Open-access Drone Mapping Course

Drone Mapping Training Course for Coastal Management and Seagrass Conservation

Open-access Drone Mapping Course


Yang, B.; Hawthorne, T.L.; Hessing-Lewis, M.; Duffy, E.J.; Reshitnyk, L.Y.; Feinman, M.; Searson, H. Developing an Introductory UAV/Drone Mapping Training Program for Seagrass Monitoring and Research. Drones 2020, 4, 70.DOI:10.3390/drones4040070

Course description

Unoccupied Aerial Vehicles (UAV), also known as small Unmanned Aerial Systems (sUASs), Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) or drones, with their high spatial resolution, temporal flexibility, and ability to repeat photogrammetry, afford advancements in other remote sensing approaches for coastal mapping, habitat monitoring, and environmental management. This open-access drone mapping training course is designed to use drones to collect remote sensing data for coastal mapping and seagrass conservation. We create this training course for research partners and broader communities to learn how to fly drones, and perform data processing in Geographical Information Science (GIS) method. This training course contains topics of flying drones, Preflight & Planning, FAA part 107 examination, Drone2map user guide, and GIS based drone image analyses.

Course Objectives

  1. Basic knowledge of Drone, setup, and maintenance.
  2. Learn how to fly drones, manual manipulation and auto-pilot.
  3. Operate the UAV efficiently, safely, ethically and consistent with FAA regulations.
  4. Learn FAA part 107 exam, e.g., airspace regulations, sectional charts, and etc.
  5. Safety guidelines when flying drones.
  6. Learn to use DJI GS Pro for auto-pilot flying and collecting field data.
  7. Collecting field data and Ground Control Points (GCPs).
  8. Use Esri Drone2Map to stitch and geo-referencing the drone images.
  9. Data management and cloud storage of drone imagery
  10. Basic GIS analysis on drone imagery, digitizing, multi-spectral band math, vegetation index, and image classification.


The training program is divided into 5 training sections and one post-training self-study guide to prepare participants for the FAA Part 107 examination. This examination is necessary for commercial-based drone operators to conduct flights in the United States.

1. Drone Basics

The first training module includes a tutorial to introduce basic manipulation, assembly, setup software, and calibration of the quadcopter drone. The DJI Phantom 4 Pro were used as an example. The training contents includes a lecture-based review of the drone, its basic flight manipulation, rules and regulations for drone flights. Through the lecture and tutorial, safe drone assembly techniques were reviewed as well as safety requirements. We covered pre-flight planning and in-flight precautions, including maintaining UAV within visual line of sight of the remote pilot.

Open training course for drone mapping: (1/5) Drone unboxing and assemble

Open training course for drone mapping: (2/5) How to setup the software for DJI Phantom 4

DJI official toturial of drone calibration

Register your drone

Register your drone to FAA is very important in the United States since FAA needs to identify a drone and use FAA registration number to seek information.

“Failure to register with the FAA could result in one or a combination of the following: a civil penalty of up to $27,500; a criminal fine of up to $250,000; imprisonment for up to three years.” - FAA

Directions for Registering Drone with FAA:

  1. Go to
  2. Click “Register” in the same row as “I fly under Part 107 or as a Public Aircraft.”
  3. Enter information and click “Create Account.”
  4. Verify your email address and log in
  5. Make sure that you are in the “Part 107 Dashboard.”
  6. Click “Manage sUAS Inventory.”
  7. Click “Add UAS.”
  8. Fill out the information
  9. Enter your drone’s unique serial number, as found in the battery cavity of the drone:
  10. Go to “Shopping Cart” and click “Checkout.”
  11. Follow prompts for payment
  12. Navigate back to your “FAA Part 107 Dashboard” and click “Manage sUAS Inventory”
  13. Find the drone that you registered and find the “Registration” column.
  14. Mark your drone with the registration number according to the following FAA


Module Materials:

Phantom 4 manual

operations manual and safety guidelines

2. In-Flight Operation

Following the overview of drone basics, there is a 1.5-hour manual flying session. Through this interactive exercise, participants gained experience in basic drone operations.

Drone Manipulation

Open training course for drone mapping: (3/5) Calibrate the drone and setup the software

Air Space Regulation

Note: There are similar regulations in Canada. All drones that weigh between 250 g and 25 kg must be registered with Transport Canada. FAA certification (U.S.) is not applicable in Canada, and drone pilots must follow the rules in the Canadian Aviation Regulations (CARs) Part IX—Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems.

For more FAA regulation, please read FAA remote pilot study guide

Module Materials:

FAA remote pilot study guide

3. Autonomous Mapping

Autonomous mapping provides an advantage over manual flight operations by ensuring that data collection is efficient and replicable at each site. In this module we learn how to use autonomous functions to capture hundreds of images that were pre-programmed to be evenly distributed with nadir view over the mapping area.


Open training course for drone mapping: (4/5) Create drone mapping task using DJI GS Pro

Mapping planning & settings

Participants learned how to plan and create a new flight area using autonomous flights with different mapping parameters. Considerations for autonomous parameters included:


Open training course for drone mapping: (5/5) Unlock fly zone and Using DJI GS Pro for autonomous mapping

Module Materials:


4. Image Processing

The general steps reviewed in this course included: image stitching, geo-referencing, derivation of orthomosaics and elevation models and image correction. Also, we will review the importance of visually inspecting all drone images to rule out low-quality images (e.g., blurry or oblique) and minimize measurement error in the final data products. This module will also cover the use of Esri Drone2Map software to stitch together hundreds of separate images collected by drones in the field and geo-register them into orthomosaics.


Image stitching and GIS


One of the biggest challenges of coastal drone mapping is that a relatively homogeneous water surface leads to difficulties in registering images because the image mosaic algorithm usually needs some target on the image as a matching point to stitch together images with overlaying parts.

For points on land, we used obvious objects, such as red buckets that could be easily identified in the drone image. For image referencing over the water, we used light-colored buoys with anchors fixed on the water surface to serve as the Ground Control Point (GCP). It is recommended to collect 10 points at each monitoring site. On land, use colorful objects, such as red buckets, that could be easily identified in the drone image. Over water, use light-colored buoys with anchors fixed on the water. When collecting GCP points, we recommended starting the GPS and wait until there were more than 12 satellites available for calculating the position. For each GCP location, we encourage to wait at least 90 seconds until the GPS signal became stable. Usually, GPS accuracy can reach 30-50 cm under cloudless weather conditions. For each GCP location, collecte 20 repeated measurements and use the average value as the input coordinates for geo-referencing.

Orthomosaic & Elevation Data

Note: ArcGIS and Drone2Map software packages could be downloaded from Esri.

UAV/drone high-resolution 3D fly-through video for Bodega Marine Laboratory (BML)

Furthermore, drone mapping can generate additional elevation data products, such as Digital TerrainModels (DTM) and Digital Surface Models (DSM). Such products are useful for topography analysis and 3D visualization. Above video shows the high-resolution orthomosaic imagery combined with the high-resolution Digital Elevation Model can be further processed to a 3D visualization.

Module Materials:

Processing the drone imagery to mapping products

Data analysis in Geographical Information Science (GIS)

5. Post-training Self-study

Self-study for FAA UAS Exam

10-hour self-paced study guide to assist partners with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Part 107 examination. In order to fly drones for research purposes under the FAA’s Small UAS Rule (Part 107) in the U.S., one must obtain a Remote Pilot Certificate from the FAA. This certificate demonstrates that the remote pilot understands the regulations, operating requirements, and procedures for safely flying drones.

Module Materials:

FAA remote pilot study guide

Self-study for FAA part 107 exam

Above training document reviewed content from the course modules as well as additional material necessary to prepare for the drone examination, including airspace concepts, weather sources, radio communications, sectional charts, and drone physics. It also includes additional online resources and sample questions for the examination.

Before Flight Check-list


Esri training course

Citizen Sience GIS NSF Drone mapping project