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Optimizing Data Collection and Creating Maps with Drones (Online)

April 24 @ 9:00 am - 3:00 pm

REGISTER HERE Registration will close at 12:01am 4/21/24. No late registrations will be accepted.

This course is being offered in collaboration between the Odum Institute and the Center for Urban & Regional Studies.

This course has been rescheduled from January. New date is April 24. Attendance is required – this course will not be recorded.

This one-day short course, led by the Carolina Drone Lab, will cover drone data collection, planning, and analysis. Small unoccupied aircraft systems (sUAS or drones) are a common mapping and 3D-modeling tool in many organizations. To fully leverage the technology and its benefits, there needs to be a foundation in understanding how to collect quality images and process those images into usable information. The course discusses the best flight parameters for different environments along with advanced data analysis in a GIS environment. Attendees will be introduced to: mission planning, creating automated flights for data capture, processing software for drone imagery (Pix4dMapper), and working with drone imagery in GIS. Commonly used tools and resources will be shared!

Students will learn the technical capabilities and limitations of the drones available for use, and why selection of the right drone and sensor combination is important to obtaining the right data for a project. This course offers participants the chance to learn about a broad spectrum of techniques to take the next steps on their own.

Course sections:
1. Mission planning with enhanced safety

– learn how to plan a mission safely and in compliance with FAA rules and regulations

– this is not a comprehensive review of all FAA rules, but regulations will be included in mission planning

2. Mission planning software overview

– become familiar with different planning software for both multicopter and fixed wing drones

3. Data processing from upload of images to creation of an orthomosaic

– review outputs of digital surface models, 2D and 3D orthomosaics, and other potential products

4. Ingesting data into GIS platforms for display, further analysis, and map making

The Audience: UNC faculty, students, and staff as well as anyone outside the university who would be interested in attending. The course is designed for anyone with moderate computer skills and an interest in taking their drone skills beyond video and still images. The principles and techniques are not overly complicated, simply new to most people. All disciplines would benefit from this course and there are lessons for a variety of fields including engineering, geography, agriculture, planning, and natural resource management. Small unoccupied aircraft systems (sUAS) have many uses, anyone interested in learning to collect images and process data is encouraged to attend.

–  No previous drone experience required, although basic flying experience and knowledge of regulations is helpful.

– This class is 100% virtual. Data will be shared with students prior to class to follow along in GIS. ArcGIS Pro will be used by the instructor.

Instructors: Susan Cohen and Troy Walton

Susan Cohen is the Associate Director of the UNC Institute for the Environment (IE) and the Director of the Carolina Drone Lab. Her current efforts use interdisciplinary teams to focus on ecosystem resilience and applied research for management across habitat types. Susan’s work frequently uses data collected with unoccupied aerial systems (UAS; drones and sensors) and that work includes mapping ecosystems for characterization and management, tracking change over time on the landscape, and imaging prescribed fires, as well as teaching and training. She enjoys engaging with drone enthusiasts for all kinds of uses!

Prior to coming to IE, Susan worked for the Department of Defense (DoD). She ran the Defense Coastal/Estuarine Research Program conducted at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, NC, focusing on the function and sustainability of coastal systems in the context of the military mission and climate change. Before joining DoD, Susan worked at the USDA Forest Service, Southern Research Station in RTP, NC studying processes in fire adapted forest ecosystems and plant communities. Susan earned a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and holds both master’s and doctoral degrees in Forestry from North Carolina State University. She also served in the U.S. Peace Corps as a forestry extension volunteer in the Dominican Republic.

Troy Walton is a senior research associate at the UNC Institute for the Environment’s Carolina Drone Lab. Before coming to IE, Walton partnered with UNC on a U.S. Department of Defense environmental project and has co-instructed remote sensing classes at Highlands Field Site, with the study abroad program in the Galapagos Islands, along with workshops on campus in Chapel Hill.

His research at the Institute focuses on geospatial analysis of remotely sensed data with a particular interest on supervised classifications of aerial photography.

Walton served eight years in the United States Marine Corps as an artillery and unoccupied aircraft systems officer.

Registration fees:

  • UNC Chapel Hill Students: $0, with a $35 deposit to hold your spot (deposit is refundable upon your attendance for at least 66% of the course)
  • UNC Chapel Hill Faculty/Staff/Postdoc/Resident/Visiting Scholars: $80
  • University (Non UNC Chapel Hill) Student/Employee (must have active university email): $105
  • Government/Non-Profit/Corporate: $130

Additional course information:

  • Cancellation/ Refund Policy: A full refund will be given to those who cancel their registration no later than 10 days prior to the course. If you cancel within the 10 days prior to the class, no refund will be given. Please allow 30 days to receive your refund.
  • Zoom link for those attending online will be sent prior to the course. Registration must be made at least 3 days prior to the course date to receive the Zoom link.


For questions regarding this class, please contact Jill Stevens at


April 24
9:00 am - 3:00 pm
Event Category:


NC United States