Drone for rainforest mapping

I’m looking for a drone to take deep into the rainforest down in Central America for conservation mapping with local communities. The obvious choice seems to be a DJI Phantom, however I would prefer to have an open source/free software workflow (i.e. Mission Planner, OpenDroneMap), so I was recommended a Tarot 650 ready to fly from UAV Systems. But it seems too big for taking into remote areas.

I am fairly good with electronics but I’ve never built a drone and can’t spare an extra month for trial and error, so in any case I could go for a ready made kit with pre chosen components.

In summary, I need:

  • A drone with a camera good enough for mapping
  • Relatively portable to take several hours into the forest
  • 20 minutes flight time minimum seems ok for the size areas we would be mapping
  • Beginner pilot, so collision avoidance would be great
  • Can use Mission Planner for waypoint flight plans (or another free as in beer fight planning option)
  • Foldable or easy to assemble and disassemble on the field to reduce carrying size would be fantastic
  • Reasonably enclosed to resist light rain would be a big plus (it rains a lot in the rainforest)

I’ve spent a lot of time researching and everything says DJI but I’m resisting… Any ideas?

To be perfectly honest DJI products are pretty good, athough limited since they are not open source. Given that they are a massive company and have hundreds of engineers working on their products they are pretty hard to beat. They also have a SDK that gives you access to use your own apps, or third party apps. So for the best small mapping drone you could consider getting something like a mavic air along with something like dronemapper, or PIX4D. If you need a better camera, a larger drone like a phantom 4 pro or mavic 2 may be better…

I myself do prefer open source platforms and you could argue that you can get better performance out of arducopter (my favourite open source project) if you put the time into it. It will also take abit more research and time to get//build the parts but it is definitely possible.

Another side note, is that if you like the ardupilot/ PX4 firmware project, all of the parrot drones run this code at the core, so they are more popular among developers.

Hope that helps!

Hello @unmannedtech1, that is very helpful! So would you recommend something like the Parrot Anafi for mapping? Would I be able to use Mission Planner with that?

I honestly don’t know about using mission planner with it since I don’t have one. But I don’t think it does as can’t find any information about it :-(. Best is to see if any of the mapping software integrates with it yet.

In the end I went for Anafi. From what I could see noone has been able to change the firmware on it. Let’s see how it goes and I’ll report back. Thanks!

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Yeah let us know as would be pretty interesting

So I got the Parrot Anafi and have done a first test. Using Pix4D Capture I made a flight of an area approximately 150x150m at an altitude of 67m. The whole mission took 3 minutes. Processing the images in the field using OpenDroneMap took 33 minutes (on a ThinkPad 13 running Linux Mint 19) and got an orthophoto with a pixel size of 5 cm.

It’s my first time doing this and the most difficult part of the whole process was installing ODM (tried native, ended up using Docker). I’m greatly impressed with the technology. The Anafi is excellent for going out into the forest, it’s a very small and light package. Just need to make sure the thing is flying above the tallest trees around. Pix4D Capture makes it all really easy, it’s very well made, just not free and open, I’m guessing free usage of the application could be cut off any time. We did have mobile data coverage when setting up the mission, so I’ll see how it goes when going to a new area, with no mobile data, and creating the mission out in the field.

Next time I’m going to try a much bigger area (battery time is said to be 25 minutes, so I should be able to) and to try generating DEMs.