Great demo of drone mapping using Mapbox and Pix4D with a 3D Robotics Aero

From the Mapbox blog. The images below are all animated GIFs, but you'll need to click on them for them to play.

Piecing together the imagery

The first step in creating a sharable map is stitching the images into one single image. Software like PhotoScan and Pix4D make this really easy for you. Here we are going to use Pix4d. Simply import images, select GeoTIFF as output option and let it run.

Rendering and uploading the map

After Pix4D has completed processing the imagery, import the resulting GeoTiff into TileMill, our open source map design studio. In TileMill follow these steps to make sure your imagery looks great:

  • To remove the black border from around the imagery, set nodata=0. Usually this value is 0 but the value can vary and can be checked in QGIS
  • Increase the raster -mesh-size. This will make sure reprojection artifacts do not appear
  • Set map-background:transparent. This will make the map look better when overlayed on other imagery
  • Set raster-scaling:lanczos;. This will ensure your imagery is nice and clear. It will also increase your processing time, but it’s worth it.

Once all TileMill parameters are set, upload the imagery to by clicking Export —> Upload.

Final Result on top of Mapbox Satellite once uploaded to and styled with mapbox.js.

Sharing the map

Once uploaded to, you can optionally combine the imagery with Mapbox StreetsMapbox Satellite or any other layer you have uploaded previously. From there it is easy to share the map either by its URL or as a Youtube-like embed code. To extend the map further use mapbox.js. For instance, the example above is a simple time line built with mapbox.js.

If you have any questions around creating maps from drone imagery or if you would like to share results of your recent flights, hit me up on Twitter @bobws.

Views: 9460

Comment by Gary McCray on April 4, 2014 at 3:42pm

Hi Bobby,

I would like to make a wiki page from this and linked directly to your site in DIYDrones Wiki for our users if you wouldn't mind.

I am not sure how much of the actual functionality on your site WordPress would let me load in directly, but I would really just try to have the page provide the primary information and a direct link to your site.

If you would prefer I can just make it from this page rather than the page on your site.

Please let me know if this is OK, our users are getting very much interested in this functionality lately.

Thank You,

Gary McCray

Comment by Jack Crossfire on April 4, 2014 at 4:17pm

Honestly think it looks terrible, no matter how easy, great, styled & .js it is.

Comment by Gary McCray on April 4, 2014 at 8:20pm

Hi all,

Recommended are Photoscan or Pix4D, does anybody know if a suitable open or free program is available with suitable capability, given our groups propensity for free stuff.

The cheap version of Photoscan is only $180.00 but that could still be a bit much for our groups and this seems like something that ought to have a open cult following.

My intention is to at least make a wiki page from this blog, but if Mapbox people agree, I'd prefer to do something a bit more comprehensive.

Hey Jack, even a 3D model of snow still reflects a lot of light and I kind of think that was the point.

Best Regards,


Comment by Gary Mortimer on April 4, 2014 at 10:31pm

There is nothing OpenSource yet that matches the ease of the paid software. I use Agisoft and am constantly impressed by it. I am not sure how accurate my results are though as I am not a GIS person. There is no doubt this is all getting easier and cheaper.

Comment by hotelzululima on April 4, 2014 at 11:01pm

you may want to look at GRASS


Comment by Tom Mahood on April 5, 2014 at 7:46am

Gary, are you using the $180 version of Agrisoft, and if so, do you think it's adequate for users wanting to do casual imaging and mapping? It's a rather big jump up in cost to their next level of software.

Comment by Gary Mortimer on April 5, 2014 at 8:02am

@Tom yes the $180 version good enough for me to create stuff that folks like but not perhaps what professionals need. @HZL I have tried grass but its a little above my pay grade. Really I am just excited that it is simple these days to produce things that we knew would happen eight years ago but all the pieces of the puzzle were either way to expensive or just did'nt exist. It is disruptive tech for sure. Oh and the example I show created with a Bixler no autopilot and the camera taped to the nose.

Comment by János Mészáros on April 5, 2014 at 9:49am

Gary, you may look at VisualSFM software to generate 3D point cloud based on photographs and CloudCompare to generate mesh from point clouds.

Comment by Gary Mortimer on April 5, 2014 at 10:15am

Hi Janos, yes I have played with that a little and like cloud compare very much. The commercial software is simple like me though! 

Comment by Antonius Lourenço Kasbergen on April 5, 2014 at 9:51pm

The above model is very nice even at as low as 80k triangles. I really like Agisoft, its workflow is easy and with the right GPU it is MUCH faster than the competition. 

I'm playing with some maps in Unreal Engine 4 (really good) + Oculus Rift, and again its an easy workflow from agisoft to a VR 3D map that you can walk. I scaled everything 1:1 and everyone that sees it using oculus is amazed by the possibilities. 


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