By Bobby Sudekum on November 19 2013

Last weekend we captured 100 acres of aerial imagery at 4cm resolution. It took less than an hour to fly, and it was easy to publish the imagery on the web using TileMill and then trace in OpenStreetMap. Autonomous flying platforms like Sensefly’s eBee paired up with a nimble software stack are changing aerial mapping. Drones like the eBee can cheaply and accurately photograph medium-sized areas, and then the imagery can be made immediately available to everyone.

Baptiste Tripard from Sensefly preparing and flying a Sensefly eBee at Lost Creek Winery, Virginia

The drone operates less like an RC plane and more like a Roomba. You can define an area of interest on a laptop, beam it to the eBee, and then just toss the drone in the air where it will autonomously collect imagery. Within 40 minutes, the drone took 225 photos covering 100 acres from an altitude of 120 meters. Larger areas of 2,500 acres and more are possible, but this was sufficient for our needs.

Within 40 minutes we collected about 100 acres worth of imagery. Image resolution is about 4cm - zoom in to explore.

As soon as the drone landed, the images were loaded into Postflight/Pix4D for georeferencing and mosaicing and then into TileMill for resampling and tiling for the web. Afterward the imagery is easily added as a custom layer in OpenStreetMap’s iD editor for tracing.

Adding drone imagery as reference layer to OpenStreetMap for editing

Mapping Lost Creek Winery with Drone Imagery

Tracing features from drone imagery on OpenStreetMap

The high resolution of the stitched mosaic is really useful for editing in iD. As you can tell, we’re excited about what Sensefly’s eBee means for the future of open-source mapping. Small autonomous aircraft are excellent for capturing timely imagery or where other aerial imagery is not available.

Hit up me (@bobws) or Alex (@lxbarth) on Twitter if you’d like to talk more about mapping with drones.