As the use of drones for mapping and 3D modelling increases, so it seems, the number of drone mapping software also increases. So, what is the best drone mapping software and are any of them free? There are a number of drone mapping software, some have been developed for specific industries, whilst most are not industry-specific. To my knowledge, there is only one software that is completely free, but it’s only suitable for people who are technically proficient in running web applications, I mention it near the end of this article.

Drone mapping is a game-changer for surveying, construction, farming, forestry management and many other industries. Drone mapping software makes it easy to turn high-resolution aerial images into highly detailed maps and 3D models of an area of land. Using drones for mapping and 3D models of the earth’s terrain is more efficient and cheaper than traditional methods. In the surveyor’s world, this means that jobs are completed faster with less manpower needed on site. Construction engineers can use drone mapping for planning projects before breaking ground or as part of an ongoing project. Farmers can get more accurate yield estimates thanks to precise data from drones capturing plant height over time.

What Is The Best Drone Mapping Software?

That will really depend on what kind of data you need, the industry you are working in and the type of 2D digital map or 3D model required for the project. While most of the drone mapping software provides similar deliverables, some have an excellent UI, and the data is easy to read as are the analytics tools.

As more and more people are starting to use photogrammetry software, it’s important that the software has been designed and developed so that most people can use and understand the data without a huge amount of technical knowledge.

There is also the case of whether the application is a desktop application or a web-based one.

Web-based applications are usually more powerful and able to process data much faster, they are also highly scalable, so users will not be constrained by the amount of data that needs processing. Something else that needs to be considered is support and training, although you can only find this out by purchasing and using the product.

Are There Any Free Drone Mapping Software?

There are, and I mention it near the end of this article, although, it’s really only for people who have some programming knowledge.

What Deliverables Can Be Obtained From Drone Mapping Software

There are a number of digital assets that can be obtained from using drone mapping and 3D modelling applications. These include the following:

    • Orthomosaics
    • Point Clouds
    • 3D Models
    • Digital Elevation Models
    • Thermal Maps

With these assets, users can extract lots of data points that are required for their project. Users can acquire accurate measurements of an area of land or building, get volumetric data for things like cut fill jobs in construction or stockpile data in mining sites. Maps developed from multispectral cameras can be used to monitor the health of vegetation and identify issues like disease or irrigation problems.

As planning a flight mission and deploying a drone is relatively easy and quick, obtaining maps and 3D models is proving far more efficient and cheaper than traditional methods. Data can obtain within hours, maps can be analysed, critical information uncovered, and a plan of action put into place in record time. Most drone mapping software also comes with features that make it easy to share information with clients and other interested parties, so every stakeholder is fully informed on what is going on.

Drone Mapping Case Studies

There are many industries that are utilising drone technology for mapping and 3D modelling, from construction and agriculture to mining and forestry management.

Their technology is even being used in disaster management, for example, Mapware, which is one of the software companies mentioned in this list provided mapping data for a property restoration company in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in Florida 2018.

Initial datasets were captured and delivered within 48 hours of the request and over 300GB of photogrammetry data were provided over a 6-day period.

Agriculture is one of the biggest beneficiaries of drone technology, Trinoo is a precision agriculture company based in Colombia. With the help of Pix4DFields, one of the leading mapping software specifically developed for agriculture, they helped a local sugarcane mill reduce its use of ripening agent by 20% and achieved a 93% accuracy rate and production forecasting.

Construction is another industry that is seeing rapid growth in utilising drone technology. Rogers-O’Brien is a construction company based in Dallas Texas, with the use of drones and the Drone Deploy mapping software, they have improved efficiency and productivity and also reduced labour costs by over 90%.

Best Drone Mapping Software

There are a lot of drone mapping software applications, however, this is not an exhaustive list of the best drone mapping software, but they are the most well-known.

Drone Deploy

One of the leading drone photogrammetry platforms, Drone Deploy offers a robust set of tools for drone mapping and 3D modelling. Data is processed in their cloud-based servers and from the resulting deliverables, interested parties can extract a huge number of data points. The application is very easy to use and comes with lots of features which includes its innovative Live Map HD feature. This allows users to map hundreds of acres of land in real-time without the need for an internet connection. It’s especially useful for agronomists as they can easily analyse the health of crops whenever the need arises and take quick action as soon as an issue is identified. However, this feature is only available on iOS devices and DJI drones that are newer than the Phantom 4 Pro.

The app itself is compatible with most new DJI drones and Skydio 12, however, users can upload image data from other drones for processing as long as the image metadata meets certain requirements.

Drone Deploy used to have a free plan that gave you limited access to its features, however, they have discontinued it and now have three paid subscription plans. Each plan comes with a 30-day free trial, so more than enough time to fully test out the software and you can pay monthly or save money go for the annual plan.

Pix4D

Pix4D is a Swiss company that have been developing software solutions for drone photogrammetry for a number of years. A unique aspect of Pix4D is that they have different mapping tools targeted towards different industries. They have the Pix4DMapper, which is the most feature-rich mapping and analysis tool and suitable for all industries. However, there are also mapping tools for agriculture, construction, emergency response and inspection. It’s a robust set of photogrammetry tools that provide powerful mapping and 3D modelling solutions and even allow companies to build their own customised photogrammetry tools via their Pix4DEngine application.

Pix4D have a great support system, they provide lots of helpful resources in the form of eBooks, PDF reports, webinars, blog posts and an active community forum.

As for pricing, there is a monthly and annual subscription plan for each of their tools (there is no pan for the entire software suite) and they do offer a 14-day free trial.

Propeller Aero

Propeller Aero are an Australian company specialising in software solutions for drone photogrammetry. Founded in 2014, the company has grown rapidly over the past few years and their powerful mapping and 3D modelling software has been utilised by small and large companies around the world. They have a cloud-based processing platform that easily transforms drone image data into accurate maps and provides lots of analytics tools to extract the data that is required.

While Propeller Aero works with many drones, they do recommend two drones in particular, the fixed-wing Wingtra One drone or the DJI Phantom 4 RTK.

They have two plans you can choose from, an annual credits pack that gives you full access to their processing platform or the Drones Unlimited plan in which get either the Wingtra-One or DJI Phantom 4 RTK drone as well as access to their entire platform.

Propeller Aero also have a few other products that will help with mapping accuracy, productivity and the sharing of data amongst team members.

Precision Hawk

Precisions Hawk are one of the oldest companies on this list, what started out as a way to keep birds out of a vineyard through the use of drones has now turned into one of the leading drone service providers in the country. Their Precision Analytics software has evolved over the years from a simple mapping tool to a sophisticated photogrammetry application that has uses in many industries but is especially suited for the agricultural and utility sector.

Precision Hawk also provides consulting and drone-related services, companies can hire them out to carry out mapping or inspection jobs or hire people from their database of approved drone professionals.

They used to provide a free mapping tool called Precision Mapper, however, that has since been discontinued and their main mapping and 3D analytics tool called Precision Analytics is a paid tool and pricing is available upon request.

Maps Made Easy

This is an online drone mapping tool that is very easy to use and comes with a lot of features. The app can produce high-quality maps and image data from most high-end drones can be processed without hassle, although they do recommend DJI drones, specifically the DJI Phantom 4 Pro.

This is one of the simpler mapping apps on this list and is a good choice for small to medium-sized jobs. It’s a good mapping solution for drone pilots looking to get into providing a drone mapping service and it has a flexible and affordable pricing system.

Agisoft Metashape

This is a desktop application and works with both Mac and Windows operating systems. This is a feature-rich photogrammetry software that processes aerial, ground and satellite images into highly accurate digital assets in the form of point clouds, orthomosaics, digital surface/terrain models, and textured 3D models.

It can process image data from different types of cameras including multispectral and thermal which are useful in the industries like agriculture and energy. This is an all-in-one photogrammetry software that is suitable for GIS professionals who want to add highly accurate drone mapping to their service.

There are two versions of this software, a professional one with all the features included and a standard version with a limited set of features.

Site Scan For ArcGIS

Site Scan for ArcGIS provides a complete end to end solution for drone mapping and 3D modelling. It consists of a mobile flight planning app that allows users to plan flight missions and manage their fleet of drones and a web-based application for image processing. This photogrammetry tool is suitable for multiple industries and allows users to process, annotate, analyse and share the data with clients, colleagues and stakeholders. The web-based application can process image data from most high-end drones, although the flight planning app is only compatible with a select few DJI drones.

ArcGIS also have another mapping tool called Drone2Map, it’s not as feature-rich as Site Scan but can still process images that result in professional-grade maps and 3D models. It should be noted that this mapping tool is powered by the Pix4DEngine.

DJI Terra

A best-of drone list would not be complete without a DJI product, the DJI Terra is an online mapping and 3D modelling software that can be used to extract valuable data for multiple industries. It’s easy to use and can process image data from RGB, multispectral, thermal cameras and the Zenmuse L1 lidar device. It produces a number of outputs like 2D orthomosaics, point clouds, 3D reconstruction and has a range of analysis tools that will allow users to make sense of the data and share them with colleagues and clients. With the DJI Terra, drone pilots can create 2D maps and 3D models in real-time, allowing users to make well-informed data-driven decisions more quickly.

The DJI Terra has 4 licenses, however, only the DJI Terra for Agriculture can be purchased from DJI directly, while the Pro, Electricity and Cluster version can be purchased from DJI authorised dealers.

This is a Windows-based software and pricing for one year’s license costs $300 (for the DJI Terra Agriculture) with free updates and support.

Skycatch

Founded in 2013, Skywatch is a San Francisco based tech company that combines hardware, software and AI to bring accurate aerial mapping data for the construction, mining and energy industry. With proprietary patent-pending photogrammetry technology powered by the powerful NVIDIA TX2 GPU, their Edge1 photogrammetry application can process image data at incredible speed without compromising on data integrity. They have developed a system that requires no GCP’s, which results in faster data acquisition whilst maintaining survey-grade accuracy. This is an impressive photogrammetry software that is using innovative AI technology to power drone mapping and providing some incredible results to many of their clients around the world.

Mapware.ai

This is an innovative software company that have developed a very powerful cloud-based photogrammetry application that processes aerial image data at incredible speed thanks to their use of advanced algorithms, AI and automation technology. The use of parallel processing architecture and servers that can process trillions of data points per second means that users of this application can process huge amounts of data at lightning speed.

Open Drone Map

I mentioned this web-based drone mapping software near the beginning of this article, it’s an open-source drone mapping application that is maintained and supported by a growing community of developers. It may not be as flashy as some of the other drone mapping applications, but it does allow you to process aerial images from most drones as long as they are in the correct format and geotagged with their coordinates. The deliverables include orthomosiacs, textured 3D models, point clouds and digital elevation models. The application can also process data from different types of cameras and allows you to extract a wide range of data. If you are technically minded and have some knowledge of any coding language, users can download the source code for free and install the software yourself. Or you can pay a one-time fee and install the app on your PC, this is the best option as you also get one-year technical support.

Final Thoughts

The use of drones for photogrammetry is a fast and efficient way to create 2D maps and 3D models. It’s also a cheaper method of mapping and measuring the physical world than using manned aircraft, satellites and land-based equipment. As this method of photogrammetry becomes more and more popular, so will the range of software applications for mapping and 3D modelling.

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