We recently published an article on drone mapping software and mapping apps. This post is complimentary to that one in that we specifically discuss the different drones on the market that allow you to map a field, generate elevation maps, orthomosaics etc.
We include a variety of options in our list, including both fixed wing mapping drones and multi-rotor options. Fixed wing of course has the benefit of longer flight times whereas multi-rotor drones are typically much more maneuverable and portable.
6 Commercial Drones that Can Be Used For Mapping and Surveying (updated 2021)
1. DJI Phantom 4 RTK
The Phantom 4 RTK is a branch of the Phantom 4 lineup dedicated specifically to mapping and surveying. DJI is one of the largest and longest standing drone manufacturers in the world and builds a beautiful, easy to use machine.
|PROS of Phantom 4 RTK||CONS of Phantom 4 RTK|
|Built in RTK system allows for much more accurate mapping with very few ground control points (GCPs). A non-rtk Phantom 4 Pro would require dozens of GCPs to map 100 acres, an RTK model only requires one.||Workflow is not as intuitive or streamlined as some of the other options on this list. Aerotas has a great checklist for using the Phantom 4 Pro RTK available here.|
|Much lower price point than many of the high end commercial drones listed here allows new drone operators to access a solid mapping solution without breaking the bank.||Limited flight time in comparison to the fixed wing options on this list. For example, the Wingtra system has over 14 times the mapping capability in a single flight vs the P4 RTK.|
|Having RTK built in allows for accurate maps even if area is not accessible and ground control points can not be placed.||Manufacturer is not specialized in mapping and customer support may be lacking in comparison to a company specializing in only mapping.|
|Due to the high volume of Phantom 4 drones that have been sold over the past years parts are readily available at most hobby shops that carry the DJI lineup.||DJI Basestation designed for DJI RTK system does not have great reviews for the most part.|
|Telemetry integrated into ground station, clean user interface.||Much more exposed and fragile looking camera than the fixed wing models listed here. A hard landing would not be friendly to this camera and gimbal.|
|Can control position of camera in flight (not possible in most of the fixed wing models listed here)|
2. Wingtra One (Gen 2)
The Wingtra One is the only VTOL (vertical takeoff and landing) drone listed here. A hybrid between fixed wing and multirotor options, the Wingtra is a solid mapping drone that has been well proven in the industry.
Now, with Gen 2, the Wingtra improves in many areas, offering an even more effective and reliable mapping platform. Gen 2 includes features such as predictive maintenance, PPK on every drone for extreme drone mapping accuracy, improved landing accuracy and new payload options.
|PROS of Wingtra One||CONS of Wingtra One|
|Multiple payload options means excellent data quality in all situations. New options for Gen 2 includes an oblique camera for mapping buildings and vertical surfaces.||Expensive up front cost (around $21,000 USD) and payloads are pricey as well. Cost is of course relative to the revenue the drone generates but up front costs may be prohibitive to smaller operators.|
|Wingtra eats, breathes, sleeps mapping. Buying a mapping drone from a company with extensive knowledge provides peace of mind knowing you are getting an excellent drone mapping solution.||Parts availability not as readily available as more ubiquitous drones such as the DJI lineup.|
|Extended warranty and maintenance plans means you can fly with peace of mind knowing there are no hidden costs or surprises||Can not carry multiple payloads per flight light some competitor options on the market.|
|Wingtra support is highly recommended by existing users of the platform||Telemetry is a separate module and can not be integrated into ground station tablet (slightly more cumbersome than some of the other options).|
|VTOL configuration means you no longer have to worry about risky belly landings which can cause significant stress to airframe and payload||Larger sizes means more difficult to transport than some of the other options such as the DJI Phantom 4 RTK or Mavic 2 Pro.|
3. Sensefly eBee
Sensefly is a major player in the industrial UAV market, and their eBee platform has been a pack leader for years. Incredibly intuitive, excellent performance and with a great company behind it the eBee is a tough platform to beat. Like Wingtra, it is a Swiss company.
|PROS of Sensefly eBee||CONS of Sensefly eBee|
|Backed by a solid company with extensive mapping experience.||Fixed wing with no landing gear means belly landings only. Although the platform is light, belly landings are never great and can lead to higher chance of hard landings versus a multirotor or VTOL drone.|
|Has Endurance Extension option which allows for up to 90 minute flight times.||Being a fixed wing/belly lander you need a significant amount of space for landings, especially in higher winds.|
|One of the few in this list to offer a thermal mapping solution.||About half the flight coverage of the Wingtra One in standard configuration.|
|Very small and compact airframe makes for easy transport, even in smaller vehicles.||Hand launch means increased risk of operator injury due to spinning propellers.|
The Mavic 2 Pro is one of the most affordable options on this list (only somewhat more expensive than the Skydio 2 listed below). It also has a great 20MP camera sensor that is incredibly well stabilized on a gimbal (which means crisp, sharp photos even in higher winds).
Although flight time is limited and you won’t be able to generate maps as accurately as you can with one of the more expensive options, the Mavic 2 Pro is ultra compact, easy to fly and comes with a great feature set. It also allows you to shoot great aerial video and photos should you choose to not pursue mapping 🙂
|PROS of DJI Mavic 2 Pro||CONS of Mavic 2 Pro|
|Affordable, compact, loaded with great features.||Limited flight times means smaller maps.|
|20MP camera sensor that is well stabilized means crisp photos even in higher winds and low light.||No RTK or PPK options means ground control points are a must for maps of any size. Limited accuracy without ground control points.|
|Lots of parts availability and cheap enough to have a complete backup on hand at all times.||Small and lightweight, can not handle large amounts of wind.|
|Integrates well with DroneDeploy, Pix4D and Maps Made Easy mapping software.||Small, fixed camera sensor. No option for other camera payloads (some 3rd party options exist but not supported by manufacturer).|
|Ultra-compact, very portable.|
5. Skydio 2
The cheapest option on this list, the Skydio 2 is a beautifully designed small UAV that has by far the best obstacle avoidance system on a mass produced drone today.
Although limited in it’s mapping options, the Skydio 2 is affordable and together with it’s ultra-accurate collision avoidance system can accurately map roofs and buildings where other drones would struggle.
|Very affordable, can be added to anyone’s tool kit.||Very basic mapping and orthomosaic options only.|
|Ultra high performance obstacle avoidance system that remains unmatched on the market today.||Requires third party software (Drone Deploy) for stitching images.|
|Very portable, one of the smallest and most compact drones on our list.||Limited flight time means small maps.|
|Versatile as it can be used for basic mapping as well as videography and still photos.|
6. Aerovironment Quantix Mapper
Aerovironment and Draganfly have partnered to sell the Quantix mapper.
Designed specifically as an agricultural mapping drone, the Quantix is backed by two large companies that are definitely not new to mapping and surveying operations with drones.
|Very solidly build, can withstand significant impact.||Requires two people to load/unload and a larger vehicle such as a van or truck to transport.|
|Carries two payloads simultaneously meaning fewer flights to gather data. Can also be considered a con as modules are not swappable.||Clunky user interface compared with some of the other options on the market.|
|45 minute flight time is shorter than some of the other options on this list such as the Wingtra.|
|Does not offer PPK or RTK options meaning lower map accuracy without ground control points.|
There are a wide variety of mapping and surveying systems on the market today, from the ultra compact and portable Mavic 2 Pro to the high end VTOL systems such as the Wingtra One mentioned above.
Have a drone you’d like to see us add to the list? Email us at info @ dronetrader.com!