UAV/Drone Mapping

Instructor: Jeff Tolhurst, Ph.D.
Office: Sugar Pine 119 and Fir 6
Office Hours: TuTh 8:40-9:40am in Sugar Pine 119; W 10:20-11:20 (SUG 119) and MW 4:30-5:30 pm in Fir 6 or by appointment
Phone: (209) 588-5235 office (+ msg); (209) 588-5104 (fax)
Course Credit: 3 semester hours
Prerequisites: None (CmpSc/Geogr 59, 60, or 65 highly recommended)
Day and Time: Monday 5:30-8:35 pm
Room: Fir 1
GIS Commons: A Free, Opensource, Introductory Textbook on Geographic Information Systems by Dr. Michael Schmandt: GIS Commons



Class Notes, Resources, and Activities Page

I. Course Description:

Companies are using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV's)/Drones for professional services in industries including GIS, surveying and mapping, forestry, natural resources, earth sciences, agriculture, real estate, construction, filming and cinematography, utilities inspections, and more. This course will teach theory and concepts related to mapping and photogrammetry, flight safety and operations, licensing and legal issues, and software and hardware concepts. This course is part of the UAV/Drone Mapping Microcredential/Skills Attainment Certificate (3 courses = CCTIS/GEOGR 68, 70, and 75).

II.  Course Objectives:

1. Use and apply best practices in safety and legal operations of UAV/Drone technology.
2. Program flight patterns to successfully collect UAV/Drone remote sensing data.
3. Design and apply best practices mapping concepts and techniques in UAV/Drone data collection campaigns.
4. Achieve correct altitude and utilize specific camera settings for UAV/Drone data collection and mapping operations.
5. Use UAV/Drone mapping software to create an accurate Orthomosaic, DSM or DEM from field data collected.
6. Work successfully with teammates to design and carry out a UAV/Drone mapping project and present findings in a peer-reviewed format.

III. Student Learning Outcomes:

· By the end of the course you will be able to collect, compile, organize, transform, analyze, and make intelligent geospatial decisions from analyzing raster, vector, and attribute data.

· By the end of the course you will have worked cooperatively with a small group of peers to design and present a raster GIS research project to the public.

· By the end of the course you will learn to summarize scientific concepts using a scientific/technical writing style.

IV. Course Content:
1. Introduction to UAV/Drone use: Licensing, legal issues, etc.
2. Introduction to UAV/Drone operation: Operating and flying a UAV/Drone
3. Introduction to UAV/Drone mapping concepts: Flight planning, photogrammetry, data collection
4. Introduction to hardware: UAV/Drone system components; computer system requirements
5. Introduction to software: UAV/Drone mapping software applications; GIS software
6. Project Design, Management, and Presentation: UAV/Drone research project --> Purpose/objectives, data collection, data processing, data analysis, presentating and summarizing results/findings

Each of the following units will require somewhat less than one week to complete and will require a minimum of 3 hours per week of outside of class work.  It is likely that individual students will need additional time to work on computers during open lab time, since computer courses characteristically are very time consuming. 

V. Representative Text(s): 

            1. GIS Commons: A Free, Opensource, Introductory Textbook on Geographic Information Systems by Dr. Michael Schmandt: GIS Commons

VI.  Basic Method(s) of Instruction: 

            1.  Lecture and computer time will be intermixed as needed.  Basic fundamentals of GIS and Raster GIS will be covered by lecture, demonstrations, and tutorials/exercises. 

            2.  Students will learn to use ArcGIS software and the Spatial and Image Analyst tools to organize, pre-process and process, analyze, and present raster-based data in a project-driven, peer-reviewed format.

            3.  Student projects will be highly directed at first, then evolve into autonomous ventures by the end of the semester.  Each student earning 3 units of credit will design and carry out a culminating project to be presented to peers during the final week of class. 

VII. Method(s) of Evaluation: 

1. Lecture and lab activities will be turned in for credit and concepts and processes will be summarized in written abstracts; GIS and raster-based GIS concepts will be covered on the test; the project will be assessed on an individual basis, to be turned in toward the end of the semester (see below).

2. Grades:

In Class Assignments & Activities 20%
Exam 40%
Project 40%

3. Lab exercises and in class work is essential to your success and is your individual responsibility to complete in a timely fashion. I expect you to ask for assistance when needed.

Note: A grading curve will not be used to determine grades. Grades will be determined as follows:

A 90-100%
B 80-90%
C 70-80%
D 60-70%
F < 60%

Project Guide


  1. You will demonstrate organizational, communication, and critical thinking skills during your presentation.
  2. You will present research findings/conclusions using a combination of media forms your peers and instructor (research and format are described below).
  3. You will demonstrate competence with applying GIS and raster-based GIS knowledge and skills acquired during this course.


Multimedia presentations are becoming increasingly popular due to their effectiveness in communicating information. Computer programs that incorporate video, audio, textual, graphic, animated, and other media forms are rapidly becoming mainstream in business, scientific, and educational applications. Research has shown that people acquire knowledge and information in a variety of modalities (eg. visually, auditorally, kinesthetically, etc.). In order to effectively communicate your research to your fellow classmates, you will design a project that uses more than one media form (i.e. video, slides, audio tape, text, posters, manipulatives, models, dramatic presentations, musical presentations, etc.). Remember, you are trying to: 1) learn new information; and 2) effectively communicate that information to others.


1. Project Ideas:
A) pick a concept where a GIS can be used in the decision-making process;
B) think carefully about the scope and sequence of the project (can you complete it by the end of the semester? and in what order will you carry out the tasks that need to be done?)

2. Past Student Topics:
A) Viewshed Analyses for Potential Real Estate Buyers in Calaveras County
B) Erodability Potential for Roads Within the North Fork of the Tuolumne River Watershed, Stanislaus National Forest
C) 3D Bathymetric Map of San Diego Reservoir, Columbia College Campus, Sonora, California
D) Using Unsupervised Classification to Determine Management Driven Stand Types, Stanislaus National Forest
E) Elementary School Site Selection for Manteca Unified School District
F) Assessing Meadow Health in the Stanislaus National Forest Using Supervised and Unsupervised Classification Techniques
G) Assessing Fire Hazards On and Around the Columbia College Campus Using Remote Sensing and Other Raster-Based GIS Techniques
H) Assessing Land Use Changes near Sonora, California, Using Raster and Remote Sensing GIS
Alternative Emergency Access Roads for Columbia College

These topics are intended to motivate you to generate your own ideas. Make sure the scope and sequence of your topic is manageable for the given time allotment.

3. Project Format:
A) should have an Abstract (see rules for writing an Abstract below)
i) a concise, informative summary/statement of conclusions reached
ii) not more than 150 words
iii) turned in to me at the beginning of the presentation

B) should have two or more forms of the following media in the presentation:
i) computer simulation, computer maps, audio, video, slides, models, etc.

C) should have a list of references cited (listing each source of information used
; use the online citation machine to cite your sources: EasyBib)
i) any statement that is not general knowledge needs to be credited
ii) do not just use encyclopedias and textbooks
iii) use primary (scientific journals, interviews with researchers) and secondary sources (books and review articles that deal with a specific topic)

D) should be professional (clear, audible, legible, neat, high quality, etc.)

E) Use the following file organization structure for your projects: Standard Directory Structure for Projects

1. Presentations:
A) Each presentation will be 9 to 10 minutes in length with time for questions afterward from the class
B) Each presentation will be evaluated by the members of the class on a standardized evaluation form to be provided
C) You will turn in a digital copy of your powerpoint presentation along with the project folder with all of your subfolders including your data

2. Poster:
A) You will turn in a digital copy of your poster in pdf format with the following: 1) Title; 2) Purpose; 3) Problem; 4) Significance; 5) Methodology; 6) GIS Map/Content; and 7) Conclusions

This project is due to be presented on the date listed on the calendar during scheduled class time. All deliverables are due at that time.
(Peer evaluations will be due at the end of class, following presentations. Credit may be given for completing evaluations.)

1. Research
A) In the library there are books and technical publications on many topics; check the catalog or ask a reference librarian for assistance.
B) Online resources are available for research purposes. This will be one of your most valuable resources. See me if you need help searching for information on the web.
C) Within the community there are several professionals with strong interests in GIS and GPS. Call them up for ideas, resources, answers to questions, etc.
D) Other students and faculty at Columbia College may be able to help guide your search.
E) I'll be able to provide a certain amount of support and guidance - use me as a resource.

2. Materials
A) Columbia College may be able to provide some materials on a check out basis, otherwise see me if you need support in this area.
B) The College has a data projector and access to a computer and multimedia software (i.e. Powerpoint or Google Documents (Presentation)).

Remember - the main goal is learn something new while becoming familiarized with Geographic Information Systems and Raster-Based GIS and to present your findings to others in the class. Pick something interesting and fun - and enjoy being creative with this project!

Proposal Outline
Proposal Example 1
Proposal Example 2

Computer Science 68 Exam

Directions: Please answer the question below for the exam. Limit your responses to one side of one piece of paper. Use diagrams and examples to clarify your descriptions and explanations. Follow the grading rubric below for guidance. I will review any rough drafts of your responses up to the weekend before the midterm due date if you’d like me to.

Exam Examples (for organization/format)

Here is the exam question:

1. Explain, in your own words, what UAV/Drone Mapping is and how it works. Include in your response a discussion of what UAV/Drones are, how they work, and why they are useful. Include in your response the raster and 3D data models as related to UAV/Drone mapping and types of raster data that can be collected with a UAV/Drone system. Also include a discussion of fight pattern efficiency and best practices in terms of remote sensing data collection. Explain how an accurate orthomosaic, DSM, or DEM is constructed. Discuss limitations to UAV/Drone mapping systems as well (accuracy issues, quality, resolution, errors, etc.).  Also discuss and give examples of different applications for which UAV/Drone mapping systems are used. Finally, include a discussion of legal issues a UAV/Drone mapping analyst would have to consider.

Grading Rubric

High-quality responses contain:

• an overview of what you’ll discuss including a statement defining the main point
• specific examples showing depth of knowledge and supporting your ideas
• 2 or more carefully labeled diagrams depicting important processes
• accuracy, clarity, and precision when discussing content
• good organization, well-developed arguments, few mechanical errors
• a conclusion/summary statement

Medium-quality responses contain:

• an overview of what you’ll discuss
• a general example supporting your ideas
• one or more diagrams poorly labeled
• some inaccurate, unclear, imprecise statements about content being discussed
• loosely organized thoughts, moderately developed arguments, some mechanical errors
• a poor conclusion/summary statement

Lower-quality responses contain:

• no (or a poor) introductory overview
• no (or minimal) examples supporting your ideas
• no diagrams, or diagrams with no labeling
• multiple inaccurate statements of the content discussed
• disorganized thoughts, weakly developed arguments, some mechanical errors
• no conclusion/summary statement

Lowest-quality responses contain:

• no overview
• no examples
• no diagrams
• many inaccurate statements of content
• unorganized, undeveloped arguments, mechanical errors throughout
• no conclusion/summary statement

“For students with disabilities, (i.e. physical, intellectual, emotional, social, spiritual, occupational, financial, etc., in nature), who believe that they may need special accommodations in this class, I encourage you to discuss options with me within the first 10 days of instruction