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The Ultimate Guide to Survey and Mapping Drones

Unmanned aerial systems (UAS) and Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) are among the most innovative technologies in the world today. Commonly known as drones, these airborne survey systems have given numerous industries the power to gather huge amounts of topographical data over large areas, often in places that were previously inaccessible with conventional survey equipment.  With UAVs at their disposal, companies can save money with reduces costs and no risk to human safety.


In the realm of geographic information science (GIS), there has long been a need for optimal imagery in real time. As the bar gets set ever higher for delivery speed and image quality, UAVs have revolutionized the way in which users can capture data on whichever time table is necessary for a given assignment.

Uses for Drones in GIS

Drones uses

Everyone by now is at least somewhat familiar with the use of drones in operations that are carried out by police and military forces around the world. However, despite being widely associated with hi-tech warfare, drones actually have plenty of other uses as well. Here’s a quick look:

  • Agriculture: In recent years, the agricultural sector has been focusing on precision-based methods for maximizing productivity and return on investment while keeping costs to a minimum. As such, UAVs have been a boon to modern-day agronomics. Via drones, farmers can examine crops at numerous angles, all with greater efficiency from one side of a field to another. For the farmer, UAVs make it easier than ever to spot crop infections before they grow out of hand and lead to huge financial loss.
  • Emergency Services: When it comes to handling emergencies, drones have saved the day in otherwise hopeless situations. Search teams can get sidetracked, exhausted or despondent, but a drone will search on and on for as long as it has power. Unlike with search crew members, a drone doesn’t make observations, either — it simply collects data for teams to review. This lowers the possibility of misidentifications and other mistakes that can set back a search or investigation, and instead allows search teams to narrow in on targets quicker and more effectively.
  • Geospatial Analysis: Current drone-capability levels would not be possible without geospatial technology, which allows UAVs to autonomously survey areas along specified routes. The ability of drones to examine large areas in complex detail — in a fraction of the time it would take with human eyes and hands — make them a powerful tool in the construction and power sectors. With maximum altitudes of 400 feet, drones are able to capture ground images in higher resolution than manned aircrafts or satellites.
  • Atmospheric Sciences: Drones allow scientists to collect data of the earth’s surface from vantage points that would otherwise be unfathomable. With its Global Hawk drone, for instance, NASA has employed the technology to gather data on hurricane development along the Atlantic Basin.In the coming decades, UAS devices could be deployed around the Arctic regions to survey the progress of melting snowcaps. Depending on which way nations act in regard to climate change, drones could help scientists determine whether human activity is making the problem better or worse.
  • Delivery: Drones could eventually blow USPS out of the sky. As increasing numbers of consumers turn to the Internet to buy everything from clothing and toiletries to stationeries and groceries, drones could make airborne deliveries between supply centers and doorsteps within hours or even minutes. Instead of same-day shipping and next-day delivery, consumers will come to expect same-hour shipping and same-day delivery.For restaurants, drones could soon provide the means for serving out-of-town and out-of-state customers with unique, ready-to-serve takeout foods.

Federal Laws Regarding Drone Use 

As a developing technology, drones are limited somewhat in terms of their physical capabilities. Safety and privacy concerns both remain issues regarding drones, which have put mainstream commercial adaption far off on the timetable for now. Nonetheless, the economy stands to benefit as GIS harnesses the full potential of UAS.

In the United States, federal law stipulates that UAVs cannot be operated for non-recreational use without a Certificate of Authorization. However, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) does in some cases grant exemptions for commercial usage of drones.

One exception to FAA certification rules is the Trimble® UX5 Unmanned Aerial System, which has been federally greenlighted for commercial usage in the U.S.


The Trimble UX5

Designed for the needs of mapping and surveying specialists, the Trimble UX5 is equipped with an off-the-shelf Sony camera and easy to use, surveyor-centric flight plan software for maximum efficiency with any project. The specs include the following:

  • Image Quality: The UX5 is made to capture super-sharp images in full color, regardless of darkness or fog. With its 2.0 cm resolution, the unit’s 24 mp camera is ideal for photogrammetric mapping.
  • Performance: Built to weather virtually any possible condition, the UX5 delivers images through the rainiest, windiest storms, along with the coldest, most glacial climates and the hottest, sandiest masses of land.
  • Reverse-thrust landing: Designed for the smoothest operations of any UAV, the Trimble UX5 employs thrust reversal during landings, which halts in-flight forward momentum and makes deceleration easier. Additionally, the UX5 features a landing angle designed to handle precise landings in small, confined work areas.
  • Durability: With its uniquely designed foam structure and composite elements, the Trimble UX5 has unsurpassed power to withstand impact during operations.
  • Software: Aerial missions are easy to execute thanks to Trimble Access Aerial Imaging software, which makes it easy to monitor flights remotely from the Trimble Tablet. While flights are in progress, the user is helped along through each sequence with a checklist that appears on the tablet screen. Many of these checks don’t even require human verification — the software handles everything. Best of all, the UX5 can be prepared and launched within minutes due to the unit’s intuitive presets, which keep downtime to a minimum on days of multiple operations.

Trimble UX5 Information

The Trimble UX5 HP

Built for advanced surveying operations, the Trimble UX5 High Precision system is equipped with a GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) receiver and state-of-the-art camera for mapping and high-resolution, flexible-lens image collection. Some of the machine’s other features are:

  • Precision: The UX5 HP features the Sony a7R: a 36 mp camera offering maximum resolution and sensor. Combined with the GNSS receiver, the a7R is able to capture orthomosaic resolutions with utmost precision. Furthermore, the receiver eliminates any need for manned control at ground level by determining the coordinates of images with utmost accuracy.
  • Lens Options: Different projects require different capacities, and the UX5 HP is configurable with a variety of lenses. For projects that require utmost accuracy, there’s the 35mm lens. For operations that call for accuracy as well as broad flight coverage, there’s the 25mm lens, and when flight coverage is the foremost requirement, there’s the angled 15mm lens. Additionally, the UX5 HP can be switched between RGB and infrared sensors. With the UX5 HP, there are lenses suitable for any given type of UAV mapping operation.
  • Field Efficiency: The UX5 HP prevents the need for ground control points (GCP) in the field thanks to the Trimble GNSS system, which makes UAV surveying and mapping more efficient and risk-free because operators don’t need to physically enter deep mines, rugged parts of nature and other dangerous land stretches in order to lay out points for data collection.
  • Endurance: Built to withstand virtually any working climate, the Trimble UX5 HP is constructed of collision-proof foam that can handle rain, snow, humidity and winds as powerful as 55 km/h — all of which makes the UX5 HP one of the best mapping UAV drones on the market.
  • Software: The Trimble Business Center Photogrammetry Module processes data collected from the UX5 HP via the Trimble Tablet Rugged PC. Features of the software include advanced UAS functionality and options for creating 3D–colored point clouds and digital terrain or surface orthomosaics.


The Trimble ZX5

Easy to setup and deploy in moments flat, the Trimble ZX5 is ideal for high-quality UAV mapping and surveying in wide as well as narrow spaces. It has an array of features:

  • Speed: With its state-of-the-art flight control system, the ZX5 can be readied and deployed instantly for precision surveying. It’s multi-rotor design allows it to launch and land vertically, unlike other Trimble drones, which makes the ZX5 more convenient for operations in tight spaces. Built with an impact-resistant carbon chassis, the ZX5 keeps on performing through countless operations in a vast range of conditions.
  • Camera: The Olympus 16 MP camera is included in the Trimble ZX5, which makes this an ideal UAV for capturing crystal clear images from aerial heights in assorted environments.
  • Modules: Data collected from the ZXR can be processed through the Trimble Business Center Photogrammetry and Inpho UASMaster modules — whether a project involves point clouds or orthophotos.


Industries and Operations for Trimble UAS Mapping Drones

With some of the best mapping drones on the market, Trimble UAS devices are used for surveying, image capturing and data collection by various industries, which benefit from the reduced cost and maintenance — as well as the safety, speed and efficiency — of sending drones instead of people into hazardous areas to collect vital information. Examples of such industries include the following:

  • Topographical UAV Surveying: The mapping capabilities provided by Trimble UAS drones are ideal for companies that need to survey and compile reports on topographical data along stretches of land. When a company expands its operations into previously desolate coastal stretches, it’s crucial to survey such areas constantly for signs of change.Terrestrial surveys are regularly employed in advance of dredging operations, many of which occur on a monumental scope. In places that are treacherous, hard to reach and for the most part uninhabitable, Trimble drones are essential for collecting the information necessary for planning and executing future operations.
  • Mining Analysis: Mines can be probed and examined far more accurately and easily with Trimble UAS mapping drones like the UX5, UX5 HP and ZXR models. Operations that involve the exploration of surfaces and the measurement of areas can be accomplished with no danger to surveyors because only the drones appear on site in potentially treacherous mining areas. This allows for thorough, risk-free mapping of mines that could possibly have collapsible tunnels or emit noxious gasses.
  • Construction Planning: For construction companies, the modeling of buildings and improvement of infrastructures can be accomplished a whole lot more effectively with the employment of drone surveying. Trimble UAS drones make it possible to collect overviews of bridges, canals, dams and road-work areas in a fraction of the time it would take to send on-ground surveyors to these risky areas. The information collected in these operations allow construction companies to build safe buildings, secure bridges and construct durable roads — and to also make vital renovations the proper way.
  • Forestry: UAV surveying has also been a boon to the forestry industry, in which drones have helped with the inspection, prospecting and development of plant and crop terrain. With the cameras contained on Trimble UAS mapping drones like the UX5 HP, images of forests can be collected from an endless array of heights and angles — all in crystal clarity, regardless of fog. Best of all, imagery can be captured in infrared, which makes it possible to spot the impacts of environmental stress long before they become apparent to the naked eye.


Other sectors that have employed UAV surveying include:

  • The oil and gas industry
  • Environmental agencies
  • Disaster management agencies
  • Geological organizations
  • Waste departments
  • Flood prevention agencies

UAV Mapping Software

Trimble offers the following drone mapping software programs to accompany its line of UAVs:

The Trimble Business Center Aerial Photogrammetry Module:

Designed for operators in the land surveying industry, the program is optimal for small UAS drones. Features of the module include:

  • HR orthophoto capabilities
  • Computer aided design
  • Automated mapping software
  • Digital surface and terrain models
  • Volume calculations

Click here for More Information on the Photogrammetry Module

The INPHO UASMaster:

Created for photogrammetrists, this module is ideal for smaller UAS drones. It contains many of the same features as the Trimble Business Module, in addition to:

  • Compatibility with UAV platforms on non-Trimble drones
  • Multi-rotor support
  • INPHO integration

Trimble Access Aerial Imaging v2.0:

Designed to take UAS operation to a new frontier, Trimble Access Aerial Imaging can be operated on the Trimble Tablet Rugged PC. The drone mapping software allows you to plan UAV surveying missions, monitor the drone’s activities while in flight and also make pre-flight analyses. Features of version 2.0 include:

  • Coverage of multiple altitudes/areas per flight
  • Adjustable landing locations
  • Ability to save multiple sites for takeoff and landing per project
  • Export flight/simulation path to keyhole markup language
  • Cold environment safety checklist
  • Message-bundling notification panel
  • Mission areas with polygon dimensions

In order to aid in the adaptability of these new options, version 2.0 features a redesigned interface that helps users along during Trimble UAS mapping operations.

SITECH Southwest: An Authorized Trimble Service Center


As the uses for UAV’s continue to expand, and rules and regulations change, it is vital to your business to stay current with what options and services are available. To learn more and to schedule a demo, contact your UAV experts at SITECH Southwest today.

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