The complete guide to drone mapping missions for 2024

drone flying over trees collecting earth observation data

You may be interested in using drones to capture aerial photography for creating orthomosaics (or maps) from the raw data. These maps provide a detailed, accurate representation of terrain and can be invaluable for research, monitoring, and environmental efforts.

There are a lot of parts to making a good drone mapping mission: choosing your software and hardware platforms, planning the missions and more. Here’s what we’re going to cover in this complete guide:

  • Importance of mission planning for capturing analysis-ready drone data
  • How to use any software to plan a drone mapping mission.
  • 5 Key drone Mapping Mission Planning Tips
  • Safely Catching/Landing Drones
  • Getting started with minimal equipment / mapping while traveling.
  • The mapping workflow
  • Ground Control and Drone Mapping

Drone Mapping Missing Planning, no matter the software

To take pictures or video that you will turn into maps, you’ll need to plan and execute drone mapping missions. Here are the most common software options for creating these missions & how to use them.

  1. DroneLink: DroneLink is a popular choice among environmental scientists due to its compatibility with a range of drones, including the DJI Mavic Mini series (Mini 2, Mini SE, Mini 3). The app, available on iOS, Android, and as a desktop version, allows you to easily plan and automate mapping missions. It offers a user-friendly interface for setting parameters such as altitude, overlap, and flight path, and provides helpful tools for visualizing and reviewing your mission before flying. Learn how to create a drone mapping mission with DroneLink!
  2. Pix4D: Pix4D is a comprehensive mapping and photogrammetry software suite. Their Pix4Dcapture app, available for iOS and Android, allows you to plan and execute drone mapping missions. It supports a wide range of drones and offers both grid and circular mission types. Pix4D also provides desktop software for processing the captured imagery into orthomosaic maps and 3D models. Learn how to create a drone mapping mission with Pix4d
  3. DroneDeploy: DroneDeploy is a cloud-based platform that offers a range of tools for drone mapping and analysis. Their mobile app, available for iOS and Android, enables you to create mapping missions, with support for both automated grid flights and manual flight paths. DroneDeploy also offers a web-based interface for mission planning and data processing. Learn how to create a drone mapping mission with DroneDeploy
  4. Litchi is a fantastic app to create autonomous flight plans for your DJI drones. Whether you are a professional or beginner, Litchi offers the most intuitive yet powerful waypoint mission engine. Our mission planner is available on all platforms including PC/Mac with seamless mission syncing across all your devices. Learn how to create a done mapping mission with Litchi and your DJI Drone
  5. Autel Explorer is the tool to control and set autonomous flight plans for your Autel drone. It’s easy to control your Autel Robotics EVO II Pro, and EVO II Dual. Your mobile device will act as the central monitor (HD Live View) for remote piloting control, aerial photography, filming, and flight parameter tuning to achieve optimal performance. Monitor your aircraft data and use the autopilot features such as Dynamic Track, Tripod Track, Parallel Track, Viewpoint, Orbit, Gesture Control, Precision Flight, Dual Stability, Waypoint Flight, Rectangular and Polygon Mission (Some features are only available on the EVO II series). Learn how to create a drone mapping mission with Autel Explorer
  6. Map Pilot Pro is made by Maps Made Easy and is an easy to use software with the limitation that they really expect you to use Maps Made Easy’s image processing to convert your footage into a orthomosaic. Here’s how to create a mapping plan & fly it in Map Pilot Pro.
  7. Precision Flight is a robust mapping planning solution that has the ability to pause and resume flights, fine control of the overlap, offline caching of basemaps, cross platform availability, and the ability to import/export plans. Here’s how to create and fly a drone mapping mission in Precision Flight.

Of course, planning the mission is just a tiny part of planning, flying, processing the footage, and making orthographic maps including, ideally, temporal data over time to fully understand the environments that you’re mapping. 

So once you have your software in hand, what’s next?

5 key tips for successful drone mapping missions

  1.  The 10 minute guide to planning your drone mapping area once you’re on the ground. Take a few minutes to plan out the difference between the pictures you got from Google Earth and the reality of what the environment looks like can be all the difference between a successful mission and a stranded drone.
  2. How to safely operate drones while on a drone mapping mission – Safety is often not exactly first when you’re in the field, but here’s how to make sure it’s not last, either. 
  3. The Drone Mapper’s Guide to Flying Straight – This one may sound silly, but getting better at keeping your drone flat to the ground and straight in all kinds of weather is key to good imagery.
  4. How to choose your drone’s flight profile for the environment and the intended use of mapping images.
  5. The 3 tricks to getting better drone footage for your orthos.

Advanced Drone Mapping Topics

Time and tide wait for no one, but you can at least plan for them when you prep your next drone mapping mission. How to account for the real-world environment when planning a drone mapping mission.

The complete drone mapping mission checklist

There’s a lot that goes into being ready to go shoot drone footage for an hour or a week. Here’s a guide on what to think about and a handy printable checklist you can use to make sure you don’t forget anything when you go. 

What to pack for your next drone mapping mission

Landing & rescuing drones

We focus a lot on the flight, photos, and data capture part of drone mapping missions, but the reality is that a drone spends 99% of its time on the ground. Here’s how to get it there safely and what to do if you weren’t lucky enough to have an entirely controlled landing.

How to launch, retrieve and (safely) rescue your drones when the mission’s done.  

The Zen Master’s Guide to Drone Mapping

If you’ve done this enough where you’re ready for more interesting multi-day drone mapping adventures, or if you’re introducing someone else to the skillsets required to be a drone mapping master, there are a few simple guidelines that can help you be a minimalist drone mapper. 

How to do more drone mapping with less & bring new people along with you when you do.  

Ground Control Points

To get *really accurate* drone footage and orthos, you need to help out your drone with some GCPs. Here’s how to set them up and how to be a responsible citizen while doing so. 

How to set up and use Ground Control Points and what to do when you can’t use them.

Hopefully you’ve found these resources helpful. If you have any further ideas for content for our guide, drop us a line and we’ll add it in! 🙂