Western Michigan University Geography Professor Jay Emerson says a drone that costs $1,000 can get pictures and video. However, he says analyzing that data and making maps from it is much more expensive.
Emerson and Assistant Geography Professor Adam Matthews launched a drone consulting service in the spring of 2019. The programis offered through Western’s W.E. Upjohn Center for the Study of Geographical Change. Western also offers a certificate program for students in operating pilotless aircraft, gathering data, and creating images.
Emerson says the images captured by a drone are the same as those taken from piloted aircraft, on a smaller scale. He says the price of equipment makes the cost to enter the field relatively low. Matthews says the drone can also get high quality images close to Earth’s surface with much more detail.
Matthews says the software and expertise are what makes using drones commercially expensive. He says someone gathering information with a drone needs to be able to rely on the data, so they have to be willing to pay for that accuracy. Emerson says making images into an accurate map probably requires, “a $6500 set of software and a $10,000, very high end, computer.”