Drone Resources

At the top of this page is a “master list” of commercial drone applications, to keep you up to date on the many ways that drones are used every day! 

I’ve dedicated the rest of the page to my recommended tools and resources, to hopefully make life easier for those that are just exploring UAV applications, or for those who already have plenty of experience working with drones.  From permit approvals to flight planning software, there are many elements of a successful commercial drone operation.  


Master List of Drone Applications

There are dozens of different uses of UAVs in the commercial space, some with a proven track record for saving time and money, and others being more experimental. I’ve taken on the task here of grouping all of the applications that I am aware of, with a summary of key details and relevant link(s).  I’ll be adding to this list as time goes on, since I hear about brand new applications so frequently!

SectorApplicationMost Common Payload(s)Business Case SummaryArticle or Website Example
AgricultureAssess pest infestationsNear Infrared, MultispectralDetect patterns and issues with crops to more efficiently manage pest problems.Link
AgricultureMap relative health of crop (e.g. NDVI, NDRE indices)Near Infrared, MultispectralHighlight areas of stressed crop quickly, reduce scouting time and detect what is not visible to naked eye.Link
AgricultureSpecies introduction to drive down pest infestationLive insects (e.g. male tsetse flies)Tsetse flies are known as the poverty insect, spreading disease and impacting livestock. UAVs can help to regulate, cheaper than manned aircraft.Link
ArchaeologyMapping of structuresThermal, Visible (RGB)Size and organization of habitation sites can be mapped, and much more rapidly than traditional methods.Link
ArchaeologySurveying looted sitesVisible (RGB), HD videoCheap, high resolution and efficient.Link
ArchaeologyPreserve threatened heritage sites by digital capture.Visible (RGB)Produce real digital doubles of archaeological remains or expanses.Link
ConstructionSite progress monitoringVisible (RGB), HD videoCapture a site overview at regular intervals to track progress of construction.Link
ConstructionComparison of earthworks / volumes to original site plansVisible (RGB), LiDARCheaper and easier than traditional surveys to track volumes.Link
Emergency responseEarthquake damage assessmentHD video, Visible (RGB)Safer and more efficient for inspectors, especially in higher buildings.Link
Emergency responseFlood damage assessmentVisible (RGB)Getting into flooded and hard to reach areas without putting staff at greater risk. Quickly assess where support is needed.Link
Emergency responseLocating victims during firefightingVisible (RGB), ThermalSearch for victims in parts of a building that are hot, smoky and unstable without sending personnel in first.Link
Emergency responseSpill trackingVisible (RGB), ThermalViable alternative to tracking and classifying spills by helicopter.Link
Emergency responseWildfire scanningThermalAbility to scan for hotspots at night when helicopters are grounded, then feed info to attack crews.Link
EnergyPipeline inspectionVisible (RGB), HD video, ThermalAlternative to planes and helicopter-based monitoring, which are traditional, more expensive methods to detect leaks, cracks and other defects.Link
EnergySubstation monitoringVisible (RGB), ThermalSafer and faster than traditional substation inspection.Link
EnergyPower line inspectionVisible (RGB), HD video, ThermalInspections of power lines and structures by drone is faster, cheaper and safer than traditional methods.Link
EnergyFlare stack inspectionVisible (RGB), HD videoThe traditional inspection workflow for these stacks involved shutting them down temporarily, affecting business continuity. Drone-based inspections change this.Link
EnvironmentLandslide assessmentVisible (RGB)Tracking fissures, flow direction and size over time is cost effective with UAVs.Link
EnvironmentMapping of submerged aquatic vegetationVisible (RGB)There are benefits to mapping algal growth, which may reach nuisance levels that impair recreation, fish and aquatic life, and water quality beneficial uses.Link
EnvironmentModeling coastal erosion/rockfallsVisible (RGB)Much easier to track volumetric change on cliff faces by creating 3D models from UAV mapping.Link
EnvironmentRadio tracking of collars on wildlifeCustom receiver and antennaFaster tracking and mapping of radio-collared wildlife, especially smaller and more mobile species.Link
EnvironmentSampling from whales for health purposesCustom collection systemConvenient way to determine whale stress levels by collecting mucus samples (containing DNA, hormones and bacteria).Link
EnvironmentRaptor nest monitoringVisible (RGB)Viable alternative to conducting surveys by helicopter or by climbing to the nest.Link
EnvironmentPrescribed burnChemical fire balls (custom payload)Improved safety of crews traditionally on foot or ATV, quicker to reach certain areas.Link
EnvironmentPreventing the unintended massacre of fawns in farmer's fieldsThermalImproved safety to wildlife in their fieldsLink
EnvironmentWildlife countsVisible (RGB)Consistent and efficient method of counting wildlife compared to ground-based methods.Link
EnvironmentVolcano gas measurementsGas samplersImproved safety and flexibilityLink
Film and mediaMotion picture industryCinema quality videoCheaper than helicopter rates, and provides unique shots in areas not accessible by helicopter
(e.g. Under forest canopy, remote areas).
Link
ForestryTree heights / canopy height modelingVisible (RGB), derived point cloudCompute tree heights from photogrammetric point cloud DSM, cheaper than LiDAR.Link
ForestryFree-to-Grow surveysVisible (RGB), HD videoQuick access to survey areas that are hard to reach on foot or would otherwise require helicopter access.Link
Government / CivicAsset managementVisible (RGB)Track and inspect town / city assets through on demand imagery.Link
Government / CivicUrban planningVisible (RGB)Mapping of irregular settlements (i.e. Villas, favelas)Link
HumanitarianDelivery of medical suppliesDrugs, blood, medical suppliesProvide quick access to medical supplies in remote areas.Link
HumanitarianLocating displaced landmines for de-mining teamsVisible (RGB), NIRHelicopters not as cost effective because minefields are typically small and well distributed, making UAVs a better option.Link
Law EnforcementAnti-poaching initiativesThermal, HD videoPatrolling expansive areas at low costLink
Law EnforcementBorder surveillanceThermal, HD videoCover more ground faster than a ground-based patrol group. Less staff required.Link
Law EnforcementIllegal loggingThermal, HD videoMonitor potential illegal logging over a larger area, faster than traditional methods.Link
MiningStockpile volume trackingVisible (RGB), LiDARUse photogrammetric data to measure and track volumes of material removed from sites.Link
MiningAirborne magnetic surveys (geophysics)MagnetometerMap a large area in less time than ground-based mag surveys.Link
Real EstateProperty marketing photos and videoVisible (RGB), HD videoImproved sales by showing properties in new perspective.Link
RetailDelivery of goodsPackage intended for deliveryFaster delivery of goods compared to ground-based methods.Link
Search and RescueDrop supplies to stranded partiesPackage of suppliesProvide needed supplies faster and cheaper than other methods.Link
Search and RescueLifebuoy deployment over oceanCustom lifebuoy payloadSafer than sending a lifeguard into rip currents, faster to reach stranded swimmer.Link
Search and RescueLocate missing or injured personsVisible (RGB), ThermalFaster detection of missing or injured persons.Link
Search and RescueShark monitoringHigh definition video, Visible (RGB)Cheaper eyes in the sky when compared to monitoring by helicopter.Link
SecuritySurveillanceVisible (RGB), ThermalConduct surveillance around a property to increase eyes on the ground and then take action where necessary.Link
TelecommunicationsRadio planning and line-of-sight testingSmartphones with network testing software, Visible (RGB)Plan the radio network better through testing in a more efficient way.Link
TransportationDeliveries to shipsPayload intended for deliveryDeliver an urgent parcel with spare parts or mail faster and at a lower cost than alternative means.Link
TransportationShip inspectionsVisible (RGB)Faster and easier to inspect large ships following an overhaul.Link

 

 

Recommended Reading

 

Selecting Your First Commercial UAV Platform – if you are considering a professional drone purchase or just in the early research stages, I would recommended reading this blog post.  Here I outline a workflow to follow to help with the decision making process.  Industry-grade UAVs can be a big investment, so it’s important to take your time to research before jumping in. 

Navigating the UAV Permitting Process in Canada – this is a good post to read over if you are looking to operate drones for commercial purposes in Canada.  It may also be a good refresher for those that have been introduced to the regulations but would like to review the details again.

 


Regulations 

 

Transport Canada regulations – the Special Flight Operations Certificate process (and directions around qualifying for an exemption) for commercial UAV work in Canada. Please note: these regs are set to change again in the near future as Canada eventually moves towards a central UAV licensing system. 

Federal Aviation Administration rules (USA) – getting started with UAV use in the United States, and keys tasks to become certified.

UAS Frequently Asked Questions (USA) – FAQ relating to unmanned aircraft systems regulation in the United States. 

Global Drone Regulations Database – a solid effort to provide all international UAV regulations in one place. I would recommend using this site as a general guide but also referencing the official regulatory sites of the country you are interested in, especially with the frequent changes to UAV regulations that can occur.

 

 

Flight Planning Tools and Processing Software

 

SkyVector (International) – aeronautical charts including airport locations to assist with flight planning.

Pix4D Mapper Pro – industry leading photogrammetry software designed with the UAV professional in mind.  This is currently my go-to software package for stitching / processing the drone photos I’ve captured into professional mapping deliverables.  For those that are just starting out, you can rent the software on a monthly basis so that you only pay for it when you need to process drone imagery.  Rental costs can also be credited towards full purchase of the software. 

Avenza Maps Pro – I have found this to be an indispensable tool for two main purposes: (1) To show a client how the UAV data that was captured compares to what we are seeing on the ground and (2) To plan out ground control target locations on site.  This app allows you to track your location on any georeferenced PDF (through your mobile device’s GPS).  You can place pins, take notes and do a lot more with this app.  I will always have a copy with me in the field in the pre-flight stage, and will also bring it for any site meetings with the client to review data with them (post-flight). 

Map Pilot app – produced by Maps Made Easy, this is an app for under CAD $15 that will help you set up automated flight and mapping missions on an iOS device if you’re piloting DJI drones.  It’s currently compatible with: Phantom 3 (standard, adv, pro), Phantom 4 (standard, pro), Inspire 1 (standard, pro), Mavic Pro, Matrice 100 and Matrice 600. It’s not currently compatible with Android devices, but runs on an iOS phone or tablet.

Mission Planner – a free and open source ground station software, part of the Ardupilot project.  Works very well with any Pixhawk, APM 2.x or PX4 or flight controller, and has just as many options than any paid ground station software on the market.  Plan automated mapping missions and track all flight data through this app. This is a popular option among custom built UAVs. 

Windy – checking the weather conditions is a regular task for any commercial drone pilot. This free site provides great interactive maps to check wind, rain and temperature at a local level. 

FUSION – this is a free and powerful tool for manipulation of point cloud data, primarily developed to work with LiDAR datasets. I use it to manipulate the huge point clouds that are derived from UAV mapping missions, and it performs very well from the command line.  If you are looking to clip, filter, calculate, generate surfaces or do other tasks with your X,Y,Z data – this is a highly recommended tool.  Another mainstream point cloud tool is LAStools, and while it is even more powerful than FUSION, the free version has limitations and you need to purchase a commercial license.



Glossary

 

The world of unmanned aircraft is a technical one.  When you throw in discussion of mapping and photogrammetry, its gets even more technical.  I’ve included a glossary on the site to get you up to speed on the terms I use.  Click here to access the full glossary.  You’ll also notice that any defined terms will be underlined throughout the site – you can hover over these words to view the definition. 

 

 

Mike Morellato is the lead author and founder of WorkingWithDrones.com.  He works with UAVs and their data at Strategic in Campbell River, BC (Canada).