The commercial drone market has come of age in the past five years or so. Today’s drones carry high-definition cameras and advanced tracking software making them suitable for all kinds of commercial tasks including powerline inspection, forestry management, weather reporting and, of course, mapping.
3D mapping is perhaps the most accessible of these features, with today’s drones able to map large areas quickly and cost-effectively. To get this information five years ago would have required renting expensive photographic equipment and an aircraft to overfly the area, making it cost effective for only the largest multi-million-pound projects.
Today, by using the latest drone mapping software and a little practice, high-quality aerial maps can be created by any competent drone pilot. These can be used by a number of industries, including construction, surveying, mining, building inspection, forest, and agriculture to create high-resolution mapping and imagery in real time.
This enables farmers to better plan crop rotation, allows insurance companies to assess damage to buildings without endangering life, enables forest management companies to monitor tree crown delineation and helps architects to create an accurate 3D map of the topography of a site for planning consideration.
So now you know how useful 3D mapping software is and how various industries can use it, what are the best 3D mapping solutions available for drone operators? To help you make an informed decision we’ll take a closer look at the top 5 drone mapping software solutions on the market.
These are the five biggest players and we’ve assessed each platform for its image quality, ease of use, range of features and drone compatibility. So without further ado, let’s get started.
Pix4D is one of the most feature-packed 3D mapping software packages on the market. Unlike other software Pix4D has designed multiple versions for specific industries, including agriculture, surveying, civil engineering, and construction.
The benefit of this is you get all the features needed to carry out the task of mapping for a specific industry. For example, with agriculture, detailed digital surface maps can be created allowing farmers to plan crop cycles and create more accurate yield estimations.
Powerful feature-rich software with a range of versions available to suit specific industries. Can easily connect with industry-specific management platforms to help create yield predictions, profit and loss accounts, planning documents and detailed site plans. Technical support is also one of the best in the industry.
Expensive for the casual user but the range of features available more than compensates for this. Due to its complexity, the software can be difficult to master for beginners.
Bentley’s reality modelling software, ContextCapture, provides you with real-world digital context in the form of a 3D reality mesh.
A reality mesh is a 3D model of real-world conditions that contains large amounts of triangles and image data. Each digital component can be automatically recognised and/or geospatially referenced, providing you with an intuitive and immersive way to navigate, find, view, and query your asset information. You can use reality meshes in many engineering, maintenance, or GIS workflows to provide precise real-world digital context for design, construction, and operations decisions.
Hybrid processing in ContextCapture enables the creation of engineering-ready reality meshes that incorporate the best of both worlds – the versatility and convenience of high-resolution photography supplemented, where needed, by additional accuracy of point clouds from laser scanning.
Develop precise reality meshes affordably with less investment of time and resources in specialized acquisition devices and associated training. You can easily produce 3D models using up to 300 gigapixels of photos taken with an ordinary camera and/or 500 million points from a laser scanner, resulting in fine details, sharp edges, and geometric accuracy.
It has truly great 3D modelling capabilities and also allows users to incorporate data from other survey data collection methods. This is a highly recommended alternative to Pix4D for enterprise level organisations.
This software is quite expensive and it also requires some level of training and expertise – not as intuitive as Pix4D.
The professional version of the Agisoft platform is great for users seeking a well-rounded all-in-one 3D mapping solution. With an excellent 3D modelling engine aligned with panoramic stitching and support for fisheye lenses.
The Agisoft platform can take accurate measurements, create point clouds and digital elevation models with ease.
The platform also has support for NIR, RGB, thermal and multi-spectral imagery so it has all the tools needed to create highly accurate 3D maps for structural engineers, architects, and GIS professionals.
Cost-effective all-in-one software suite with a full range of image sensors including NIR, RGB, thermal and multi-spectral. The professional version creates beautiful clear imagery which is as good as more expensive software. All things considered, this is a well-rounded platform suitable for most applications.
The software feels clunky to use and the support leaves a little to be desired compared to Pix4D. The one licence, one computer policy may also be a problem for some larger organisations.
4. Drone Deploy
DroneDeploy is one of the most popular 3D mapping solutions, with free versions available for download on the app store and Google Play. DroneDeploy is the perfect starting point for anyone wanting to explore drone mapping software. It also comes with a range of useful features.
Despite being aimed at the consumer market the paid versions of DroneDeploy offer a range of sensor options which make it suitable for some commercial applications.
There are three paid versions available, Pro, Business, and Premier which provide the ability to measure volumes or group control points and export data and images to third-party software including AutoCAD, Blender, and Rhino.
DroneDeploy is a great platform for users who are just getting started with 3D drone mapping software. While the free version is too limited for most commercial enterprise uses. The paid versions do provide increased image quality and have the ability to connect with a wide range of third-party drone accessories and software.
Surface detail for buildings is somewhat disappointing compared to the more specialised solutions from Agisoft and Pix4D. This makes the platform more suited to agricultural applications than construction or engineering.
5. Propeller Network
Propeller’s drone mapping software gives you the ability to measure and manage your site yourself. It features visual tools that you can use from any device, anywhere.
Propeller Network is ideal for heavy civil and resource operations and helps you and your team to work better together to answer questions about site productivity and progress.
Their system allows you to see earthworks progress, report on inventory, and track changes with 3D surveys. The data is captured quickly, safely, and cost-effectively.
Propeller also has the incredibly handy AeroPoints. They are the world’s first smart Ground Control Point system and have been specifically designed for drone surveying. They are lightweight and durable and are already used in thousands of surveys in some of the toughest conditions.
Pros: Propeller is ideal for team data collections, and is a quick and efficient data collection and management system. It also has data analytics that is tailored for your industry, as well as their AeroPoints feature.
Cons: This platform is aimed at a more experienced user market. So with that in mind, wouldn’t be ideal for first-time users or new commercial drone businesses.
As you can see, users are spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing high-quality capable drone mapping software. All the platforms mentioned here provide a very high level of quality 3D map reproduction and are compatible with the most popular drone manufacturers including DJI and Parrot.
So which is the best drone mapping software?
In our opinion, the Pix4D platform offers the best all-around performance across multiple industries. While it is not the cheapest solution it does offer a complete range of sensors and map options. It can be seamlessly integrated with back-office systems using the integrated REST API.
The platform is also very intuitive and easy to use with support from Pix4D rated as second to none.
So if you’re in the market for a powerful 3D mapping solution for your business, you won’t go far wrong with the Pix4D platform.
Pix4D: Introduction to 3D Mapping
Pix4D is the leading UAV photogrammetry software, specifically designed for users who want to make 3D maps and point clouds from data captured during a drone flight.
The COPTRZ 1-day Pix4D training workshop aims to give you an overview of Pix4D and how to use the software to give you the data output that you require. The workshop is ideal for those with no previous experience using the software.
Download our free report on LIDAR:
Drones equipped with LIDAR cameras are revolutionising the way we gather data, making operations faster, safer and more cost-effective.
Whether you’re documenting a road accident scene at night, designing rice field irrigation systems or surveying archeological sites under dense forest canopies, advances in 3D mapping and geospatial data capturing are making these once time-consuming tasks, quicker and more efficient than ever before.
Click below to download: Whitepaper Report: How LIDAR is revolutionising mapping and geospatial data