, oil & gas, utilities, mining, agriculture, and transportation.

It delivers integrated features for before, during and after flight operations, including an embedded global shutter camera, intuitive analytics, and data reporting tools, post-processed kinematic (PPK) capabilities for high-quality results, and both 2.4 GHz wireless and 3G/4G cellular connectivity.

The drone’s end-to-end system, combined with its operational performance benefits (allowing flights of up to 59 minutes covering over 500 acres at 400 feet), significantly lower the total cost of ownership compared to other surveying and mapping options.

Features and specifications.

  • Weight (payload included): 1.4 kg (3.1 lbs).
  • Cruise speed: 54 km/h (34 mph).
  • Wingspan: 1.1 m (43 in).
  • Maximum Flight Time: Up to 59 minutes.
  • Sensor type: Global shutter, distortion free.
  • Take off / Landing: Hand-launched (angle: 30 degrees) / Belly landing (angle: 30 degrees).
  • Communication: 3G/4G Unlimited (within network coverage).
  • GNSS: PPK optional (software activated), L1/L2, GPS+GLONASS+SBAS.

5. Marlyn VTOL Drone.

Marlyn is an industrial grade photogrammetry drone that makes the surveying and mapping process easy, efficient and straightforward.

As a VTOL drone, Marlyn takes away the hassle and risks that come with the take-off and landing of conventional fixed-wing drones, without compromising the unprecedented performance of an aerodynamically optimized wing.

Marlyn has efficient mapping features that can map a surface area of 1 km.sq with a GSD of 3cm/px in half an hour (0.4 mi² with a GSD of 1.2 inches/px). Marlyn maps up to 12 km² in a single flight.

Features and specifications.

  • Cruise speed: 95 km/h.
  • Wingspan: 1.60 m.
  • Max. payload: 0.8 kg.
  • Max. height above ground: 5000m.
  • Maximum Flight Time: Up to 59 minutes.
  • Sensor type: Sony QX1 Camera, Multispectral, thermal, or other sensors upon request.
  • Launching method: Vertical take-off and landing, fully automatic.
  • Software: Marlink flight planning software (Optional: Agisoft or Pix4D).
  • Correction services [PPK, RTK]: PPK.

Somide Olaoye Anthony

Somide Olaoye Anthony

Experienced geospatial information technologist with in-depth understanding of GIS practices and concepts. Outstanding knowledge of GIS software development, geodatabase design, data analysis and visualization. Proficient in use of Python, R, PHP, JavaScript, SQL, Tableau & PowerBI.
Somide Olaoye Anthony