Drones & Maps

April 08, 2014

Amazon’s drone delivery PR stunt brought the idea of commercial and public use drones to the masses. It’s still a very long time though until Amazon quadcopters are delivering groceries.

However, various government agencies and universities already have licenses for drones, and thanks to the EFF we have transparency into some of the use cases. The EFF has filed and won freedem on information act requests with the FAA, the federal agency responsible for granting certificates of aviation (COAs) for domestic drone flights (flights over 400ft). An ongoing map of COAs in the public domain is below.

I ended up looking through some of the COA files and was fascinated by the maps and annotation tools used to document flights. Below I walk through a handful of the maps that have been filed.

Department of the Army, Hawaii

I would love to know what software this is

City of Herington, Kansas

Powerpoint for annotation?

Miami-Dade, Florida Police Department

Satellite imagery is incredibly valuable as a base map for flight planning, and pre Skybox and Planet Labs, Digital Globe was the main provider. Both images use Digital Globe imagery for the base map. The image on the right also references the US Geological Survey and NOAA as additional data layers.

Cornell University

Google dominates, but it really isn’t a great enterprise mapping application

Georgia Tech Police Department

Google and Tele Atlas base map data

Houston, Texas Police Department

More Google and Tele Atlas and Europa Technologies base map data

Mississippi Department of Marine Resources

Utilizing Google for the basemap but annotation done outside of Google

Polk County, Florida Sheriff’s Department

A lonely Microsoft map, and Filestar for Windows…wow

Seattle, Washington Police Department

Do we really have to use Microsoft Office Picture Manager to annotate a map?

A Google Earth Engine shot combining base map data from Europa and the US Geological Survey with Google’s annotation tools

USDA Agricultural Research Service

Google and Tele Atlas, Digital Globe, GeoEye, and INEGI data for the base map

A well annotated but entirely static map

Air Force

What version of windows is this?

All shapes drawn over an image in powerpoint

Texas A&M University

Google with Digital Globe and Tele Atles FTW again

Pennsylvania National Guard

Anyone able to make sense of this?

Louisiana National Guard

California Fire Services

Hays County, Kansas Emergency Services

Ogden, Utah Police Department

University of Wisconsin

End Note

A lot of the COAs are from 2008-10, so it is not definitive that these are still the tools being used.

Drones & Maps was published on (revised: ) Miles Grimshaw

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