Over the last ten years, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), commonly called drones, and related systems have rapidly developed. Everyman’s drones are available on store shelves to take photos and videos of holidays, one’s own house and garden, and for many other private reasons. With the general advances in robotics and digitalization, drones have also been increasingly utilized for various commercial applications. This trend can additionally be seen in geosciences. A key question arising for many geoscience applications is whether drones could be used as platforms to carry out more demanding surveys with remote sensing and geophysical sensors that have traditionally been mounted on aircraft or have been carried by workers on the ground. The answer is yes, drones can be used, although the integration of such sensors on drones is not straightforward. The methods themselves are typically well developed, but drones as an aspiring platform pose challenges for operating sensors and performing measurement procedures in proper ways. In particular, the need for small and lightweight sensors with a low power consumption for UAV platforms plays an important role, because they allow flexible low-cost measurements to be performed without a long preparation phase. Another aspect is that legislation, which varies from country to country, affects drone operations. Therefore, it is often difficult in practice for drone-operating companies to provide international services, and it is generally easier to obtain permission for small drones flying at low altitude only. To find a remedy for this, a common EU-wide regulation is currently in preparation. EU drone regulation (EU) 2019/947 defines the rules and procedures for different types of drone operations and is intended to be applied according to the transition period of the regulation on 31 December 2020.
In recent years, many groups all over the world – both in academia and industry – have worked on the integration of various sensor types on drones that are relevant for geological mapping and mineral exploration. Drone-borne survey systems are considered to be especially appropriate for small to medium-sized surveys that are smaller than those carried out with traditional aircraft, but larger than ground-based surveys. The goal of many companies is to offer drone-based services for this market niche.