How to Start a Drone Mapping Business?


how to start a drone maping bussines

Drone mapping is a buzz word of 2016. So you want to start mapping with your drone, making money mapping, but what should you do to get started? The first thing you should do to start drone mapping is to get Part 107 Certificate and to get a Correct Equipment (profesional drone). Other no less important things that are needed are listed in the text below. We could see that the geospatial industry have changed through several revolutions till today and been to big changes. Now professionals are adding another tool, mapping drones, which boast of quick data collection, excellent positional accuracy and safe operator experience.

A traditional ground survey team may need a month to map a difficult 100-acre site, but a mapping drone can complete the same task in less than half an hour. Quick data collection from fields, easy completion of projects in areas that are difficult to dangerous to access, survey grade accuracy with less time, less people and less equipment. Drones can fly closer to the ground surface and supplay much-improved data resolution for aerial surveying and photography. Drones are becoming an industry standard and customers are asking for UAV surveying. So for starting your own drone mapping bussines you need to satisfy these 7 steps:

1) Part 107 Certificate

The number one thing if you did not know or you are in the process of doing this is to get your part 107 certificate. For The Small UAS the rules are very clear – if you fly for recreation, you do not need a Part 107 Certificate. If you want to fly for work or business according to the FAA gov website, you must be at least 16 years old, 

you must pass an initial aeronautical knowledge test that FAA approved knowledge testing center. The course includes 70 lectures that cover a wide variety of topics such as drone laws, weather & micrometeorology, national airspace systems and much more. Also you need to be a certified drone pilot, and you’ll need to master basic flight proficiency. It takes 8 weeks to get certified. Once you have 107 certificate is when the practicing needs to begin.

2) Correct Equipment

Next thing you need is the correct equipment. That is your drone and if you’re really gonna get serious about drone mapping is that you invest in the Phantom 4 profession or the Phantom 4 advanced. The reason why, is that P4’s battery life is excellent and their camera is also excellent. The camera is also very important for drone mapping, so the drone must have a quality camera. 

The other thing about DJI drones in general is that they support third-party applications. So if you want to do any autonomous drone mapping flights like with the drone deploy app or the pix4d app,+ DJI support that, and DJI also have their own mapping app called GS Pro. You also need spare batteries, if the drone is not able to scan everything, so you can easily replace the battery. This is the most expensive part of drone mapping bussines.

3) Drone Mapping Softwares

The software easily enables us to put together a comprehensive survey of land, buildings and infrastructure and presents it in a variety of easy to manage formats. There are a lot of mapping softwares available, but these are the probably the best by comparing the different software.

Pix4D is one of the most feature-packed 3D mapping software packages on the market.  This famous Swiss company has developed a software that use photogrammetry with computer vision algorithms and combined with that it transforms RGB thermal images into 3D maps and models.. The benefit of this is you get all the features needed to carry out the task of mapping for a specific industry.

Propeller’s mapping software is one of the well-known brands in the world that gives you almost all the features you need for a mapping business. It features visual tools that you can use from any device, anywhere. 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.

DroneDeploy provides 3D mapping and, as a well-known brand in the world, makes available free downloadable versions for iOS and Android. We can safely say that this company is one of the largest and most developed when it comes to drone mapping.

4) Photogrammetry

Anybody can pick up a drone and type GOin the Pix4D app or in the DroneDeploy app and watch the drone fly in a grid pattern. But sometimes there’s going to be instances where you’re gonna have to fly certain areas manually and you need to understand how photogrammetry works in order to get great maps. So what excatly is Photogrammetry?

Photogrammetry can be defined as the science that is measured from photographs, usually those taken from the air. When we talk about photogrammetry, its input is photography, and its end point is a map or some kind of 3D model of an object.. If you didn’t know more than 90% of today maps that we use were made using photogrammetry and we use that maps today. With photogrammetry you can capture 2D and 3D fields with high-speed imaging. Mapping with drones is very similar to this, the main difference being the low altitude a drone can fly and capture higher quality images.

Through photogrammetry we can track all changes that occur on earth, including the direction of flight of birds, the movement of fish from the sea, and other movement processes. What is very important in photogrammetry is that the algorithms that are used here are trying to minimize the sum of the squares of errors. Here we usewell-known method by  Levenberg-Marquardt algorithm to minimizate as bundle adjustment.  We have 2 types of photogrammetry: Aerial and Terrestrial (close-range) Photogrammetry. 

5) Practice

Go out there and practice. Start mapping everything, map your neighborhood, map your local baseball field, map your house and wherever you are because the more practice you get the better you are going to be able to deliver final deliverables to your client and that’s really important.  You also want to practice with exporting different types of maps, so sometimes especially if you’re working with more technical 

companies that work with surveyors and things of that nature, you’re gonna need to output more than just an obj file or a geo tip file. You may need to put out an AutoCAD file or a GIS file. So my suggest will be that you go and learn a little bit about CAD and learn a little bit about GIS as well. So that you are not only familiar with software programs that people use for that, but exactly what those scientists are.

6) Understand What Clients Are Looking For

There’s really no value in just giving them a map just for a map sake, they need to be able to get some sort of results from the map and in order to get some sort of results you have to understand their problems and that goes back to you and talking to your clients and understanding exactly why they’re using your mapping services and understanding why your services are valuable to the clients but that’s 

really important because how you do the map, how you process the map, what maps you suggest to your clients are gonna hinge upon how you can solve their problems within mapping.  So you definitely want to talk to clients and figure out what their issues are, how they’re using drone maps.

7) Look up for Survey Laws

Surveying laws for your state. So in order to be a surveyor in to complete surveys you have to be a licensed surveyor. So you cannot go out and do a survey unless you are a licensed surveyor or you’re working under a licensed surveyor. So what is a survey? Every States has a little bit different definition of what exactly a survey is, so you need to take the initiative and go look up your state serving board and figure out exactly what the 

definition of a survey is for your state, because you don’t want to be in violation of that. And how do you become a licensed surveyor? It requires you to get a bachelor’s degree in engineering. You also have the certain number of years of work experience and it’s not as simple as a part 107 where you go take a test. It takes years to becoming licensed surveyor. 

How to Price Your Drone Mapping Services?

This is very difficult and even sensitive topic. Different companies will do it in different ways, some charge by the acre, some by the hour and even some by the job and in the end you have to decide what works best for your business. These are some factors you need to take into consideration when determining the price for a project.

Type of Drone for the Project
You have to consider the types of drone or payload that you’re going to need for the type of project. Do you need a Phantom 4 Pro or do you need an DJI Inspire or do you need a fixed-wing aircraft and then there’s payload. Are you going to use an RGB camera multispectral or even LIDAR. Also you want to consider the deliverables what does the client need and how soon do they need it. What’s the turnaround time, is it 24 hours or is it 7 days. Based on the deliverables how much time are you going to spend in other essential areas like creating GCPs, analyzing the data after you’ve collected it and even processing time.

Multiple Factors
You need to think about the software and hardware that you’re going to use or will you be using a subscription-based cloud service for your processing. Let’s not forget travel expense. For example if you have to go from Denver down to Colorado Springs, that’s going to be a 140 mile round-trip and if I charge fifty five cents a mile, that’s going to be about $77, not to mention if you have to pay for a hotel room, and there’s insurance. You can use an app that will charge you between $10-25/hour or you can pay for an insurance company and premium will cost you about $100/year. 

You also have to consider the type of industry that you’re providing services to, for example based on a survey by air stock the oil and gas industry values mapping services more than the real estate industry.

Experience
How much of this type of work have you done? More experienced pilots, they’re gonna have a larger portfolio and that raises the trust and dependability factor. There’s a lot of people out there who are working for $25-35/hour and the’re okay with that. If you’re working for someone else and they’re paying for the equipment and other expenses that go with that, that may be okay. But if you’re using your own equipment and it’s your business, you need to think more about a $125/hour. Those are just some things to keep in mind, but in the end you have to decide what works best for your business.   

Ground Control Points (GCP)

If you get into drone mapping bussines you need to know what Ground Control Points (GCP) are. So what exactly are ground control points? Simply we can say that these are designated parts of the territory that have their x, y, z geographical location. This means that each point will have 2D or 3D coordinates assigned to it, depending on how you capture the point. The accuracy of the captured point can be as good as in the range of millimeters to as weigh off as a few meters. In your drone mapping experience you will come across projects that require global accuracy along with local accuracy. GSD value is bigger if the altitude of the flight is higer  When you work with GPS your reference coordinate system is called wgs84 (which stands for world geodetic system 1984).

Conclusion

One thing is for sure, if you decide on drone mapping business you will certainly not make a mistake. Demands for this job will always be up to date and rise, the cost of the service varies from the things we have listed in the text above. The hardest part is if you are thinking of starting this business by yourself to get all the equipment you need and the certificates. Everything else is on your good will and time you are willing to invest in it. My advice is not to force this if you do not have a bit of passion for the drones. If you have anything to add or ask, feel free to ask the question below.

Mario

I'm the CEO and founder of DTH. I have been passionate about Drones since I was a boy. I will bring you experience, expertise and knowledge in this new industry which I have gained over the last couple of years.

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