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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter January 21, 2016

Mapping with Small UAS: A Point Cloud Accuracy Assessment

Charles Toth, Grzegorz Jozkow and Dorota Grejner-Brzezinska

Abstract

Interest in using inexpensive Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) technology for topographic mapping has recently significantly increased. Small UAS platforms equipped with consumer grade cameras can easily acquire high-resolution aerial imagery allowing for dense point cloud generation, followed by surface model creation and orthophoto production. In contrast to conventional airborne mapping systems, UAS has limited ground coverage due to low flying height and limited flying time, yet it offers an attractive alternative to high performance airborne systems, as the cost of the sensors and platform, and the flight logistics, is relatively low. In addition, UAS is better suited for small area data acquisitions and to acquire data in difficult to access areas, such as urban canyons or densely built-up environments. The main question with respect to the use of UAS is whether the inexpensive consumer sensors installed in UAS platforms can provide the geospatial data quality comparable to that provided by conventional systems.

This study aims at the performance evaluation of the current practice of UAS-based topographic mapping by reviewing the practical aspects of sensor configuration, georeferencing and point cloud generation, including comparisons between sensor types and processing tools. The main objective is to provide accuracy characterization and practical information for selecting and using UAS solutions in general mapping applications. The analysis is based on statistical evaluation as well as visual examination of experimental data acquired by a Bergen octocopter with three different image sensor configurations, including a GoPro HERO3+ Black Edition, a Nikon D800 DSLR and a Velodyne HDL-32. In addition, georeferencing data of varying quality were acquired and evaluated. The optical imagery was processed by using three commercial point cloud generation tools. Comparing point clouds created by active and passive sensors by using different quality sensors, and finally, by different commercial software tools, provides essential information for the performance validation of UAS technology.

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Received: 2015-10-12
Accepted: 2015-10-23
Published Online: 2016-1-21
Published in Print: 2015-12-1

© 2015 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Munich/Boston