For geospatial professionals, the most exciting aspect of the current explosion in unmanned aircraft systems (UASs) is using them for mapping, a task for which they complement manned aircraft and Earth imaging satellites. The trade-offs among these three platforms include cost, endurance, coverage, resolution, processing time and refresh rates.
Additionally, there are significant differences between fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft. In general, the latter is more adept at capturing vertical surfaces. The former is more efficient at covering large distances and areas, because any rotary-wing drone uses most of its battery power moving its wing, reducing time aloft.
However, fixed- and rotary-wing systems can complement each other. For example, a fixed-wing drone can map an entire open pit mine, then a rotary aircraft can better map sharply inclined surfaces. Other differences among UASs include their endurance, the quality of their autopilot system, the sensors they carry, and the area they need to take off and land. Some of these differences are discussed in the accompanying UAS company profiles (see “UAS Company Profiles Highlight Drone Differences”). Drone capabilities also can be distinguished by workflow and customization options.