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  • Writer's pictureHammer Missions

50 Most Common Drone Mapping Terms - Explained.

Updated: Jan 6

Drone 3D Model of a building


In this comprehensive post, we will delve into 50 of the most commonly used drone mapping terms, providing a valuable resource for enthusiasts, professionals, and anyone seeking to enhance their understanding of drone mapping technology. Acquiring knowledge of these terms is paramount for gaining a solid grasp of the intricacies involved in drone mapping, enabling individuals to navigate the field with confidence. Whether you are a novice or an experienced drone operator, understanding these terms is crucial for capturing and delivering high-quality drone data.

Drone Mapping Definitions

  • Sensor: In the context of drone mapping, a sensor refers to the device on the drone responsible for capturing data, such as images or other information from the environment. Common sensors used in drone mapping include RGB cameras, multispectral cameras, thermal cameras, and LiDAR sensors.

  • Mechanical Global vs Electronic Rolling Shutter: These terms refer to different methods of capturing images. Mechanical global shutter captures the entire image at once, resulting in uniform exposure across the frame. Electronic rolling shutter captures the image line by line, which can lead to distortions, especially in fast-moving scenes.

  • Single Grid or Double Grid: This refers to the type of flight plan used to capture the data. In a single grid flight plan, the drone flies back and forth along a single path, capturing images at regular intervals. A double grid flight plan involves flying the drone along two perpendicular paths, forming a grid pattern. The drone captures images not only along the primary flight path but also along a secondary path at a right angle to the first. A single grid flight plan is more suitable for maps and a single double grid flight plan is more suitable for 3D models.

  • GSD (Ground Sampling Distance): GSD is the distance between two consecutive pixel centers on the ground. It determines the level of detail in a drone image. Lower GSD values result in higher image resolution. GSD is really important for high quality results. Learn more here.

  • Overlap: Overlap refers to the extent to which consecutive images in a drone mapping mission cover the same area. There are typically two types of overlap: forward overlap (between images in the flight direction) and side overlap (between adjacent flight lines). Overlap is crucial for accurate 2D mapping or 3D reconstruction.

  • Focal Length: Focal length is the distance from the lens to the image sensor. It affects the field of view and magnification of the images captured by the drone. Focal length is essential for calculating GSD and ensuring accurate mapping. There's a difference between a camera's true focal length and 35mm equivalent.

  • Exposure: Exposure refers to the amount of light reaching the camera sensor during image capture. Proper exposure is critical for obtaining high-quality images in drone mapping.

  • GCP (Ground Control Points): GCPs are precisely measured points on the ground with known coordinates. They are used to georeference and enhance the accuracy of drone mapping outputs. Learn more about GCPs here.

  • RTK (Real-Time Kinematics): RTK is a satellite navigation technique used in drone mapping for accurate positioning. Network RTK utilizes a data network for accurate positioning, while Base Station RTK relies on a single base station for corrections.

  • PPK (Post-Processing Kinematics): PPK is another technique for enhancing the accuracy of drone mapping by post-processing the GPS data after the flight.

  • Oblique Images: Oblique images are captured at an angle, providing a different perspective than nadir (straight-down) images. They are often used for detailed visualization and 3D modeling.

  • Terrain Follow: Terrain follow is a feature that allows a drone to automatically adjust its altitude to follow the contours of the terrain during flight, ensuring consistent GSD. This is typically helpful for mapping hilly or areas with uneven terrain.

  • Ground Offset: Ground offset is the difference between the actual ground level and the elevation recorded in drone mapping data. It's important to account for ground offset for accurate elevation mapping.

ground offset in drone mapping

  • Waypoints: Waypoints are specific geographic coordinates programmed into a drone's flight plan to guide its route during a mapping mission.

  • Smart Controller: A smart controller is a specialized device used to control and monitor drone flights, often equipped with a built-in screen for real-time data display.

  • KML File: KML (Keyhole Markup Language) is a file format used for geographic visualization. In drone mapping, KML files may be used to overlay mapping data on geographic information systems (GIS) software.

  • LiDAR: LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) is a remote sensing technology that uses laser light to measure distances. In drone mapping, LiDAR sensors are employed for terrain mapping and 3D modeling. LiDAR is especially useful in cutting through canopy or vegetation cover.

  • GeoTag: GeoTagging involves adding geographic metadata, such as GPS coordinates, to images or other data captured by a drone. It is crucial for accurate georeferencing.

  • Roll, Pitch, Yaw: These are rotational movements around the three axes of a drone. Roll is around the longitudinal axis, pitch is around the lateral axis, and yaw is around the vertical axis.

roll pitch yaw on a drone

  • Calibration: Calibration in drone mapping involves ensuring the accuracy and consistency of sensor measurements and settings, such as camera calibration for accurate image analysis and processing.

  • Photogrammetry: Photogrammetry is the science and technology of obtaining reliable information about physical objects and the environment through the process of analyzing and interpreting photographic images captured by cameras, typically on drones, to create accurate maps, models, or measurements.

  • Digital Twin: A digital twin is a virtual representation of a physical object or system. In the context of drone mapping, it refers to a digital replica of the real-world environment created using data collected from aerial imagery, sensors, and other sources. Practically speaking, this is essentially a series of 3D models.

  • Annotation: Annotation involves marking or labeling specific features or objects within images or maps generated through drone mapping. Annotations can be used for identifying key points, objects, or areas of interest.

  • Aligned Images: Alignment refers to the process of ensuring that images captured by a drone are correctly positioned and oriented relative to each other. Aligned images are crucial for accurate photogrammetric processing. Here's why aligned images matter.

  • 2D Map: A 2D map is a two-dimensional representation of a geographical area created from drone-captured images. It typically displays features and objects on the Earth's surface in a flat, planar format.

  • 3D Model: A 3D model is a three-dimensional representation of the Earth's surface or objects created using drone-captured images. It provides depth and spatial information for a more immersive representation.

  • Topo | Orthomosaic | Orthophoto: Topo (Topological survey), orthomosaic and orthophoto all refer to a 2D map created by stitching together overlapping drone images.

  • Digital Elevation Model or Digital Terrain Model: A digital representation of the Earth's surface, showing elevations of terrain features.

  • Radiometric: Radiometric cameras are often used in thermal drone mapping to record temperature data in individual pixels of the images. This can then be used for further analysis. Here's more on how to process thermal drone images.

  • Relative vs Absolute Accuracy Relative Accuracy: The accuracy of measurements and positioning relative to other features in the dataset.

  • 2D Measurements: 2D measurements involve determining distances, areas, or other geometric properties on a flat, two-dimensional representation, such as a map or image.

  • Earthworks: Earthworks refer to the manipulation of the Earth's surface, involving activities like excavation, grading, or filling. Drone mapping is often used for monitoring and planning earthwork projects at construction companies.

  • Volumetrics & Tonnage: Volumetrics involves measuring the volume of material, such as earth or stockpiles, using drone mapping data. Tonnage refers to the weight of materials and is often estimated based on volume and density.

  • Progress Tracking | 4D Models: Progress tracking involves using drone mapping data to monitor and visualize the evolution of a project over time. 4D models add the dimension of time to the spatial representation, providing a dynamic view of changes.

  • Azimuth - Cell Tower Inspections: Azimuth refers to the horizontal angle measured clockwise from a reference direction, often used in cell tower inspections to specify the direction or bearing of antennas.

  • Coordinate Reference System: A Coordinate Reference System (CRS) is a framework for defining positions on the Earth's surface. It includes a coordinate system and a datum, ensuring consistency in spatial measurements and mapping.

  • Point Cloud: In drone mapping, a point cloud is a set of data points in a three-dimensional coordinate system, representing the external surface of an object or terrain. These points are often generated by laser scanning or photogrammetric methods.

  • Textured Mesh: A textured mesh is a three-dimensional model created from drone mapping data, where the surface is represented by a mesh of interconnected polygons, and textures or images are applied to the surface to provide realistic visual details.

  • Raster File: A raster file in drone mapping refers to an image or data file composed of a grid of pixels. Examples include aerial photographs, satellite imagery, or digital elevation models in raster format.

  • Inspection Report: An inspection report in the context of drone mapping is a document generated after the aerial inspection of a structure or area. It includes information on the condition of the inspected object, findings, and recommendations. Here's how to automatically created PDF reports.

  • Site Map: A site map created through drone mapping displays the layout and features of a specific area, providing a visual representation of the terrain, structures, and other relevant information.

  • Cut/Fill Maps: Cut/Fill maps in drone mapping show the difference in elevation between the existing terrain (cut) and the desired or planned terrain (fill). These maps are useful in construction and earthwork projects. Here's how to measure cut and fill volumes using drones.

  • Overlays: In drone mapping, overlays refer to additional visual information (such as GIS data, property boundaries, or zoning information) overlaid onto the base mapping data.

  • CAD (Computer-Aided Design): CAD is a technology that uses computer systems to aid in the creation, modification, analysis, or optimisation of designs. In drone mapping, CAD software may be used for detailed design work based on mapping data.

  • BIM (Building Information Modeling): BIM is a process involving the creation and management of digital representations of physical and functional characteristics of buildings or infrastructure. Drones can contribute data to BIM processes.

  • .DXF (Drawing Exchange Format): .DXF is a file format used to exchange CAD drawings between different CAD applications. It is commonly used in drone mapping for compatibility with various design software.

  • .TIFF (GeoTIFF): .TIFF (Tagged Image File Format) is a common raster image format. GeoTIFF is an extension that includes georeferencing information, making it suitable for drone mapping applications where spatial accuracy is crucial

  • .KML (Keyhole Markup Language): KML is a file format used for geographic visualization and represents features like points, lines, and polygons in two or three-dimensional space. It is often used to display mapping data in Google Earth.

  • .OBJ (Wavefront OBJ File): .OBJ is a file format that represents 3D geometry, including vertices, normals, and texture coordinates. It is used in drone mapping to store 3D models and can be imported into various 3D modeling software.

  • .LAS (LASer) File: .LAS is a file format commonly used for storing lidar data. In drone mapping, lidar sensors may be employed to capture high-resolution elevation data, and the resulting point cloud is often stored in LAS format.


Hopefully this post has successfully exposed you to a wealth of commonly used terms in the realm of drone mapping, providing valuable insights into their meanings and applications.

To delve deeper into the intricacies of drone mapping and explore high-quality software solutions for efficient data capture, processing, and delivery, we encourage you to visit us at

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