Nowadays, small size UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) have reached a level of practical reliability and functionality that enables this technology to enter the geomatics market as an additional platform for spatial data acquisition. Though one could imagine a wide variety of interesting sensors to be mounted on such a device, here we will focus on photogrammetric applications using digital cameras. In praxis, UAV-based photogrammetry will only be accepted if it a) provides the required accuracy and an additional value and b) if it is competitive in terms of economic application compared to other measurement technologies. While a) was already proven by the scientific community and results were published comprehensively during the last decade, b) still has to be verified under real conditions.
For this purpose, a test data set representing a realistic scenario provided by ETH Zurich was used to investigate cost effectiveness and to identify weak points in the processing chain that require further development. Our investigations are limited to UAVs carrying digital consumer cameras, for larger UAVs equipped with medium format cameras the situation has to be considered as significantly different.
Image data was acquired during flights using a microdrones MD4-1000 quadrocopter equipped with an Olympus PE-1 digital compact camera. From these images, a subset of 5 images was selected for processing in order to register the effort of time required for the whole production chain of photogrammetric products.
We see the potential of mini UAV-based photogrammetry mainly in smaller areas, up to a size of ca. 100 hectares. Larger areas can be efficiently covered by small airplanes with few images, reducing processing effort drastically. In case of smaller areas of a few hectares only, it depends more on the products required. UAVs can be an enhancement or alternative to GNSS measurements, terrestrial laser scanning and ground based photogrammetry. We selected the above mentioned test data from a project featuring an area of interest within the practical range for mini UAVs. While flight planning and flight operation are already quite efficient processes, the bottlenecks identified are mainly related to image processing. Although we used specific software for image processing, the identified gaps in the processing chain today are valid for most commercial photogrammetric software systems on the market. An outlook proposing improvements for a practicable workflow applicable in projects in private economy will be given.