Taking Aerial Mapping To Unprecedented Heights with Aerial Imaging

Posted: 30/11/2020 17:28:38

A process that was once sky high expensive is now affordable and much easier to access.

From working out the area of a forest fire, getting a snapshot of the habitats and number of endangered species, or capturing the evolution of an urban area, Aerial imaging has been an important tool in enabling local authorities, Government agencies and others in gathering information over a large area.One area that stands out for increasing innovation development and new technology  is in the field of aerial image capturing for mapping purposes.

For example, Ordnance Survey Ireland now has high-resolution mapping captured using their own aircraft flying out of Shannon. Their most recent series of high-resolution 25cm imagery was completed in 2017.  The data capture used the state-of-the art Leica cameras (purchased in 2016) fitted with ADS 100 sensors; this new kit allows them to fly higher and faster than before. This means that OSi Aerial Imagery is collected quicker, cheaper and more accurately than ever before.  OSi are committed to updating this dataset regularly. Each of the 37 flying blocks that cover the State will be re-flown at least once every three years.The availability of quality up-to-date maps was not always the case. Out of date maps in an environment of a rapidly developing economy hampered planners and architects of the time in effectively carrying out their work

More recent developments have included the advent of 3-D/Thermal imaging and the invention of the drone and LIDAR. Using drones a person could conduct a small survey for as little as €1,000. Below is a synopsis from research on mapping and Aerial Imagery for mapping that we hope helps develop you understanding of what is available.  

Brief History

Those of you who studied history in school would have come across the famous “Down’s Survey”,  (1656-1658) which was regarded as the most comprehensive mapping of the terrain on the island of Ireland up to that point. This process involved people with measuring equipment and drawing materials spending around two years travelling the length and breadth of Ireland, mapping by hand the topography of the areas they visited.
William Petty and his co-workers on the project were paid almost €2.5M for this work an enormous sum at the time., However by the time the process was completed with multiple copies of these maps produced etc, the overall cost was far higher.

Time and cost barriers led to inaccurate planning decisions being made, as those drawing up the plans were working off maps for areas that were now radically changed in terms of the numbers of buildings and sprawl amongst other factors (E.G. in Dublin and Belfast town in particular). A notable example was the big differences between the map of Ireland produced in 1570 and the Downs Survey map of 1658.

Particularly noticeable were the changes in the topography of the north and west of the island and the rapid growth in some of the towns on the island. The first efforts at what might be loosely termed aerial photography were zany and haphazard to say the least.Ideas tested included getting pigeons to drop a camera in mid-air or firing a camera from a cannon.

Fast forward to the early 1900’s, where the invention of the Zepplin Airship meant photographers could now take photographs from the air.This was most notably used to great effect in photos that were to resonate around the world, taken of San Francisco in the aftermath of the 1906 Earthquake. While this enabled those working for local authorities, mining companies etc to get an overview of an area in a much faster timeframe, the low quality of the images produced were a severe drawback.

As the quality of images a camera produced improved, allied with the improvements in aviation it lead to a much great user of aerial imagery by state bodies, the military of a country etc. One recent example of the use of aerial photography was by Irish Water.Irish Water using aerial imaging to  locate Sewer caps and the like from the air, or the topography of a river, they are now better able to accurately plan any repair work or flood relief measures they plan to carry out, at cheaper cost than before.


Until a few years ago, getting Aerial photographs taken involved a person with a very long lensed camera travelling in a small aeroplane to fly over the particular area the client wanted mapped.There was also the problem of natural obstructions such as dense forest or motorway/railway bridges obscuring the view of the areas underneath.This could lead to a company having to pay over €2,000 just to get a handful of photographs.

Added to that was the further problem of a company urgently requiring receipt of aerial images, but due to the weather or the photographer waiting to get more bookings to justify the hiring of a plane, a client could be left waiting for days if not weeks to get their hands on said photographs. This lead to delays in preparing site surveys for Planning Applications, for instance.

The invention of the Drone has revolutionised updating small geographical areas both quickly and economically. For around €1,700 a person can buy a drone that can remain in the air for up to 30 minutes (a quick change of battery and you could have it flying again soon after), is able to take 4K video and 20 Megapixel photographs. The powerful 1” Sensor would enable someone from Transport for Ireland, for example, to fly a drone over a motorway at a considerable height and zoom in to take crystal-clear close up photos of damage that occurred after a storm.

Drones that have 3D/Thermal imagine can see if there is a ruin of a castle surrounded by dense forest. Saving valuable archaeology time. Drones that have 3D/Thermal imagine are  used to locate underground pipes and other similar structures. This means  a planning consultancy or architectural practice can simply send a member of staff out to a site  and with a drone and take photos of it. Just a few hours later that same day, the Aerial images will be available to view on a PC. With the development of ever more powerful computers aligned with rapidly expanding server capacity, a vast array or aerial images are now available for us to look at for free.

Google Earth

The 11th of June 2001 was a momentous day in the world of Tech when Google Earth was launched. The bedrock of this new software was mapping tools previously created and used by the CIA, who were now happy to sell the usage rights to Google, who enhanced them even further. Be it the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia USA or Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea, Margaret in Dublin or Miguel in Seville could now get a birds eye view of the world without having to leave the office.

From discovering lost tribes in the Amazon or deciding on the route of a new underground railway line, such tasks can now be completed in a much faster timeframe due to the use of aerial imaging. The continuing improvements in technology now mean such a task is now much cheaper to undertake, costing a fraction of what it would have as recent as 15 years ago. In the future, regulations permitting, it will be possible for an individual to take a complete aerial snapshot of Dublin 1, with a piece of equipment costing just €500.

We shudder to think of the time and effort it would take William Petty and his team – never mind the cost – to map that same area today.

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