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Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for land administration

Student:Claudia Stöcker
Timeline:February 2016 - 31 January 2020

The livelihoods of many, especially the poorest and vulnerable, are based on access and control over land. In this context, land tenure security enables economic growth and is a key factor for facing eradication of hunger and poverty, promotion of peace, and the sustainable use of the environment. Accordingly, equal access to basic services, ownership and control over land and other forms of property is a key target of the first Sustainable Development Goal aiming to end poverty in all its forms and everywhere by 2030. Notwithstanding issues of power and politics contributing to the problem, the limitations of western-oriented land administration systems and traditional surveying approaches, and a substantial lack of capacity to undertake those surveying activities have indisputably contributed to a reality where approximately 70% of the world’s land rights are still not formally documented.

As a response to the urgent need to record millions of unrecorded land parcels, land policies, as well as innovative technologies, are now seeking appropriate concepts and tools which can address this task. Amongst others, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are evolving as a tool for alternative land tenure data acquisition approaches. The advent of low cost, reliable, user-friendly and lightweight UAVs and recent developments in digital photogrammetry and structure from motion (SfM) image processing software solutions have created new opportunities for collecting timely, tailored, detailed and high-quality geospatial information. Evidence of numerous UAV-based data acquisition missions across the globe prove the capabilities of this innovative technique, at least regarding raw spatial data capture ability.

However, so far UAVs have only been tested and rarely been implemented in the context of land tenure mapping. Even though UAVs seem to be a  promising technology, major bottlenecks are evident: cumbersome regulatory frameworks and undeveloped ground truthing strategies, amongst others, are issues currently impeding large-scale implementation. Thus, the question if the application of UAVs can address the requirement of appropriate land tools remains. Therefore, this PhD research aims to design, test and verify UAV-based data acquisition workflows as a tool for responsible land administration. A comprehensive analysis of stakeholder requirements and test flights will provide profound pre-requisites for the design of UAV workflows in order to assure the target focuses on the needs of the society and the people rather than on potentials of high-end technologies. Field evidence will be gained by an iterative design process which is embedded in a multiple case study in Rwanda, Kenya, and Zanzibar. This research is associated with the European Commission funded Horizon2020 project “its4land” that aims to develop an innovative suite of land tenure recording tools (

Meet the team

E.C. Stöcker MSc (Claudia)
Graduate Student J.A. Zevenbergen (Jaap)
dr. F.C. Nex (Francesco)
dr. M.N. Koeva (Mila)
Research theme
People, Land and Urban Systems

In PLUS research, people are our focus. Everyone is included, from societal thought-leaders, to government policy makers, to high-level civil society advocates – through to entrepreneurs and citizens, including the disenfranchised. These people are our collaborators, our participants, our beneficiaries, our users. PLUS focuses on understanding the spatial information needs of society and responding to those needs in responsible ways – as tools, as systems, as infrastructure, or as ways of thinking. Our work sits at the nexus of urbanization, land tenure, governance, climate change, and transportation – and the grand challenges of sustainability and social equity in the age of the anthropocene.

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