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The best drone mapping software is relative to who is using it. For a farmer, it may be a DroneDeploy. For a 3D modeler, it may be Pix4D or Agisoft Meta Shape. For a surveyor, it may be Web ODM.
This article will briefly discuss how these software options might benefit certain users while others might benefit from other software.
In the end, the overall winner in terms of quality of service and flexibility when it comes to the drone models used is DroneDeploy. While not the cheapest software service out there, it is certainly the best.
1. Pix4D #
Pix4D, a cloud-based mapping program, is designed for photogrammetry and LiDar. This is a type of mapping where large numbers of photos are used to create images of land. These photos can then be combined into textured, full-color images.
Pix4D’s high level of customization makes it especially useful. You can avoid paying for features that you don’t use and only pay for those you need.
Pix4D allows you to purchase the parts of the software that you need, unlike DroneDeploy, which has subscription tiers. These options offer more advanced tools based on a similar tier system to Drone Deploy.
Pix4D is a premium service, so you will get top-notch customer support. There is a phone number to call and a message center. You can also access a lot of online forums.
Pix 4D’s cloud software works similarly to Drone Deploy. It is also shareable, and all your maps will be saved on their servers. You can also download the software onto your hard drive.
Pix4D’s orthomosaics are impressive. The software’s ability to produce precise and excellent orthomosaics is unmatched in cloud-based processing software.
Pix4D’s LiDAR processing tools are what makes it unique. Other mapping engines in this list don’t offer LiDAR processing.
Pix4D can be used to visualize the point clouds from LiDAR scans in all of the mapping engines listed. However, you can export, process, and visualize a LiDAR dataset into Autocad using Pix4D.
Although this is our budget choice, it’s still quite expensive to use. Plans range in price from $58 per month to $315 per month. This will allow you to spend less than DroneDeploy but is still not cheap.
2. DroneDeploy #
DroneDeploy has many features, including in-app flight planning and real-time orthomosaic construction, cloud-based processing and sharing, as well as the fact that it supports multiple drone brands and models.
Many drone owners consider DroneDeploy’s support for many different drones to be a major reason they chose DroneDeploy.
DroneDeploy also supports drones that are not made specifically for mapping. This is an important benefit to new pilots who might not have the money to purchase a mapping drone.
There are many plans available for Drone Deploy. Each plan has a different price point and offers more features with each price increase.
These include Ag Lite, which is designed specifically for agriculture, Individual, Advanced, Teams, and Enterprise.
DroneDeploy’s cloud-based nature is another advantage. Cloud-based mapping software will benefit you even if you have terabytes because downloading maps and models can take a lot out of your memory.
Orthomosaic DSMs or DTMs require large amounts of data, unlike normal images like JPEGs or PNGs. This is to preserve quality and GEO referencing.
DroneDeploy also offers a site comparison with previous surveys. This is a valuable tool for construction companies as it allows them to see the progress of their projects.
DroneDeploy is similar to engineers layering blueprints to visualize how the project will turn out.
DroneDeploy, a paid service, is available to you. You’ll get top-notch customer support.
DroneDeploy is one of the most expensive drone mapping software available. Its price tag is also not transparent.
Individual plans start at $329 per month, but only if you commit for a year. You can use it for as little as $499 per month if you don’t want to commit to a year.
The upgraded version with more features will cost you $599 per month, which is more than $7,100 annually.
What happens if you aren’t a sole proprietor or entrepreneur? DroneDeploy will provide a demo for those who want to purchase a version for their entire team.
Although it is more expensive than individual plans, DroneDeploy does not disclose the exact price. You will need to call DroneDeploy to get an estimate. Prices can also vary depending on the size of your team.
3. Propeller #
Propeller is a platform built on the model of pay-per-map. Propeller offers their aerial mapping solution for $250 per map.
This processor will provide all map outputs, including your orthomosaic and 3-D model, plant health, and a wide range of measurement tools that can be used to analyze and examine your job site.
Propeller software recommends the Phantom 4 RTK or the Wingtra One drones.
Propellor is a premium service. This means that you will receive top-notch customer support.
Propeller has a quick support line, just like the other paid apps. You can also use the messaging platform to get support and request a call if needed.
This software is more suited for companies that use it within their mapping department than for pilots looking to purchase a mapping program to use in their business. This is because spending $250 to purchase a map is not a wise financial decision if you plan to conduct a single mapping mission per month.
Propeller’s per-map price is unlikely to be worth the cost for a company that plans on making many more maps.
DroneDeploy 4D and Pix4D offer measurement tools, but Propeller is a step ahead with tools like:
- Elevation Difference
- Road Grade
- Surface Area
- Design to Design
- Volume starting at the lowest point
- Earthworks Progress
- Elevation History
- Cross-Section Comparative
- Compare to Previous Survey
- Berm Check
- Compare to the Latest Design
Propeller’s biggest problem is the requirement to use an Aeropoint, which is a smart ground control point that is highly precise and smart to process imagery.
Aeropoints can be used by both new and experienced surveyors due to their ease of use and high accuracy. However, they are not very cost-friendly. An Aeropoint is just over $1000.
The downside to this software is the need for a flight planning application to perform your automated flights. Propeller doesn’t offer one.
The Phantom 4 RTK or Wingtra One are recommended drones for use with propeller software. Both drones are expensive and can cost upwards of $10,000.
4. WebODM #
OpenDroneMap is a good choice for those who have a background in GIS. It works with QGIS and WebODM. This software combination is a great alternative for those who don’t want to spend thousands on cloud-based mapping software.
WebODM, a local drone mapping program (it runs on your hard disk), provides similar map outputs to Drone Deploy and Pix4D. The software allows you to take a variety of measurements.
You should be familiar with GIS in order to use WebODM. GIS stands for Geographic Information Systems. This is also known as digital mapping.
WebODM is an open-source platform. Therefore, you will need to have some knowledge of coding to install it.
WebODM’s support phone number is different from other mapping engines. You can post your question in the WebODM forum to get assistance.
This software package can be very cost-effective, but it is not the most user-friendly.
5. Agisoft Metashape #
Agisoft Metashape is a cloud-based and local image processing platform that focuses on processing and delivering 3D model data. Although this software offers a measurement tool, it is not as powerful as Propeller.
Agisoft Metashape, a paid service, is guaranteed to provide excellent customer support. If you have any questions, you can call the support number or send an email to support. You can also check out the forums that are used by Agisoft users.
Similar to Propellor, the many unique tools Agisoft Metashape has to offer are:
- Editing and classification of Dense Point Cloud
- Registration of Terrestrial Laser Scanning (TLS).
- Ground control points/Scale bar support
- Stereoscopic measurements
- Generation of hierarchical tiled models
- Dynamic scenes can be created using 4D modeling
- Automatic power line detection
- Satellite imagery processing
Agisoft is a premium service that costs $179 to $3,499. As with other software, the higher the price, the better you get.
In this instance, you have two choices: You can either pay $179 for the processing software that allows you to take drone imagery and create models, or you can pay $3,499 to get the complete package, which includes tools not relevant to drone pilots such as 3D modeling texture tools for video game design.
Agisoft, unlike the other listed companies, is a Russian business. This one is not recommended for those who wish to use products made in America.
The Winner #
Overall, one of the best drone mapping software programs is DroneDeploy. It’s hard to put a definite best drone mapping software medal on it because, as we’ve discussed, each software may benefit a user better than the other.
But on a broad scale, DroneDeploy seems to fit the most users’ needs as well as being able to do one thing that the others can’t.
After trying all the software, one learns the abilities and the drawbacks of each. On a mission conducted by my company, Unmanned Aerial Operations, a 600-acre plot of land was mapped from Mossy Oak properties.
Most drone mapping software requires one elevation to be held throughout the entire automated flight for the software to be able to build an accurate model of the subject area.
In the case of the mission mapping 600 acres, multiple types of drones were used. To cover such a large property, the mission required over 10 batteries. This was more batteries than I had on hand for one drone on the given day. Therefore, two different drones were used.
Once the primary drone’s batteries were exhausted, the secondary drone was deployed and picked up where the primary drone had left off.
The primary drone and the secondary drone are both great drones, but one is more apt at handling weather conditions such as gusts of wind. The secondary drone had to fly lower than the primary drone to get detailed and accurate images for the 3D model.
After returning to home base, I discovered that Web ODM would not construct a model of this size, with differing elevations of photos and from different drone models. The model that was constructed was detailed but had areas of the model and map missing.
Upon further inspection, the software had taken pieces of the model and put them 1,000 ft below elevation or above. Rerunning the software, it was not able to process it once again.
Next, I turned to Pix 4D. Pix 4D processed the model and map extremely quickly and produced a highly accurate map and model.
Yet again, parts of the map and model were missing, this time at different angles but once again at a thousand feet above or below where they should have been.
Finally, I turned to DroneDeploy. DroneDeploy is different than the other software in that a team of human beings will review your map. I believe this was the case with the processing of the 600-acre property map.
The map and model both came out with spectacular detail and accuracy, with no holes in the map and model. There were no chunks of the map 1,000 ft off where they should have been, nor were there any pieces of the model turned at an incorrect angle.
Miraculously DroneDeploy was able to assemble a map and model from two different drones at different elevations. Altogether, DroneDeploy showed that not only is it a contender for the best mapping service, but it may very well be the best.
References:Unmanned Aerial Operations (link)