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How to Start a Succesful Drone Mapping Business in 2024

Updated in 2024 by Paul Posea
Drone Mapping Business

Among all the types and structures of drone businesses that you can start, I’d say starting a drone mapping business is the most lucrative and profitable – but there is a catch.

Starting a drone mapping business is not a simple thing, since you not only need expensive drones and software, but you also need the expertise to start selling your drone mapping services.

But let’s say you’re aware of all of that, and you simply want a guide to starting making money right away running a drone mapping business…

We’ll cover what drone mapping is, the types of drone mapping, whether it’s lucrative or not, and what exactly you need to get started. So let’s get to it!

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What is drone mapping?

Let’s get one thing straight and define what drone mapping even is before we get into more detail about this.

Drone mapping is the process of using drones to capture images or data of a specific area or object and then create a 2D or 3D map or model of it. The process involves using various techniques and technologies to collect, process, and analyze the data.

I won’t get into the technical details since you can find that on youtube, but in a nutshell, the process involves capturing multiple aerial images of the area of interest, using a technique called photogrammetry.

Put simply, photogrammetry is taking lots of overlapping photos from different angles to create a 2D or 3D image of an area. 

Once the images are captured, special software (which we’ll get into in a bit) is used to stitch them together and create an orthomosaic which is just a high-resolution 2D or 3D image.

Drone Mapping

I’ve found this video on Youtube to do a great job explaining what it is and how it’s applied in the real world, check it out:

What do you need to start a drone mapping business

There are three things you’ll want to consider here if you want to start a drone mapping business, gear (drone, payload, etc…) and software.

We’ll get into both.

Drone mapping gear

Drone mapping gear

The first thing you need to start a drone mapping business is the correct equipment. I would generally recommend any of the medium to high-end DJI drones – some of the low-end drones as well

The good thing about DJI drones 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, you’ll find that DJI support that, and DJI also have its own mapping app called GS Pro. 

I’ll leave a section down below solely focused on the best drones for a drone mapping business, so keep reading.

Drone mapping software

Drone mapping software

Drone mapping takes more skills than just being able to fly a drone well. You’ll need to have good planning skills, experience in doing surveys, and an understanding of the fundamentals of photogrammetry. 

And since you’ll be dealing with lots of data and need to go through the entire process of data collection, processing, and presentation… you’ll need solid software to do that.

The only problem is that MOST mapping software is expensive, and if you’re just starting out your drone mapping business you’re probably low on cash flow.

Which is why I want you to read on because I’ve compiled a list of the best free drone mapping software out there.

Drone business license

If you want to start a drone mapping business (or any drone business in general), you’re going to need a drone business license.

A drone license is a license issued by the FAA granting you permission to conduct commercial drone operations in the U.S.  It proves that you have obtained your drone certification, also called Part 107 certification, allowing you to fly drones commercially.

There are a bunch of ways people talk about a drone license, like:

  • Drone pilot license
  • Part 107 license
  • Commercial drone license

And sometimes, you'll see stuff like "FAA drone license" or "Part 107 drone license." No worries though – they all mean the same thing! Basically, it's your golden ticket to being a commercial drone operator in the USA.

How to learn drone mapping

Ok, so you got the drone, and got the software – now with all of that out of the way, it’s time to get into the details and technical stuff. 

If you’re going to be doing the service yourself instead of employing a professional, which is more likely the case, then you need to learn the basics of drone mapping.

It’s actually not that complicated and anyone can do it with the right software and materials.

There are also plenty of great drone courses out there that dive into drone mapping, but if you want you can just watch youtube videos like this one:

But here’s a quick overview of the two technologies you’ll be using in this field. 

Photogrammetry

Photogrammetry

Put simply, It involves taking multiple, overlapping photos of the same subject which can then be processed to create a 3D model. Kinda like the way that our brain perceives depth because we see the world through two eyes…

Drone mapping using photogrammetry is simply a scaled-up version of the same brain concept. Using a drone, multiple photos of a survey area are taken from changing vantage points. These photos could number in the hundreds or thousands and sometimes even MILLIONS. 

But, the limitation of it is pretty clear. It needs visibility for it to work – without it, you’re left blind.

And this is where the LiDar technology comes in.

LiDAR

The alternative to photogrammetry is LiDAR, or “Light Detection and Ranging”. 

It relies on a special LiDAR sensor (that should be in your drone, or external payload) that emits continuous and rapid pulses of non-visible light towards the survey area. 

This light is reflected off the surface of solid features and detected again by the LiDAR sensor. 

LiDAR

The biggest advantage of LiDAR is as you can guess. It does not depend on visibility to make measurements. This makes it more versatile in surveying areas where visibility can be an issue, such as those with nearby large structures.

The only issue is that the equipment needed to do LiDAR mapping is expensive, but you can charge your clients accordingly.

Best free drone mapping software

I know how tough it can be to start a business, it’s more so for starting a drone mapping business with all the costs it involves. This is why I’ve made a small list of the best free drone mapping software to get you started.

That way you don’t have to pay $300 a month for software!

1. SkyeBrowse

They use videos instead of photos to produce high-quality maps. The result is that maps can be produced in a fraction of the time of alternatives (who use images). 

I’m talking about rendering times as little as 3 – 5 minutes instead of an hour!

SkyeBrowse offers a 2-week free trial. But even after the trial expires, you can still continue to use SkyeBrowse for free to create high-quality maps!

2. WebODM

This is one of the most popular software platforms for drone mapping that you can download and use for free. 

This is open-source software that has been around for a few years and has been improved vastly by its active user community! 

However, keep in mind that you need to be a bit tech-savvy to work with it.

3. DJI GS Pro

One of the reasons I love DJI is its ecosystem. If you’re using a DJI drone for your mapping operations, then you already have a pretty good software option that you can use for free. 

DJI GroundStation Pro is a mobile app that is specially designed for drone flight planning and management. It’s very easy to use, and its UI is similar to what you’re used to in the DJI Fly App.

4. Pix4Dcapture

This is a free mobile drone flight planning app that allows you to plan and control drone flight using a mobile device, much like DJI GS Pro.

The reason I like it is that It’s very easy to use and even provides a way to review the quality of the captured images even while you are still on site. 

The best clients for drone mapping services

Before we get into which drones, software and certifications you need, it’s best to consider the real-world demand for this service in the first place.

Typically, the industries that frequently need drone mapping services are fields like construction, mining, surveying, and telecommunications (signal tower inspections).

Construction 

Construction 

When it comes to construction, drone mapping is usually used for site surveys, progress monitoring, and generating accurate as-built models. 

There is a pretty high demand for it as it can provide high-resolution orthomosaic maps, 3D models, and volumetric measurements to assist with project management and planning.

Mining

Mining

You can use your drone to assist mining companies by providing accurate, up-to-date maps of mining sites which is CRUCIAL for them.

These maps can help with mineral exploration, site planning, and environmental monitoring. Drones can also be used to calculate stockpile volumes and monitor slope stability, but that’s not something you’ll find yourself doing frequently.

Surveying

Surveying

You can help land surveyors with high-resolution aerial imagery and accurate topographical maps, which can be used for land development, civil engineering, and environmental assessment projects.

I’ve actually written a detailed article about that over here – talking about how much land surveys cost, and how much you can expect to get paid as a drone pilot.

Here is an overall table for reference:

Percentile (drone pilots)Hourly salary
Top 10%$45
75th Percentile$30
Average$26
25th Percentile$16

Telecommunications

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Drones are popular and quite in demand when it comes to telecommunication and power companies. By making “digital twins” of cell towers and power lines, a company can simulate and analyze different scenarios…

All this can be done with no manpower and risky tower climbs – which means you’re not only saving them time and money but also huge liability risks!

Putting it all together – how to start your drone mapping business

So as we’re nearing the end of this article, I just wanted to sum up everything we’ve gone through so far.

By now, you should know what exactly drone mapping is, have a clear idea of what industries to target, know the basic of drone mapping technology and know which drones and software you should get.

One step remains, how to actually get clients for your business…

You should first start by identifying potential clients in industries such as construction, agriculture, mining, surveying, and environmental management like the ones I showed you earlier.

 Attend industry conferences and events to network with potential clients and learn more about their needs. Create a USP (unique selling proposition) that differentiates you from other drone service providers in your market. 

And then start marketing yourself. Create a website and social media accounts to showcase your work and reach a wider audience, network with other companies that work in various industries, establish partnerships to collaborate with, utilize email marketing to stay in touch with clients and keep them updated on your services…. 

There are so many ways to find clients, all you need to keep is consistency.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading through this guide, and look forward to you reading another one!

author-paul-posea-picture
Hi, I'm Paul.
A big drone enthusiast, reviewing, comparing and writing about drones since 2015. I'm all about helping people enjoy and even monetize their hobby.

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paul posea
Paul Posea
Hi, I'm a long-time drone reviewer and I hope my articles and comparisons on this site as well as Dronesgator's youtube channel are of as much help as possible.
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