Mapping Large Areas: Drones Create High-Resolution Map of 1,300-Acre Urban Park

CAVU Media Uses Drones to Map New Orleans City Park

DroneDeploy's Blog
Published in
7 min readJun 6, 2017

The challenge: map a 1,300-acre urban park, deliver it to your client in a poster-sized format, and do it all without sacrificing quality and resolution. This is what Ian Cotita of CAVU Media faced when he was hired to create a map of New Orleans City Park, a sprawling space that is one of the ten largest urban parks in the country.

Mapping large areas like this park requires the right equipment, software and plenty of planning. But Ian was up to the challenge. With this project, he produced one of the largest DroneDeploy maps to date, and illustrated that drone mapping can create high-resolution visual overviews of even the largest spaces.

When DJI rolled out the Phantom 1 in early 2013, Ian Cotita was running a successful web design and marketing company. This work included photography and videography services, so with the emergence of the commercial drone industry, he saw the potential for a new market. His company was one of the first in Louisiana to receive an FAA 333 exemption to fly commercially, and after a few of his clients let him experiment with drone photography and videography at their events, “It took on a life of its own,” says Ian. “Fifteen drones later, here we are.”

Ian now runs CAVU Media, which provides mapping services, aerial videography, design services, and post production media content in the greater New Orleans area. CAVU’s client list includes big names like Jaguar, Red Bull, and Live Nation. Ian was hired this January to map New Orleans City Park. It is the second time he’s mapped the park, and to date it remains the largest mapping project he has taken on. He spoke to us about the process of mapping the park and some of the lessons he learned along the way.

Orthomosaic map of 1,300-acre New Orleans City Park — Explore the map

Drone Map Delivers Higher Resolution at Half the Cost of Aerial Photography

On a wall in their conference room, New Orleans City Park’s improvement division has mounted a large-scale printout of the park from an aerial view. The printout is updated annually and used as a visual reference in planning meetings, when discussing construction progress and new projects. In years past, the department relied on aerial photographs, hiring a pilot to provide them with three pictures taken from an altitude of 1,500 feet. But hiring a pilot is costly, and the resulting product doesn’t translate well into a poster-sized format. There is only so much resolution that can be achieved from 1,500 feet. It is also difficult to align three aerial photographs into one seamless composite.

Last March, looking for a more complete picture with higher resolution, they hired Ian to fly the entire 1,300-acre grounds.Not only was Ian confident he could make a higher quality map using DroneDeploy, but he offered a package that cost 50% less than aerial photography.

After capturing thousands of images, Ian used DroneDeploy to stitch them together into a high-resolution orthomosaic map, which he then exported as a PDF and printed in large scale. The result was a poster that measures four feet tall and over seven and a half feet long. It far exceeded any expectations for the project.

“For aerial photographs, they were paying twice as much. We came in and just kind of blew their minds with the data and the sheer quality,” -Ian Cotita

Although the park improvement division’s main goal was to obtain an orthomosaic map, they were pleasantly surprised by the additional data Ian provided them, including a 3D model and an elevation map that he created in DroneDeploy. They’re now looking into ways to use the additional data, such as gathering information about drainage from the elevation map, and they are excited about the potential going forward.

New Orleans City Park overlaid with street grid

The orthomosaic map alone was worth every penny for the improvement division. Not only did the map provide a complete composite of the entire park, but the resolution was far greater than anything that could have been achieved with aerial photography. After seeing the value of the high-resolution map, the park’s improvement division has hired Ian to map the park again next January.

Lessons for Mapping a Large Area

“The first map was quite the learning experience,” Ian admits of his initial flight in March. Mapping such a large area is no small feat. He felt it went well the first time, but knew he could make adjustments to improve his results for the second map. Thanks to a few changes he made to his process and hardware, he says the second time around was smoother, and the resulting map was better quality than the first.

Here are some of the changes Ian made for his second map:

Reducing altitude and increasing overlap

“This time, we really pushed the envelope by going lower and doing a higher overlap,” Ian says. For his March flight, he stayed at 398 feet. This time, he flew 25 feet lower and increased the overlap to 70/60. The result was an additional 3,500 images, bringing the total number of images for the second flight to over 6,000. He does admit that increasing the number of images required additional time to complete the stitching process, but the DroneDeploy map engine was able to handle it. In the end, he says it was worth the additional processing time for the increased resolution.

Flight plan of the park from second flight (left) compared to first flight (right)

Revising your flight plan

To a drone service provider looking to fly a large area for the first time, Ian advises scouting the area ahead of time to determine any potential issues and then planning flights accordingly. For his first map in March, he few three large flights, starting on one side and making runs back and forth across the one-mile wide park.

“Needless to say, it was pretty tricky,” Ian says. If he was lucky, he could get across and back on one battery. The middle section of the park is also heavily wooded, so signal loss was an issue. For the second map, he broke the park into seven smaller flights. He also centered up in the middle of each section, cutting the drone’s range in half. This made for easier battery swaps by reducing the distance between each waypoint and the drone’s return to home.

Upgrading to a more powerful mapping drone

In March, Ian used a DJI Inspire 1 with X3 to fly the park. This time around, he upgraded to the newly released DJI Phantom 4 Pro. “It was the difference maker,” he says of his new drone. “The 4 Pro is very, very solid.” He says the increased range, new video feed technology and added mechanical shutter made a difference in the final product.

He also knows that choosing the right drone mapping software for the project was key. Of DroneDeploy, he says, “The main sell for me is the piloting side of things. It’s so much faster. Other apps restrict the speed of the drone significantly. Some to as little as eleven miles an hour. I flew at thirty plus with DroneDeploy.”

Having a complete visual overview of a large space can be an important tool for management and oversight. As the New Orleans City Park’s improvement division can attest, drone mapping provides a low cost, high-resolution option, even for one of the country’s largest urban parks.

Where to Learn More

If you are interested in picking up more tips for mapping large areas, make sure to read How to Map Large Areas: A Workflow for the Commercial Drone Industry, written by Eric Harkins of Back Forty Aerial Solutions. Also, photographer and DSP Justin Moore recently shared his tips for improving the image quality of drone maps.

And as always, take time to explore our support documentation for more best practices:

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