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Understand the Different Types of Drone Cameras and Imagery Available for Your Business

Drones make it possible to capture various types of imagery across the light spectrum. But that doesn’t mean every drone comes ready to meet the challenges of your business off the shelf.

In order to capture the right types of data you may need to purchase additional sensors, cameras, or hardware components. If you’ve read part one of this series and still have questions about aerial imagery and cameras, then this post is for you.

In this post, we’ll walk through the various types of imagery you’re able to capture using a drone, and help you understand the types of cameras you should purchase to meet your business needs. Let’s get started.

Want to read the full breakdown? Download our 2017 Drone Buyer’s Guide today.

Imaging

Using cameras and sensors attached to a drone, you can capture different types of light across the electromagnetic spectrum. From visible light, to thermal infrared imagery, it’s important to understand the different types of imagery and their industry uses. While construction or surveying users may only require a standard camera, an Ag user may require a near infrared (NIR) camera to evaluate crop health. The illustration below explains where the different types of imagery fall on the electromagnetic spectrum.


See the difference in wavelength capture between standard and modified cameras. Source: By Victor Blacus (SVG version of File:Electromagnetic-Spectrum.png) CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Visible Spectrum (RGB)

This is the most common type of imagery captured. RGB images are generally used in surveying, mapping and GIS missions where a high-definition surface model or 3D point cloud are required. This type of image is produced using the digital camera sensor that comes with most drones available on the market today, and is the color spectrum people are most used to viewing in standard photographs.


An orthomosaic drone map made an RGB camera using DroneDeploy.

Near Infrared (NIR)

NIR imagery is most frequently used in precision agriculture in order to calculate plant vegetation health. NIR has the highest level of reflectance of the light bands. NIR-capable cameras make it possible to identify the reflectance of light from vegetation, which strongly correlates with the level of chlorophyll present in the plant. Plants with more chlorophyll reflect a higher amount of NIR light than unhealthy plants, making it possible to identify plants in poor health.


An example of a near infrared image taken of a crop field.

Thermal

Thermal imagery is used across a variety of industries and use cases ranging from agriculture, to construction, to inspection, and surveying. This type of imagery detects heat signatures from the environment to identify the range of temperature present in an image. This can help identify “hot spots� in images in order to inspect roofs, roadways, and even identify wet spots from irrigation in crop fields.


An example of a thermal image taken of a building during inspection.

Still have questions about the use of aerial imagery and drones? Download our 2017 Drone Buyer’s Guide today.

Cameras

Cameras make it possible to capture imagery across the electromagnetic spectrum. Now that you have an understanding of the various types of imagery at your disposal, let’s discuss the different cameras that make it possible to capture image data. Most drone models come with a camera off the shelf, but you may need to invest in additional camera accessories to support your business use case. Let’s explore the different types of cameras on the market.

RGB

RGB — or standard — cameras capture Red, Green, and Blue light. This is the camera type that comes stock with most drone models. These are multipurpose photo and video cameras that can be used to make high-definition 2D orthomosaic maps as well as 3D models for any industry. Additionally, they can be paired with plant health algorithms such as the Visible Atmospherically Resistant Index (VARI) to assess plant health and crop stress in precision agriculture use cases.


Several DJI drone models that come with built-in RGB cameras. Pictured Phantom 4 Pro (top left), Mavic Pro (top right), and Inspire 2 (bottom).

When considering the right RGB camera for mapping we recommend the following best practices:

Buy the highest quality camera you can afford

Higher quality camera sensors produce higher resolution photos with greater pixel density, which means you get more accurate maps. What exactly does resolution have to do with map accuracy? Put simply, increasing the resolution of an image decreases its ground sampling distance (GSD), or in other words, it reduces the space between individual pixels in an image. Because drone mapping software like DroneDeploy processes maps by taking a series of individual images and matching the common points between them, the more common points that can be matched, the higher the accuracy of the map. An image with a more pixels contains more information, which means there is a greater probability of matching common points. We recommend purchasing a drone with a 12.3-megapixel camera or higher for drone mapping projects.

Buy a camera with a mechanical shutter

Many out-of-the-box drone cameras use a rolling shutter. This means that the camera records each frame line-by-line from top to bottom. When taking videos or photographs, this helps reduce motion blur. However, it can also sometimes cause what’s known as “rolling shutter effect,� where surfaces in a photograph appear warped because the camera-object relation changed before the full image was recorded. An image that is warped in this way makes it difficult for drone mapping software to match points on a map, which negatively affects the map’s accuracy. Purchasing a drone camera with a mechanical shutter helps solve this problem, because the sensor records all of the lines of the frame nearly simultaneously, rather than line-by-line.

Learn more about producing accurate drone maps with RGB cameras in our recent blog post.

Near Infrared (NIR) Cameras

There are two main types of NIR cameras: Modified RGB cameras for Near Infrared and Multispectral Cameras. These cameras are generally used in precision agriculture to determine crop variability using plant health algorithms such as the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI). They tend to be more expensive than RGB models because they are able to capture additional bands of light, but there are a wide variety of options available on the market to choose from. Let’s take a closer look.

RGB Cameras Modified for Near Infrared (NIR)

Modified cameras are fitted with a filter to capture some combination of Near Infrared, Red, Green, and Blue light depending on the model.


An example of an RGB camera modified for Near Infrared available from MaxMax

Multispectral Cameras

Multispectral cameras capture Red, Green, and Near Infrared light.


An example of a multispectral camera available from Slantrange

RGB cameras modified with NIR filters and multispectral cameras deliver high performance and accurate (absolute) NDVI imagery, but they require substantially higher investment than standard RGB cameras. Quality NIR-capable cameras can cost anywhere from $1,200 on the lower end, to $7,000 on the high end.

When considering the right modified RGB or Multispectral camera for mapping we recommend the following best practices:

While many aftermarket camera conversions for DJI cameras are available, image quality is inconsistent across manufacturers, meaning some may lead to poor map quality (see our documentation for a full explanation). We recommend getting quality control samples and a warranty from your hardware vendor prior to any purchase.

Learn more about using modified RGB and Multispectral cameras for precision agriculture in our online guide to identifying crop variability with drones.


An example of a thermal camera available from FLIR.

Thermal

Thermal, or thermographic cameras, usually detect radiation in the long-infrared range of the electromagnetic spectrum and produce images of that radiation, called thermograms. These cameras are most commonly used in inspection across industries ranging from construction to transportation, to public safety.

Want to learn more about the use of aerial imagery to make drone maps and 3D models for your business? Download our complete 2017 Drone Buyer’s Guide today.

Conclusion: Pick the Right Camera for the Job

You want to be sure you choose the right camera for the job. Before purchasing a drone, camera, or any other hardware accessories, make sure you have a clear understanding of your business needs.

If you’re in agriculture, we recommend you start simple with an RGB camera and move up from there to more expensive NIR-capable cameras if you need it. Many of our Ag customers report that RGB cameras deliver the capabilities to help them around the farm. But you may need an RGB camera modified for NIR or a multispectral camera, it depends on what type of data you’re looking for — especially if you’re an agronomist. Read more in our online guide to detecting crop variability.

If you’re in construction, surveying, oil & gas, or mining, you’ll most likely want to purchase an RGB camera. Though, certain use cases may require a thermal camera for inspections of buildings, roadways, or pipelines. Know your requirements and purchase a camera that can deliver the results you’re looking for.

Before we sign off, here are a few more pieces of parting wisdom to help you make a solid choice on your next drone — and camera — for aerial mapping.

It’s Not Always About the Megapixels

If you’re familiar with any one camera spec, it’s probably the megapixel rating. A higher amount of megapixels is often associated with a better camera. But this isn’t always the case — especially when it comes to drone mapping. While having a decent amount of megapixels is important (we recommend 12.3 MP or higher), it’s only one piece of the puzzle. You’ll also want to consider the size of the camera sensor, which can make a big difference in the outcome of your photos. And ultimately your drone maps and 3D models.

Sensors: Bigger is Better

When it comes to choosing a mapping camera for your drone, pick the one with a larger sensor size. Choosing a larger sensor (e.g. 1� CMOS sensor) will result in a higher quality map when processing images on the DroneDeploy platform.

You Don’t Have to Spend a Fortune

If you’re new to the world of drone mapping, it’s easy to get sticker shock when you see the price of some newer drone models. Have no fear. You don’t need to break the bank to get a good mapping drone or camera. Consider the DJI Phantom 4 Pro, for example. It’s an affordable drone model that packs a punch. Coming in at just $1,500, this bird will allow you to produce beautiful maps and models to meet the needs of many industries such as construction, agriculture, and surveying.

Learn more about the use of drones and aerial imaging to produce drone maps and 3D models for your business by downloading our 2017 Drone Buyer’s Guide.

Where to Learn More

If you haven’t already, read part one of this series and learn the factors to consider when choosing a drone model for your business. We break down the pros and cons of both multi-rotor and fixed wing drones.

We spoke about leveraging drones in precision agriculture to assess crop health using both RGB and NIR cameras. Read more about using these cameras to detect variability in your fields by reading our full guide.

Still have questions? Download our 2017 Drone Buyer’s Guide today to get a complete perspective on the factors that are important to choosing the right mapping drone for your business.


Download DroneDeploy’s 2017 Drone Buyer’s Guide today

Get Started with DroneDeploy

Want to learn how DroneDeploy can help your business? Visit www.dronedeploy.com to start your free trial or request a consultation with one of our team members. The DroneDeploy mobile application is available for free download for both iOS and Android devices.



Choosing the Right Mapping Drone for Your Business Part II: Aerial Imaging and Cameras was originally published in DroneDeploy’s Blog on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


Hydrogeologist Uses Drone-Generated Maps and Models as Water Management Tool at Ontario Quarry

In the aggregate industry, water management and extraction from below the water table go hand in hand. If it isn’t managed well, surface water and groundwater can collect in the quarry and affect day to day operations. The aggregate industry usually relies on time-consuming ground surveys to gather the elevation data needed to make water-management decisions. Drone maps improve the development of the water management plans for quarries. By using drones to survey an Ontario aggregate quarry, Tecia White of Whitewater Hydrogeology Ltd. not only improved jobsite safety and gathered a richer set of data, but she did it all twenty times faster than a traditional ground survey.


Tecia White, President at Whitewater Hydrogeology Ltd.

Tecia White has over nineteen years of experience as a geologist and hydrogeologist. She spends most days solving hydrogeological challenges through her environmental consulting firm, Whitewater Hydrogeology Ltd. The firm primarily works with aggregate operators in southern Ontario to help them understand the influence of existing and proposed operations on the groundwater and surface water regimes. A little over a year ago, Tecia began offering a new service to Nelson Aggregate Co. and began incorporating drones into her work as a way to analyze stockpile volumes. But it wasn’t long before she discovered that drone maps and models could give her far more than just volumetric data. She tells the story of how she used drone-generated maps and 3D models as a tool for gathering elevation data and creating water management plans at Nelson Aggregate’s Uhthoff Quarry. Nelson Aggregate has also taken the use of the drone one step further by using it to inspect the operating condition of large production equipment.

Drone-Based Stockpile Analysis is “Miles Ahead of Standard Surveying�

As Tecia puts it, “Everyone should be using drones for stockpile analysis. It’s miles ahead of standard surveying.� Tecia would know. Over the past year, she has fired up her drone nearly a dozen times at six of Nelson Aggregate’s gravel pits and limestone quarries. What began as a way to inventory stockpile materials has quickly become a key tool in her everyday workflow.

Tecia spoke with us about the maps and models she created at the Uhthoff Quarry, which is owned and operated by Nelson Aggregate. The 1400 acre aggregate quarry supplies various limestone products to the construction industry. Over the past year, Tecia used her DJI Phantom 4 several times each season to map major stockpiles, then used DroneDeploy’s stockpile analysis app to inventory the materials. In a matter of minutes, she was able to measure the cut, fill and volume of any stockpile she mapped.

She also used DroneDeploy to conduct a complete aerial survey of the quarry multiple times throughout the year. From creating drainage and discharge plans, to estimating the volumes of overburden material that must be removed, Tecia used drone-generated data in nearly every aspect of her work at the quarry.


Hydrogeologist Tecia White used DroneDeploy’s stockpile analysis tool during her work at a southern Ontario aggregate quarry.

Aerial Surveys are Twenty Times Faster than Ground-Based Methods

Continual changes across the landscape of the quarry makes water management an ongoing process. At a site like the Uhthoff quarry, elevation data is usually gathered twice a year. But before drones entered the picture, this information could only be gathered by ground survey. It takes upwards of twenty man hours to survey and process data for a 1400 acre quarry. And even then, the survey would only gather the elevations of individual stockpiles, and occasionally spot elevations for the quarry floor.

An aerial survey of the Ontario site, on the other hand, takes Tecia just two hours to complete, including both flight time and data extraction. Tecia’s drone not only gathered accurate elevation data for the entire 1,400 acre site, but it did so twenty times faster than a ground-based survey of just individual stockpiles. This represents a far greater data set and a ninety-five percent reduction in man hours.

A ninety ninety-five percent man hour reduction is impressive enough, but the biggest return-on-investment can be seen by looking at time and money savings over all six of Nelson Aggregate sites. A bi-annual survey of six quarry sites represents about 240 man hours. Compare that to just twelve hours needed to complete twice-yearly aerial surveys at all six sites. That’s a savings of 228 man hours.

In terms of money savings, the results are no less impressive. Nelson Aggregate spends about $3,000 to subcontract out a single ground survey. Bi-annual ground surveys of all six quarries cost around $36,000 total per year. Factoring in drone equipment and software subscriptions, the same amount of aerial surveys cost just $7,500 — $28,500 less than a ground survey. This represents nearly 80% in costs savings.

By replacing ground-based surveys with bi-annual aerial surveys, Nelson Aggregate saved at total of 228 man hours and $28,500 across six quarry sites.


Elevation map of the Ontario aggregate quarry.

Drones Improve Worker Safety at Aggregate Operations

With steep slopes, unstable rock faces and lots of heavy machinery, rock quarries can be dangerous places to work. Aggregate operators are always looking at field methods to improve the safety of the work environment. As Tecia sees it, one of the greatest benefits of drones is their ability to improve worker safety by removing the requirement to have men on the ground in and around the operation areas (stockpiles, equipment).

“Anytime you can reduce the number of workers in a quarry it is going to reduce the chance of injury and improve overall safety,� — Tecia White, Whitewater Hydrogeology Ltd.

Instead of spending twenty hours navigating stockpiles and quarry terrain to complete a ground survey, flights are launched outside of the operating quarry and pit working areas. All of the elevation data needed for the Ontario site is now gathered without ever setting foot within the operation. This improvement alone is worth the investment in drone technology.

“Anytime you can reduce the number of workers in a quarry it is going to reduce the chance of injury and improve overall safety,� says Tecia. “Drones allow us to do that.�


3D model of the Ontario quarry site. Drones allow Tecia to gather additional information she would not get with traditional survey methods. Explore the model.

Drone Maps and Models Give Hydrogeologist a Rich Data Set

Although Tecia first set out to gather elevation data and stockpile information, she soon discovered that her drone provides a rich set of data that is useful in many other aspects of quarry management. “With a surveyor you’re just getting the data,� says Tecia. “There are no maps or models.�

Now, with the help of DroneDeploy, Tecia uses her drone maps for far more than elevation data and stockpile analysis. With accurate drone maps, DroneDeploy’s built-in volume tool is used to estimate the amount of overburden material that must be removed prior to the extraction of aggregate. High-resolution 3D models allow her to remotely assess progressive and final rehabilitation work. She also uses the models to conduct aerial circle checks of heavy machinery, searching for issues that would not be visible from the ground.

Speaking to others who work in hydrogeology and quarry management, Tecia has these words of encouragement about using drones: “Embrace the change and move forward. This technology is working.�

Where to Learn More

If you want to hear more about how drones are being used for surveying, be sure to read about how Landpoint, a surveying company in Louisiana, used a drone map to survey an 85-acre real estate development site.

Another recent case study shares the story of how Wohnrade Civil Engineers used drones to survey the Great Sand Dunes.

Accuracy is crucial for aerial surveys. Two of our recent posts dive into the topic of accuracy and are worth a read:

Get Started with DroneDeploy

Want to learn how DroneDeploy can help your business? Visit www.dronedeploy.com to start your free trial or request a consultation with one of our team members. The DroneDeploy mobile application is available for free download for both iOS and Android devices.



Survey of Aggregate Quarry is Safer — and 20x Faster — Thanks to Drones was originally published in DroneDeploy’s Blog on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


Compare the Differences Between Multi-Rotor and Fixed Wing Drones

Many businesses are considering the purchase of drones in 2017. With commercial drone legislation being introduced around the world, it’s quickly becoming possible for today’s companies to integrate these powerful tools into their existing workflows.

Drones allow businesses to make sense of the physical world by capturing aerial data to generate accurate maps and 3D models of their surroundings. By analyzing drone maps and models, companies are enabling faster, more informed decisions that increase efficiency, improve safety, and drive ROI. With benefits like these, it’s no surprise that drone use is on the rise across industries including construction, agriculture, surveying, mining, and more.

Businesses just getting started with drones often ask us what drone they should buy. While there is no simple answer, we can help you better understand what you should consider before making a purchase.

In this post, we will help you navigate the different options available in the market and decide which drone model — multi-rotor or fixed wing — is the right choice for your business. Let’s dig in.

Want the read full breakdown? Download our 2017 Drone Buyer’s Guide today.

Multi-Rotor vs. Fixed Wing Aircraft

When choosing a drone, one of the first questions you should ask yourself is whether you need a multi-rotor or fixed wing aircraft. They each have advantages and disadvantages that make them better suited for certain uses, so it’s important to understand the key differences between both types.

Multi-Rotor Aircraft

Multi-rotor aircraft are the most commonly used drone models for making maps and models with DroneDeploy. In fact, they make up 97% of the drones mapping on our platform. Learn more about the breakdown in our recent report on 2017 Commercial Drone Industry Trends.


97% of mapping with DroneDeploy occurs on multi-rotor aircraft. Read more in our Commercial Drone Industry Trends report.

Multi-rotor drones are made of a central body and multiple rotors that power propellers to take flight and maneuver the aircraft. These usually have four rotors (quadcopter), but can have as many six or eight (hexacopter and octocopter). Once in the air, a multi-rotor drone uses fixed-pitch propeller blades to control the vehicle motion by varying the relative speed of each rotor to change the thrust and torque produced, allowing a unique range of movement. This presents some advantages when used for commercial mapping.


Some examples of common multi-rotor quadcopters available from DJI

Advantages

  • Greater maneuverability: Unlike fixed wings, multi-rotor aircraft can perform vertical takeoffs and landings. This means that they require less space to take flight, can hover mid-flight, and maneuver up and around objects for easy inspection, mapping, and modeling. This also makes them ideal for area mapping due to the number of flight legs often required to get sufficient overlap to make a quality map.
  • Lower price: In the current market, multi-rotor crafts come with a lower price tag than their fixed wing counterparts. There is of course a wide price range, but you can purchase a professional quadcopter for as low as $1,500, whereas a professional fixed wing drone of similar quality can easily be 7–10x as much — or more.
  • More compact: Multi-rotor crafts don’t require the surface area or wingspan that fixed wing aircraft do because they use multiple propellers to maneuver. They are designed break down and pack up into smaller cases — making them easier to transport. Even the larger hexacopters and octocopters fold down to a portable size.
  • Ease-of-use: Multi-rotor aircraft are easier to fly for both humans and autopilots. Quick to maneuver, and capable of making movements in any direction, copters have a shorter learning curve for beginners taking flight for the first time.
  • Higher payload capacity: Multi-rotor vehicles generally support more weight due to their design. However, this means that you will need a larger, more expensive drone if you intend to carry significant payloads such as large DSLR or other camera rigs

Disadvantages

  • Shorter range: One limitation of multi-rotor craft is the flight range on a single battery. Most multi-rotor drones can fly for about 30 minutes in ideal weather conditions before returning home for battery replacement. You can offset this downside by purchasing additional batteries.
  • Less stable in the wind: The aerodynamics of multi-rotor aircraft leaves them more vulnerable to wind and high amounts of turbulence. This means that for use cases where high winds are expected, you may have to purchase a heavier, more stable and more expensive multi-rotor vehicle.

Want to learn more about Multi-rotor drones? Download our complete Drone Buyer’s Guide today.

Fixed Wing Aircraft

Fixed wing drones are designed like more traditional types of aircraft — which look similar to an airplane. They are made of a central body that has two wings and a single propeller. Once in the air, the two wings generate lift that compensates for its weight — allowing the aircraft to remain in flight. While this type of aircraft is less common in drone mapping outside of agriculture and oil & gas applications, they present some unique advantages.


The eBee is a common fixed wing drone model available from SenseFly

Advantages

  • Significant range: Fixed wing aircraft can fly longer than multi-rotor drones on a single battery cycle. This makes them ideal for mapping very large or linear areas because they do not have to fly home for a battery replacement as often during a single mission. Though, as battery technology improves this gap is closing.
  • Greater stability: The airframe design of fixed wing aircraft give them greater stability in high winds over multi-rotor aircraft. This is important for flying in environments where higher winds are expected or frequent.
  • Safer recovery from motor power loss: If a fixed wing aircraft loses power for any reason, in theory it is able to glide down to safety — giving the aircraft a better chance of surviving a fall.
  • Linear flight advantage: Fixed wing aircraft are ideal for long-distance flights, such as pipeline inspections. However, this capability is currently limited to line-of-sight (LOS) regulatory requirements in the US and other countries where LOS regulations have been put into place.
  • Higher payload capacity: Many fixed wing models can support more weight, which can be an advantage for operators seeking to support heavier cameras or sensors.

Disadvantages

  • Larger takeoff/landing zone required: Fixed wing aircraft require a larger take off and landing zone for flight, which can make them ill-suited for some use cases. This can also lead to more time required for setup, takeoff, and landing.
  • Higher price: In the current state of the market, fixed wing aircraft tend to cost more than their multi-rotor counterparts. While this could change in the future, it can impact overall ROI.
  • Challenging to fly: Fixed wing aircraft are harder to fly, both for humans and for autopilots, especially in an evolving sense-and avoid landscape.
  • Less compact: The range advantage of fixed wing aircraft comes directly from a larger lifting surface, meaning they are harder to pack away, and often require assembly.
  • Less efficient for area mapping: Fixed wing aircraft are not as well suited for area mapping. This is because many turns are needed to fly a grid pattern and get sufficient overlap of a target area. This sort of maneuvering is better suited for multi-rotor drones.

To make things easier, we prepared this summary table so that you can compare the two types of drones side-by-side.

Want to learn more? Download our complete Drone Buyer’s Guide today.

Conclusion: Taking it to the Skies

Ultimately, you’ll need to decide which drone is best for your business needs. We’ve given you the information and tools to make an informed decision when you choose your next drone for mapping. Before you take the next step and make a purchasing decision, we have some final thoughts to share.

Choose a Drone That Supports Your Use Case

Consider your industry use case, average flying conditions (e.g. high winds), and mapping subject before you buy. If you plan to map smaller areas, make 3D models of structures, or conduct site inspections that require maneuvering up and around buildings, then a multi-rotor drone model is the right choice. If you are mapping larger areas (hundreds or thousands of acres at a time) or flying long, linear flight plans such as pipelines or roadways, you may want to consider a fixed wing drone.

Keep Your Budget in Mind

You’ll also want to keep your budget in mind. In the current market, there is a significant price gap between multi-rotor and fixed wing drone models. If you’re looking to get a greater ROI, an affordable, multi-use quadcopter model is your best bet. However, you may need a fixed-wing to meet the specific demands of your business use case — it all depends.

Newer is Usually Better

When it comes to purchasing business technology solutions, buying the latest product usually results in a smoother experience and greater feature set. Drones are no different. Choosing the latest drone model over its predecessor is a smarter investment for your business. Not only will they have improved hardware, but software solutions will also work more effectively with the latest integrations and support. While some older models are solid products, we recommend you invest in the newer model for a longer shelf life and better experience. You don’t want buyer’s remorse, or be faced with an early upgrade down the line.

Remain Flexible

There is no one-size fits all drone solution that will suit every use case. In fact, more than 20% of pilots on the DroneDeploy platform fly multiple drones. This number is increasing every year as companies expand the use of drones for commercial applications. So, you should remain flexible. Your businesses may need to invest in more than one drone model to accomplish all of its goals. If your budget doesn’t allow for several drones, pick a model that has wide range of applications.

Where to Learn More

Still have questions? Download our 2017 Drone Buyer’s Guide: The Ultimate Guide to Choosing a Mapping Drone for Your Business


Download the complete 2017 DroneDeploy DroneBuyer’s Guide today

You can also stay tuned to our blog for the next part in this series, which will cover cameras and imaging solutions for commercial drone mapping.

If you plan to use DroneDeploy as your drone mapping solution, review some of our support docs for more information about supported drones and read through our frequently asked questions.

Get Started with DroneDeploy

Want to learn how DroneDeploy can help your business? Visit www.dronedeploy.com to start your free trial or request a consultation with one of our team members. The DroneDeploy mobile application is available for free download for both iOS and Android devices.



Choosing the Right Mapping Drone for Your Business Part I: Multi-Rotor vs. Fixed Wing Aircraft was originally published in DroneDeploy’s Blog on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


Easily view and compare data layers within DroneDeploy

An aerial map of a site can be helpful, but sometimes you need guidelines to understand what you’re looking at — just imagine trying to follow directions using a map with no street names.

Now, with our new overlay tool, it’s easy to import and overlay data layers right within the DroneDeploy interface — letting you quickly compare actual site conditions to other spatial information like design plans and utility maps.


Section of orthomosaic map with site electric overlay

On construction sites, project managers like Nick Johnson at Tilt Rock of Texas use plans overlaid on drone maps to help them keep projects on track. “Now, if I need a contractor to be aware of a design change before he lays pipe, I simply walk over to him with my tablet, blow up a particular section of overlaid plans and show him exactly what he needs to know,� said Nick.

“I’m able to discover conflicts earlier, communicate quickly to everyone involved, and implement changes long before contractors install incorrect work. I’m saving an enormous amount of time and money.� — Nick Johnson, Tilt Rock of Texas

Learn more about how Nick uses drone maps on the job site.

Construction isn’t the only industry that can benefit from overlaying additional data on a map. Anyone can use the overlay tool to add more visual data to a map, from growers comparing current crop health and historical yield data to fire chiefs superimposing protection systems and operating procedures to create pre-incident plans.

How to Add an Overlay to Your Drone Map

To add an overlay to your map, just click the “Add� button, select a PNG image with a transparent background, and then drag the two markers to align the image using recognizable features on the map.

Don’t have a PNG of your plan? Convert from a PDF using Acrobat Reader or online tools like PNGtoPDF .


Upload your PNG and then use the markers to align it on your map

You can even add multiple plans to the same map and show or hide different layers.

Once you’ve added an overlay, bring your map into the field on your mobile device or share it with your team in just one click!

Where to Learn More

The Overlay tool is available to all customers on the Business tier of DroneDeploy. To learn more about how drones can be used in construction, be sure to listen to the recording of our recent webinar featuring major construction company Brasfield & Gorrie, in which they discuss the use of drones for 3D modeling, site planning and quality assurance.

You can also explore our support documentation to learn more about how to use some of the tools discussed above, including:

Get Started with DroneDeploy

Want to learn how DroneDeploy can help your business? Visit www.dronedeploy.com to start your free trial or request a consultation with one of our team members. The DroneDeploy mobile application is available for free download for both iOS and Android devices.



Compare Design Plans and Drone Maps with New Overlay Tool was originally published in DroneDeploy’s Blog on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


Pro Tips for Getting Your Drone Service Business off the Ground

So you’ve decided to dive into the field of drone services. You have your Part 107 License, your equipment, and maybe a client or two. At this point, you might find yourself thinking, “Where do I go from here?�

Don’t worry: you’re not alone. Building your drone service business, and positioning it for long-term success, is about so much more than just firing up that Phantom 4 Pro. We get a lot of questions from new commercial drone pilots about the best way to position their services in the growing market and build those services into a thriving business.

To help pilots improve their drone service offerings, we’ve compiled a set of pro tips that answer common questions about marketing, pricing and finding clients for a commercial drone business.

Positioning Yourself in the Drone Services Market: Who to Serve and What to Charge

There are over 30,000 commercial drone pilots currently certified under Part 107, and this number is growing fast. In a recent report, the FAA estimates that the commercial drone fleet will grow to be 10 times larger over the next five years, growing from 42,000 in 2016 to 420,000 by 2021. This means the drone services industry will see a major influx of entrepreneurs in the coming years. To stand out from the crowd, you will need to position your business well. This includes taking a step back and thinking carefully about your service model and price point.

Ed Schmalfeld, of Dragonfly AeroSolutions, is a civil engineer and former landfill manager who now uses drones to provide professional analysis and review for landfills, construction and roadway projects. In our recent webinar about building a new drone business, he had this to say:

“You probably could go buy a drone, go get your license real quick, go out there, and have some limited success….But for sustained success, you need to look at the who, what, where, and why of what you’re doing.�

In other words, to succeed as a drone service provider, you need to first decide: who am I going to serve, how am I going to serve them, and what will I charge to do it?

There’s a lot here, so let’s break it down:

Who to Serve: Choosing Which Industries to Target

From construction, to agriculture, to oil and gas — drones are rapidly finding their way into nearly every industry. As a new drone service provider, it can be hard to know where to focus your energy. Before you decide which industries to serve, it’s helpful to answer these two questions: What industries do I already know about? And what needs in my location aren’t already being filled?

If you have any experience in a particular field, use it. A drone service provider who used to work construction is going to speak the language and know his way around a jobsite in a way others might not. This can be a valuable asset, especially to that project manager who is wary about bringing someone onsite to fly an unmanned vehicle around heavy machinery.

Pro Tip: Before you decide which industries to serve with your drone business, it’s helpful to answer these two questions:

What industries do I already know about?

What needs in my location aren’t currently being met?

If your background doesn’t lend itself to a specific industry, consider how your drone services can solve a business problem that isn’t otherwise being solved, or fill a need that isn’t being met in your particular location.

Stephen Myers of Angel Eyes UAV took both of these factors into consideration when he landed upon his niche market. “It was a matter of being opportunistic in my surroundings,� says Stephen. As a single-digit handicap golfer who lives in Florida — the state with the most golf courses — his choice to focus on turf analysis for the golf industry was a natural fit.

How to Serve Them: Deciding What Services to Offer

Commercial drone operators are no longer limited to the point-and-shoot real estate photography that marked the early days of the industry. Thanks to advances in hardware and technology, today’s drone businesses are able to offer a whole host of services, including high-resolution photography and videography, mapping, 3D modeling, and even land surveys.


You can use DroneDeploy’s platform to create drone maps and 3D models for your clients across industries such as agriculture, construction, and real estate.

As you decide what services to offer, it’s important to take stock of what outputs your potential client base needs. Do you anticipate your clients using drone imagery for marketing purposes only? Or will they benefit from the more in-depth data analysis that drone maps and 3D models provide? Spend some time learning about the different ways your target industry already uses drones, as well as any emerging opportunities, and then match your services to meet this demand.

Again, Stephen Myers has advice to offer on the subject: “The drone is nothing more than a platform, the sensor is nothing more than a data capture device. You have to understand how the value of the data is going to help your end user.�

Pro tip: Consider adding maps and models to your service offerings.

Drone businesses that specialize in mapping and 3D modeling charge an average of $23 more per hour. [click to tweet]

Set Your Price Point

Once you decide what services to offer, you’ll need to price those services in such a way that you stay both competitive and profitable. But nailing down that price point can be difficult. There are so many variables at play, says Justin Moore of Airborne Aerial Photography. Justin is a professional photographer who now offers drone mapping services to the construction and nature conservation industries. “It’s so localized,� says Justin, “and so different based on your market and based on so many other factors.�

To help nail down a pricing structure that fits well for your business, spend time researching your competition and local market. Early groundwork in this area will go a long way. As a starting point, review our recent pricing study, which digs into the available pricing data to help new businesses get a sense of what other drone service providers are charging.

Marketing Your Drone Business

Although not everyone is excited to hear it — if you want your drone business to thrive, you have to spend time marketing your services. This might seem daunting, but, it doesn’t have to be. Start by focusing on these three initial tasks, and you’ll be well on your way toward building a solid marketing strategy.


Develop a marketing strategy for your business.

Develop a Company Name, Tagline and Logo

Your business name, tagline and logo are in many ways the “face� of your company. Develop them thoughtfully. Spend time researching how other drone businesses handle these elements, and then create a package that is unique, memorable and reflects how you want prospective clients to think about your business.

In terms of a logo, do make sure it’s responsive — meaning it scales well to fit a variety of digital formats. If this is beyond your skill set, you can hire a freelance graphic designer through websites like Fiverr, Upwork, or CloudPeeps.

Create a Professional Website

It goes without saying that you won’t get far with your marketing endeavors if you don’t have a user-friendly, professional website for your drone business. Sites like Squarespace and Wix are affordable tools that make it simple for anyone to design a site — no coding experience necessary. Or, you can access website designers for hire through marketplaces like Codeable.


Examples of professional drone service websites from Airborne Aerial Photography, Dragonfly AeroSolution, and Silicon Falcon Micro Aviation.

As you design your site, keep search engine optimization (SEO) in mind. For web marketing newbies, SEO just means you are drawing relevant people to your website by designing it — and the content on it — in such as way that it ranks high on search engine results. This ensures people can find your business without having to search for your business name. Instead they can use search-friendly terms like “drone services in Chicago�, or “drone mapping Seattle� to locate your business on Google and other online search engines.

Launch a Blog Highlighting Customers and Successes

Publishing regular blog content, even just a short post once a week, will improve your SEO. Frequent blogging will help keep you top-of-mind with current clients and send the message to potential clients that you are a knowledgeable and trustworthy resource. You can say you are a drone expert all you want, but a blog helps you show it with photos and testimonials from happy customers.

Your blog content doesn’t have to be fancy. A post highlighting a successful project, or a short video in which a client talks about how your drone services have improved their business, are two easy ways to get blog content up on your website.

Finding Customers

After you’ve laid the groundwork with a solid business model and marketing plan, a big question still remains: how to find customers? Joining drone service directories like DroneDeploy’s Drone Mapping Directory, droners.io and airstoc is a great way to put yourself out there.


Joining DroneDeploy’s Drone Mapping Directory is a great way to find new jobs in your area.

But in addition to getting on directory lists, it’s important to put yourself out in front of as many potential customers as possible. Many people simply don’t know what drones can do, but once they realize the business benefits of drones, hiring a DSP becomes a no brainer. Consider setting up an exploratory call to educate people on the benefits of drones. Demo and pro-bono work also goes a long way toward finding new business opportunities.

Pro Tip: Attend rotary meetings and professional networking events to connect with local businesses and find customer prospects

Attending professional networking events and rotary meetings is another way to connect with local businesses and find customer prospects. Create presentations and slide decks to share at these meetings to give your presentation even more impact.

Gregg Heath of Silicon Falcon Micro Aviation takes this approach. He also keeps an eye out for opportunities to network on the fly. He recounts stopping to talk to the staff of a crop management company when he happened to drive by one morning. “They tried drones on their own a few months ago, but they didn’t know it was possible to do things like stand counts.� Not seeing the value, the crop management company gave up on drones. But after hearing from Gregg what drone mapping can accomplish, they turned from skeptics to a solid business prospect for Silicon Falcon.

And finally, never underestimate the importance of networking with other drone service providers. You never know when someone might get a query for work that is outside their service area. Likewise, if a local colleague ends up with more work than they can handle, they may refer clients to other trusted drone businesses. Connect with colleagues in the commercial drone field by joining pilot networks and communities. Examples include the DroneDeploy Users Forum, PhantomPilots, and the SUAS Commercial Mapping Pilots Facebook group. DroneLife’s guide to the top drone forums is also a useful read.

No doubt about it, building a thriving drone business takes some work. But if you find yourself getting overwhelmed, take things one step at a time. And remember, all of this work now will pay off down the road. As a bit of parting advice, here’s Ed Schmalfeld again:

“You want make sure you set yourself up for success. If you run your business like it’s a little teeny tiny thing, it’s going to be very hard for you to grow or manage success. If you start things like you’re going to be a big formal company, as growth and success come, you just kind of grow into it. You already have a lot of the pieces in place.� — Ed Schmalfeld, Drone Service Provider

Where to Learn More

Here’s how to access the resources we talked about in this post:

General Resources

DIY Website Tools

Website Designers for Hire

Freelance Logo Designers

DSP Directories

Drone Pilot Networks and Communities

Get Started with DroneDeploy

Want to learn how DroneDeploy can help your business? Visit www.dronedeploy.com to start your free trial or request a consultation with one of our team members. The DroneDeploy mobile application is available for free download for both iOS and Android devices.



Surviving and Thriving as a Commercial Drone Business was originally published in DroneDeploy’s Blog on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


CAVU Media Uses Drones to Map New Orleans City Park

The challenge: map a 1,300-acre urban park, deliver it to your client in a poster-sized format, and do it all without sacrificing quality and resolution. This is what Ian Cotita of CAVU Media faced when he was hired to create a map of New Orleans City Park, a sprawling space that is one of the ten largest urban parks in the country.

Mapping large areas like this park requires the right equipment, software and plenty of planning. But Ian was up to the challenge. With this project, he produced one of the largest DroneDeploy maps to date, and illustrated that drone mapping can create high-resolution visual overviews of even the largest spaces.

When DJI rolled out the Phantom 1 in early 2013, Ian Cotita was running a successful web design and marketing company. This work included photography and videography services, so with the emergence of the commercial drone industry, he saw the potential for a new market. His company was one of the first in Louisiana to receive an FAA 333 exemption to fly commercially, and after a few of his clients let him experiment with drone photography and videography at their events, “It took on a life of its own,� says Ian. “Fifteen drones later, here we are.�

Ian now runs CAVU Media, which provides mapping services, aerial videography, design services, and post production media content in the greater New Orleans area. CAVU’s client list includes big names like Jaguar, Red Bull, and Live Nation. Ian was hired this January to map New Orleans City Park. It is the second time he’s mapped the park, and to date it remains the largest mapping project he has taken on. He spoke to us about the process of mapping the park and some of the lessons he learned along the way.


Orthomosaic map of 1,300-acre New Orleans City Park — Explore the map

Drone Map Delivers Higher Resolution at Half the Cost of Aerial Photography

On a wall in their conference room, New Orleans City Park’s improvement division has mounted a large-scale printout of the park from an aerial view. The printout is updated annually and used as a visual reference in planning meetings, when discussing construction progress and new projects. In years past, the department relied on aerial photographs, hiring a pilot to provide them with three pictures taken from an altitude of 1,500 feet. But hiring a pilot is costly, and the resulting product doesn’t translate well into a poster-sized format. There is only so much resolution that can be achieved from 1,500 feet. It is also difficult to align three aerial photographs into one seamless composite.

Last March, looking for a more complete picture with higher resolution, they hired Ian to fly the entire 1,300-acre grounds.Not only was Ian confident he could make a higher quality map using DroneDeploy, but he offered a package that cost 50% less than aerial photography.

After capturing thousands of images, Ian used DroneDeploy to stitch them together into a high-resolution orthomosaic map, which he then exported as a PDF and printed in large scale. The result was a poster that measures four feet tall and over seven and a half feet long. It far exceeded any expectations for the project.

“For aerial photographs, they were paying twice as much. We came in and just kind of blew their minds with the data and the sheer quality,� -Ian Cotita

Although the park improvement division’s main goal was to obtain an orthomosaic map, they were pleasantly surprised by the additional data Ian provided them, including a 3D model and an elevation map that he created in DroneDeploy. They’re now looking into ways to use the additional data, such as gathering information about drainage from the elevation map, and they are excited about the potential going forward.


New Orleans City Park overlaid with street grid

The orthomosaic map alone was worth every penny for the improvement division. Not only did the map provide a complete composite of the entire park, but the resolution was far greater than anything that could have been achieved with aerial photography. After seeing the value of the high-resolution map, the park’s improvement division has hired Ian to map the park again next January.

Lessons for Mapping a Large Area

“The first map was quite the learning experience,� Ian admits of his initial flight in March. Mapping such a large area is no small feat. He felt it went well the first time, but knew he could make adjustments to improve his results for the second map. Thanks to a few changes he made to his process and hardware, he says the second time around was smoother, and the resulting map was better quality than the first.

Here are some of the changes Ian made for his second map:

Reducing altitude and increasing overlap

“This time, we really pushed the envelope by going lower and doing a higher overlap,� Ian says. For his March flight, he stayed at 398 feet. This time, he flew 25 feet lower and increased the overlap to 70/60. The result was an additional 3,500 images, bringing the total number of images for the second flight to over 6,000. He does admit that increasing the number of images required additional time to complete the stitching process, but the DroneDeploy map engine was able to handle it. In the end, he says it was worth the additional processing time for the increased resolution.


Flight plan of the park from second flight (left) compared to first flight (right)

Revising your flight plan

To a drone service provider looking to fly a large area for the first time, Ian advises scouting the area ahead of time to determine any potential issues and then planning flights accordingly. For his first map in March, he few three large flights, starting on one side and making runs back and forth across the one-mile wide park.

“Needless to say, it was pretty tricky,� Ian says. If he was lucky, he could get across and back on one battery. The middle section of the park is also heavily wooded, so signal loss was an issue. For the second map, he broke the park into seven smaller flights. He also centered up in the middle of each section, cutting the drone’s range in half. This made for easier battery swaps by reducing the distance between each waypoint and the drone’s return to home.

Upgrading to a more powerful mapping drone

In March, Ian used a DJI Inspire 1 with X3 to fly the park. This time around, he upgraded to the newly released DJI Phantom 4 Pro. “It was the difference maker,� he says of his new drone. “The 4 Pro is very, very solid.� He says the increased range, new video feed technology and added mechanical shutter made a difference in the final product.

He also knows that choosing the right drone mapping software for the project was key. Of DroneDeploy, he says, “The main sell for me is the piloting side of things. It’s so much faster. Other apps restrict the speed of the drone significantly. Some to as little as eleven miles an hour. I flew at thirty plus with DroneDeploy.�

Having a complete visual overview of a large space can be an important tool for management and oversight. As the New Orleans City Park’s improvement division can attest, drone mapping provides a low cost, high-resolution option, even for one of the country’s largest urban parks.

Where to Learn More

If you are interested in picking up more tips for mapping large areas, make sure to read How to Map Large Areas: A Workflow for the Commercial Drone Industry, written by Eric Harkins of Back Forty Aerial Solutions. Also, photographer and DSP Justin Moore recently shared his tips for improving the image quality of drone maps.

And as always, take time to explore our support documentation for more best practices:

Get Started with DroneDeploy

Want to learn how DroneDeploy can help your business? Visit www.dronedeploy.com to start your free trial or request a consultation with one of our team members. The DroneDeploy mobile application is available for free download for both iOS and Android devices.



Mapping Large Areas: Drones Create High-Resolution Map of 1,300-acre Urban Park was originally published in DroneDeploy’s Blog on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


How To Decide If Your Drone Mapping Project Needs GCPs

Ground control points (GCPs) can be an invaluable tool for aerial mapping. When used correctly, they help ensure a high degree of global accuracy, which is important for most surveying and construction projects. But the fact is, the majority of drone maps don’t require GCPs. Because of this, it’s important to understand when to use ground control points and when to skip them. But how do you decide if your drone mapping project needs GCPs?

In an earlier post, we wrote about using ground control points to improve the accuracy of aerial maps. Today, we take a look at what types of aerial maps benefit from ground control points and why using them may — or may not — be important for your next project.


Wohnrade Civil Engineers used ground control points during an aerial topographic survey of the Great Sand Dunes. Their drone-generated map was the basis for this digital terrain model with 1-foot contours.

When to Use Ground Control Points

In general, there are two reasons to use GCPs: if you need a high degree of global accuracy, or if you are contracted to provide measurements within a certain range of accuracy.

If your project requires a high degree of global accuracy, then you should use ground control points. Land surveys and DOT road inspections are two examples of projects that require true global accuracy.

Ground control points were important to Bon Air Drone’s Shelly Engle when she used aerial mapping to generate a contour map of a quarry in Virginia. Strategically placed GCPs helped Shelly ensure the map had a high degree of global accuracy. This was important when she orthorectified the final contour map.

As Bon Air co-owner Kyle Falwell puts it, this level of accuracy sets their company apart from the competition. “Our top priority is the quality control side of it,� says Kyle. “There are a lot of people out there doing aerial surveys, but we want to hang our hat on accuracy.�

Not sure what global accuracy is? Read our post about the basics of accuracy in drone mapping.


Bon Air Drone used GCPs to improve global accuracy for their map of a quarry. This level of accuracy was important when they generated a contour map of the quarry.

Likewise, GCPs are important if you use an aerial map to take volumetric or linear measurements and you are contracted to provide those measurements within a certain range of accuracy. This is the case for many civil engineering and construction projects, where 1/10 foot accuracy is often required.

Construction company Brasfield & Gorrie considers the purpose of each map before deciding whether to use GCPs. “If we’re going to make a critical determination off of the data set, absolutely we’re going to use GCPs,� says VDC coordinator Hunter Cole. “If it’s more for a marketing effort or we’re making smaller relative volumetric measurements, we may not bother with GCPs on that site.�

If you’re unsure about using GCPs, check out our short diagram below. It will quickly help you decide if they are necessary for the next project you’re working on.

GCPs When a Surveyor’s Signature is Required

If your aerial mapping project requires a surveyor’s signature, you should use ground control points. Surveying companies generally use GCPs because a high level of global accuracy is important to their work.

Common surveying projects where ground control points are useful include:

Property boundary surveys: Accuracy is essential here, because property boundary surveys are usually the last word in property line disputes. An aerial map can be used to compare plat data and determine if a property line has moved.

Insurance assessments: A good example of this is a FEMA survey for flood insurance, which uses accurate elevation data to determine a property’s flood risk.

Subdivision and new construction surveys: Local and federal regulations often require surveys in order to document the presence of utilities like gas and power lines, or water mains.

General liability: If structural damage occurs to a building, it is likely a lawsuit will be filed against the contractor who built it. Having survey records that show the structure was built up to code helps protect the contractor from being held liable.


Ground control points are often used to prove the accuracy of measurements on construction sites.

Using Ground Control Points to Prove the Accuracy of Measurements

In general, when you use a map to take volumetric or linear measurements within a map — say, to measure stockpile volumes or the length of a fence — ground control points aren’t necessary. In most cases, as long as the resolution of a map is good, the margin of error for measurements is going to be the same with or without GCPs. This is because there is a positive correlation between high-resolution images and stitching accuracy. Following a few best practices can help ensure you produce high-resolution maps.

That being said, engineering and construction projects still use ground control points, even for maps that don’t require global accuracy and don’t need a surveyor’s signature. In many cases, contracts require that measurements taken on a project fall within a certain range of accuracy. Ground control points may not do much to increase the accuracy of measurements, but they are a good way to prove that these measurements are accurate.

Best Flight Practices When Using GCPs

If you decide ground control points are the right choice for your aerial mapping project, the next step is choosing the best flight parameters and following best practices to ensure the accuracy of your map. Ultimately, your flight parameters will depend on your mapping subject, but here are some general guidelines to keep in mind when using GCPs.

Flight Altitude

  • 250–350 feet for most maps. This range will give you a good amount of resolution, but won’t bog down the stitching process with too many images.
  • 400 feet for large projects. For especially large maps, such as in the forestry industry, a higher altitude is necessary. Less resolution is needed for this type of map, and a higher altitude lets you cover a large area quickly while collecting enough data relative to the tallest feature in the map.

Overlap

75/75 overlap recommended; don’t exceed 85/85. Higher overlap increases accuracy, but too much overlap slows down processing speeds unnecessarily.

Ground-truthing with vertical checkpoints

Ground-truthing your data is very important to ensure the accuracy can be replicated using multiple methods.

Test shots

Taking a few test shots helps you verify that you are seeing the correct output. It also gives you another number that you can stand by when presenting the accuracy of your map.

EPSG Codes

Before processing your map in DroneDeploy, you must enter the EPSG code that relates to your GPS measurements. Choose your EPSG code by modifying the settings of your GPS measurement device.

In most cases, we recommend using WGS84 (EPSG: 4326). One exception is when you need to compare your aerial map to existing plat data from a previous land survey. In that case, be sure to collect data in the same reference system that was used when the original land survey was taken.

Using GCPs: Where to Learn More

No matter what subject you are mapping, or what your aerial mapping project requires, understanding when — and when not — to use GCPs is an important lesson for any drone operator. Likewise, knowing how to correctly position, measure and record ground control points can make all the difference when your project requires that you use them.

Get Started with DroneDeploy

Want to learn how DroneDeploy can help your business? Visit www.dronedeploy.com to start your free trial or request a consultation with one of our team members. The DroneDeploy mobile application is available for free download for both iOS and Android devices.



When To Use Ground Control Points was originally published in DroneDeploy’s Blog on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


Webinar Recap: Understanding Plant Health and Making Smarter Crop Management Decisions with DroneDeploy

The growing season is here. Which means that it’s time to start thinking about how you’re going to use drones on the farm to gain better insights and improve efficiency. Last week, we held the second edition of our agriculture drone clinic series, “Crop Scouting and Field Analysis�. In the webinar, we dug into some of the key ways that you can use DroneDeploy’s software to analyze your fields and identify issues such as crop stress, pests, disease, and irrigation issues with drones.

If you missed the webinar, have no fear. Watch the full recording here.

Mapping Out a Seasonal Flight Plan for Your Crops

Developing a seasonal flight plan allows you to take a holistic view of your operations, and understand what’s needed in the coming weeks and months to ensure drones are used effectively during planting, growing, harvest, and beyond. Whether you’re establishing stand count, scouting crops, or making application decisions, drones provide you with valuable insights to fuel smart farming decisions all year long.


Neema Rashidee explores the value in developing a seasonal flight plan for mapping your fields

During the webinar, we walked the factors to consider when making a seasonal flight plan and discussed how to use yield, irrigation, and soil data to determine which fields are most at risk.

“In order to make crop decisions by compiling stand counts, assessing crop damage, or detecting pests, you really need to establish a baseline and understand what you’re working with. Creating a seasonal flight plan is the first step to doing this.� — Neema Rashidee, Customer Success Manager at DroneDeploy

Increase efficiency and ensure you’re flying the right crops at the right time by designing your flight plan now. Learn how to design your seasonal flight plan by watching the full webinar recording here.

Analyzing RGB and Near Infrared Imagery To Assess Plant Health and Detect Crop Variability

Drones make it possible to capture on-demand aerial imagery of your fields. This means you can analyze drone map data to better understand the health of your crops, spot problem areas, and take action quickly to remedy any issues before they spread.

“It’s all about spotting the variability in the field and determining if you can act on it.� — Kyle Miller, Agriculture Business Development at DroneDeploy


Kyle Miller walks through understanding the range of crop variability in your field detected with drone imagery

In precision agriculture, there are two common types of imagery used to detect crop variability: RGB and Near Infrared (NIR). Both RGB and NIR imagery can be extremely valuable throughout the growing season in conjunction with the VARI and NDVI plant health algorithms (read more in our guide to detecting crop variability). We break down everything you need to know to put these algorithms to use this season, including the differences between the two and advantages to each method.

Learn more about detecting crop variability with RGB and NIR imagery by watching the full webinar.

Interpreting Crop Variability to Make Smarter Crop Management Decisions

Kyle Miller was able to join the webinar from Iowa. Kyle has been flying corn and soybean fields since 2013. He shared his experience and success using drones and remote sensing techniques to make smarter crop management decisions.


Kyle Miller discusses how you can use your DroneDeploy data to generate variable rate prescriptions and make smarter crop management decisions

In the webinar, Kyle takes a look at the many ways you can use DroneDeploy’s platform to interpret the variability in your fields and work to determine variable rate prescriptions, understand soil and plant health, and utilize historical yield data with the assistance of common agriculture software. By analyzing real-time, in-season drone maps and exporting the data from DroneDeploy to external applications, you can create base maps of crops and generate prescriptions to apply fertilizer where and when it’s needed — taking the guesswork out of farming. This minimizes costs and maximizes yields.

“There are a variety of crop management decisions you can make from drone imagery to help increase the financial potential at the end of the year, or even now.� — Kyle Miller, Agriculture Business Development at DroneDeploy

Drones are changing agriculture. The insights provided by the average drone and standard camera can prove to be the best investment you make this season. Whether this is your first season using drones, or you’re a seasoned ag flyer, this webinar will have something for you. Watch the full recording here.

Leveraging the DroneDeploy App Market this Season

As we highlighted in our recent Commercial Drone Industry Trends Report, commercial drone use expanded rapidly over the past year, and as with any growing industry, an entire ecosystem of services has built up around it. With more than 40 apps currently available, the DroneDeploy App Market is rapidly becoming a hub in this ecosystem — fostering collaboration and innovation in the commercial drone industry.


A snapshot of some of the agriculture applications now available on the DroneDeploy App Market

This is the first season that you can take advantage of the agriculture apps and extend the capabilities of our platform. In the webinar, Neema dives into some of the most powerful agriculture apps now at your disposal such as Slantrange, AgriSens, Aglytix, and FarmSolutions.

Curious about the latest agriculture app additions to DroneDeploy’s App Market and how you can put them to use this season? Watch the full webinar recording to learn more.

If you’re considering the use of drones this season or seeking a more in-depth understanding of how you can extract value from your drone maps, look no further. This webinar covered a lot of information you can put to use right away on the farm. If you weren’t able to attend, make sure you check out the recording and review our additional resources below.

Where to Learn More

We recommend you check out some of our other agriculture resources to ensure you’re prepared for analyzing crops with drones this growing season.

Get Started with DroneDeploy

Want to learn how DroneDeploy can help your business? Visit www.dronedeploy.com to start your free trial or request a consultation with one of our team members. The DroneDeploy mobile application is available for free download for both iOS and Android devices.



Drones In Agriculture: Putting Your Drone to Work in the Field This Season was originally published in DroneDeploy’s Blog on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


Turf.Solutions and DroneDeploy Detect Fungi and Irrigation Problems Early, Reducing Treatment Times by Up to 96%

Golf is a sport of precision; every stroke counts. Because of this, a healthy, uniform green isn’t just a matter of good aesthetics—it is an integral part of the game. Drone technology helps golf course superintendents spot problems on the green before they become visible and address them proactively without players ever noticing. Angel Eyes UAV pairs DroneDeploy with the Turf.Solutions app to identify green maintenance issues early and reduce treatment times by up to 96%.

When Florida-based Stephen Myers sold his managed IT services firm three years ago, he decided he wanted to spend the next phase of his life flying around the country to play golf. He just needed to figure out how to make a living doing it. So the corporate pilot, and single-digit handicap golfer, turned to drone technology.

“It was a matter of being opportunistic in my surroundings,� says Stephen. “With my background in data and expertise in airspace and aircraft, it was a natural fit.�

In 2013, Stephen launched Angel Eyes UAV to help golf courses, as well as engineering firms and construction companies, gather and analyze data using drone technology. The company uses DroneDeploy for surveying, volumetric studies, and 3D modeling in the engineering and construction industries, and Turf.Solutions for their work with golf courses in Florida and beyond.

Up until now, Angel Eyes UAV has used Turf.Solutions and DroneDeploy separately. But just before we spoke to him, Stephen learned that the Turf.Solutions app is available directly in the DroneDeploy App Market. He is excited about pairing two of his go-to drone tools for even greater results.

We caught up with him to talk about this, and to hear about a recent situation in which Angel Eyes UAV used drone technology to help a private golf club in Florida identify and treat leaf spot and a sprinkler leak before either problem affected the green.

“The drone is nothing more than a platform, the sensor is nothing more than a data capture device. You have to understand how the value of the data is going to help your end user.

If you go to a golf course and say, ‘I’ve got a drone,’ they’ll say, ‘Great. What’s it going to do for me?’ You have to help other people do what they are doing more efficiently, better or in some new way they didn’t do it before.�

— Stephen Myers, Angel Eyes UAV


Orthomosaic map showing a full swing range and 9-holes, part of two 18-hole courses at a golf club in Florida. Angel Eyes UAV used drone technology to detect turf health problems before they became visible to the naked eye.

Drones Help Golf Course Superintendents Maintain Consistent Greens

One of the Angel Eyes UAV’s regular clients is a golf club in Florida with two 18-hole courses. The company flies the course one or two times each week, using the data they collect to help the superintendent find underlying problems with the green. In the eight months that they’ve had this contract, their work has quickly become invaluable.


Orange areas in the Turf.Solutions map show signs of underlying stress that need to be investigated on the ground level.

Players count on golf course superintendents to keep greens healthy and consistent so that they can enjoy the best green speeds and performance. But keeping greens healthy is no small feat. If maintenance staff can spot damage from an irrigation problem or a fungus with the naked eye, that usually means the problem has already become significant and may take weeks to fully correct. “By the time you see it,� says Stephen, “it’s usually too late.� This leaves members with a less-than-optimal course and can spell trouble for a club’s reputation.

During a recent flight, Angel Eyes UAV used a DJI Matrice 100 and multispectral sensor to collect images of the 500-acre property. Stephen knew that Turf.Solutions was the right choice to quickly and easily analyze the data.

“Most of what we use is near-infrared,� Stephen says. “What I like about Turf.Solutions is the ability to not only get our modified NDVI with the pre-defined algorithm, but also the ability to use the custom ‘slider’ to become more granular and look at specific wavelengths of reflectance. This is the only platform I know of that offers that combination of flexibility.�


A look at the custom reporting and Turf Vigor tool available within the Turf.Solutions app that is now available on the DroneDeploy App Market

Thanks to the DroneDeploy App Market, users can now create a map in DroneDeploy and then send the information to Turf.Solutions directly from the DroneDeploy dashboard. Within 24 hours, Turf.Solutions delivers a customized, easily shareable report that analyzes turf health using an algorithm calibrated for golf course greens. Watch areas are identified and progress is monitored over time.


In the near-infrared imagery (left), an orange section at the top left corner indicates stressed vegetation that turned out to be an early stage of leaf fungus.

Turf.Solutions Detects Fungus Early, Reducing Treatment Time by 96%

The information Angel Eyes UAV gathered using Turf.Solutions showed several areas of possible concern. The first, seen in the picture above, was a large section of turf next to a cart path. In near-infrared imagery the section appeared orange, indicating stressed vegetation. When golf course staff visited the area on foot, it looked healthy, but additional tests revealed the presence of leaf spot, a fungus that lives in the soil and eventually spreads to grass leaves, causing brown spots and ultimately thinning the turf.

Without the use of drone technology, maintenance staff most likely wouldn’t have discovered the fungus until they saw brown spots on the green. At that stage, it takes up to eight weeks of consistent fungicide applications to eradicate it, all the while leaving a compromised green for players. But thanks to the information gathered using Turf.Solutions, the staff was able to detect the leaf spot at a very early stage and get rid of it with a less intensive treatment. They fully resolved the issue in just two days — 96% faster than if they hadn’t used drones.


In the near-infrared imagery (left) an orange area next to the cart path shows signs of stressed vegetation. Faulty drainage was causing too much water to be diverted to one area of the green.

Drones Help Catch Drainage Issues Amidst Drought

During the same drone flight, Angel Eyes UAV made another important discovery: a small area of stress on the green that didn’t seem to be related to the leaf spot fungus. It turned out to be the result of faulty drainage, which caused some areas of the green to get too much water and other areas to get too little.

A small section of faulty drainage might not seem like a big problem, but on a golf course in drought-stricken Florida, it is. A course of this size uses 900,000 gallons of water per day to keep its greens healthy. Rationing due to draught means the course has access to only 155,000 gallons per day. When the course is operating at 15% of its ideal water capacity, every drop counts.

In the case of the Florida golf course, early detection of the problem meant the club not only saved the affected turf from dying, but it maximized the use of its already scarce water resources.

DroneDeploy and Turf.Solutions Partner for a Complete Golf Course Solution

Turf.Solutions was brought to the DroneDeploy App Market by Dronifi, a UAV software platform developed in California by New Idea Software. The company also partnered with DroneDeploy to bring FarmSolutions to the App Market.

Now that Stephen knows he can access the Turf.Solutions app from within DroneDeploy, he is excited about the possibility of using the two platforms together for an even more comprehensive package. He likes the idea of pairing DroneDeploy’s fast, accurate stitching capabilities with Turf.Solutions analysis. As he watches the commercial drone industry grow, he also sees the inherent potential for partnerships of this kind.

“I like seeing companies team and partner with each other to help out the end user,� says Stephen. “The market is huge and it’s getting bigger. If people try to do it all on their own, they are mistaken and by the time they figure it out, they’ll get leapfrogged by other companies.�

Where to Learn More

If Angel Eyes UAV’s experience with the DroneDeploy App Market peaked your interest, take this chance to learn more about Turf Solutions. If crop analysis is missing from your drone app toolbox, you’ll want to also consider Dronifi’s FarmSolutions.

  • Read our guide to analyzing plant health with drones and learn the difference between VARI, NDVI, and false-NDVI plant health formulas.
  • Learn more about Dronifi and how they are helping DroneDeploy agriculture customers in our recent post about the FarmSolutions app saving coffee crops in Hawaii from an invasive plant species.

Get Started with DroneDeploy

Want to learn how DroneDeploy can help your business? Visit www.dronedeploy.com to start your free trial or request a consultation with one of our team members. The DroneDeploy mobile application is available for free download for both iOS and Android devices.



Angel Eyes UAV Uses Drones to Spot Invisible Maintenance Issues at a Florida Golf Club was originally published in DroneDeploy’s Blog on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


Drone-Based Stand Counts Offer Accurate, Cost-Effective Alternative to Ground Sampling

It’s May. In fields across the northern hemisphere, corn and soybean crops will soon emerge in full force. As we enter this year’s growing season, stand counts are on the mind of every farmer. Evaluating plant emergence through stand counts is an important early season management question. Accurate counts and early intervention can mean the difference between a successful harvest or major crop losses. But traditional ground sampling is imprecise and often involves a high margin of error. AgriSens Plant Insights, available on the DroneDeploy App Market, offers a cost-effective alternative to traditional stand counts that is proactive and accurate. Drone-based stand counts let growers pinpoint areas of potential yield loss and take corrective action at key times during the growing season.

Agrisens is an ag-focused technology company whose research and development team includes PhDs in Agriculture, Bio-technical Science and Data Science. They leverage their expertise to develop new technologies that improve agriculture production through remote sensing solutions.

“AgriSens is about making agriculture better and more in line with what today’s technology has to offer. Our ultimate goal is to help farmers achieve higher outputs with high-end technology that is easy to use, easy to grasp, and easy to run.� -Rastko Carapic, AgriSens Chief Operating Officer

Thanks to AgriSens’ partnership with DroneDeploy, the company’s powerful stand count tool — as well as its sowing quality and weed stress reports — is available on the DroneDeploy App Market. With the app, users can count plants across an entire field using maps produced in DroneDeploy. In a matter of hours, growers receive a detailed report with information on plant counts and sowing quality. This level of data, delivered quickly and easily, has made AgriSens the most popular agriculture app on the DroneDeploy App Market among growers and ag-focused drone service providers alike. Read more about the most popular apps in our recently published Commercial Drone Industry Trends report.


This stand count report allowed a corn grower to take action quickly to avoid major yield loss.

Plant Count Tool Transforms a Drone Map into Actionable Data

When faced with a field showing poor plant emergence, you must take action quickly. Within a short window of time, you must evaluate whether in-season course corrections are worth the cost, or if it’s best to let the remaining plants run their course. But traditional ground sampling methods offer very little information by which to make these crucial decisions. They involve taking a sample and extrapolating it across an entire field, which often results in a high margin of error. At best, they offer a rough estimate of crop emergence.

Drone-based plant counts, on the other hand, allow you to get a full picture of the actual counts across an entire field. In the report shown above, a corn grower was able to obtain a complete stand count in a matter of hours, showing just over 155,000 emerged plants. Comparing the plant count to the grower’s targets, the report delivered a stark reality: 53% plant loss.

A potentially grim harvest was salvaged thanks to the actionable data the grower got from this AgriSens report. With a high level of confidence, the grower was able to make the decision to replant, saving thousands of dollars in lost revenue.


The AgriSens plant population report lets growers see which areas are most affected by plant emergence issues. Red areas indicate sections of the field where plants have not yet emerged.

Growers Pinpoint Specific Areas of Loss with Plant Insights App

Even the most accurate ground sampling still only gives you a sense of the total percentage of lost crops across a field. It does not give you specific information about which areas of a field have the lowest crop performance. AgriSens Plant Insights App, on the other hand, delivers precise data about every acre of land, with maps that pinpoint areas of low crop emergence.

It’s hard to overstate the value of this level of detailed information. You can now target interventions, saving money and manpower by re-planting only where it is needed most. As AgriSens COO Rastko Carapic puts it, “Aerial imagery paired with image analysis…can make agriculture businesses more productive: it can lead to significant cost savings, less work for farmer, and more accurate data…That’s what we want our users to achieve.�


AgriSense and the DroneDeploy App Market counted nearly 150K strawberry plants on a 9-acre field. That’s a lot of strawberries!

Not Just for Corn and Soy: Plant Counts Monitor the Transplant of Seasonal Row Crops

In addition to evaluating crop emergence, AgriSens and DroneDeploy are being used to monitor other seasonal row crops, including strawberries and transplanted tomatoes.

Toshiro Aoki works for a private farm in Northern California. During last year’s growing season, hundreds of thousands of tomatoes plants were transplanted on a 74-acre field by an outside company. Toshiro wanted to make sure the company was billing them only for the established plants. He paired DroneDeploy with AgriSens to quickly and easily get a plant count report that helped him hold the company accountable.

“The plant counting seals the deal. It saves us the trouble of having to go out and count the whole field.� -agriculture consultant Toshiro Aoki

AgriSens Extends Its Reach on the DroneDeploy App Market

Growers are not the only ones saving time and money by using the DroneDeploy App Market. Rastko Carapic points out that for AgriSens, releasing the plant insights app helped cement the market position of the company.


Chief Operating Officer Rastko Carapic performs field tests of AgriSens technology using a fixed wing drone model.

“The people we want to reach are farmers, entrepreneurs, drone operators and fans of modern technology,� Says Rastko. “Thanks to the DroneDeploy App Market, we’re able to reach all of them in one place. This saves us a lot of time, energy, and resources.�


Chief Operating Officer Rastko Carapic out in the field testing the AgriSens app.

In addition to the obvious business benefits, Rastko also appreciates that, when it entered the DroneDeploy App Market, AgriSens became part of a larger drone services ecosystem.


Chief Operating Officer Rastko Carapic performs field tests of AgriSens technology using a DJI Phantom 4.

On the DroneDeploy Market, Rastko says, “Users share their experiences with others, recommend services and come back to us with suggestions and ideas for new projects…It feels great to be a part of a movement that keeps reshaping and improving agriculture every single day.�

Where to Learn More

To learn more about how the Plant Insights App can help your ag business, check out AgriSens on the DroneDeploy App Market. Read more about the benefits of leveraging stand counting apps in our recent case study.

If you’re interested in learning more about the benefits of drones in agriculture this season, tune into our upcoming Drone Clinic taking place on May 17th to learn more about the capabilities of the DroneDeploy platform, and how to put your drone to work this season on the farm.

Get Started with DroneDeploy

Want to learn how DroneDeploy can help your business? Visit www.dronedeploy.com to start your free trial or request a consultation with one of our team members. The DroneDeploy mobile application is available for free download for both iOS and Android devices.



DroneDeploy and AgriSens Deliver a Powerful Stand Count Tool was originally published in DroneDeploy’s Blog on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.