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How You Can Help 3D Scan Our World With Aerial Mapping

How You Can Help 3D Scan Our World With Aerial Mapping

Imagine, with the help of aerial mapping, being able to put on your virtual reality headset and travel to any popular landmark you’ve wanted to visit that was previously physically-unreachable . Seems like a farfetched idea but actually may not be as fanciful as you may think … thanks to the technology of drones and

Imagine, with the help of aerial mapping, being able to put on your virtual reality headset and travel to any popular landmark you’ve wanted to visit that was previously physically-unreachable . Seems like a farfetched idea but actually may not be as fanciful as you may think … thanks to the technology of drones and photogrammetry.

What is Photogrammetry?

Photogrammetry uses the principle of triangulation to produce 3D scans of real objects from photographs. It is by no means a new technology. The concept of photogrammetry dates back to the fifteenth century with the work of Leonardo da Vinci. However, practicalities of the technology did not start to emerge until the 1850s.  Today, advancements of digital photography have opened the door to a wide range of possibilities with photogrammetry, and now with the advancements of drone technology, that door has been swung wide open.

Where are Drones and Photogrammetry are Being Used?

The two main types of photogrammetry are close-range and aerial. Close-range photogrammetry is basically just 3D scanning without the assistance of drones through a good, old fashioned photography studio. Aerial photogrammetry, on the other hand, requires an instrument such as a drone to reach higher altitudes, and has been most notably used in the land surveying industry to produce elevation terrain data. This is one of the most common applications of aerial photogrammetry and was being used well before UAVs became popular.

Here are some places where aerial photogrammetry is currently being used within this industry.

  • UAV Aerial Surveying: Traditionally, manned aerial survey pilots would be hired to do the aerial surveying, however this is changing as more and more people are using UAVs because of their cost effectiveness. In the future, expect to see a lot of job opportunities for experienced UAV pilots in this sector, such as that required by Drones Imaging located in France. They’ve even got information on training for future employees – check it out! For more information on how UAVs will change the surveying industry soon, check out this paper which talks about research on the accuracy of using UAVs to produce aerial mappings. The study shows that a UAV mapping solution can compete with traditional mapping if using manned airplanes. The paper talks about how UAVs may be used to produce fairly accurate photogrammetric 3d-models between .02 -.2 meters.
  • Civil Engineering: 3D visualizations are often required for future construction projects. Drones are often used to produce 3D scans of the project’s location, and then 3D modellers add to the 3D scene in order to visualize what the finished project may look like. Check out this story about Identified Technologies and how they’re doing just that in Pennsylvania.
  • Archeology: There are also applications of 3D scanning in archaeological sites that help attain a better visualization of the site.

So as you can see, current technological advances with drones is changing the way industries have produced their deliverables.

How Can You Get Involved With Aerial Mapping and Surveying

No doubt that with the increased availability of cheap UAVs, it will soon become much easier to work as an independent contractor within this profession. So how do you get involved in the world of photogrammetry as a surveyor? First up, you need to work on your credentials:

  • Education: To start, you typically need to have a bachelor’s degree in land surveying.
  • FAA Approval? As it stands right now, the FAA has not solidified their regulations for flying commercial UAVs. This means you can fly without needing a private license.  However, this may change in the future as the FAA becomes more strict.
  • Pilot Certificate: Depending on the company, you man need a pilot certificate to become a UAV pilot. There are schools that currently offer such training.

Next you need to worry about how to produce your own photogrammetric 3D models using a drone. It will depend to a certain extent on the quality of your 3D models. Beyond that, though, there are a couple of things you’ll need to get started.

To begin, you’ll need a camera, software, and the skills to use them. There are some drones out there that come packaged with photogrammetry software and a digital camera for pictures. This is of course the easiest way to start producing your own 3D models.

However if you want high quality 3D models, you will need to learn how to use leading (more professional) photogrammetry software, you’ll need to develop greater 3D modelling skills, and you’ll need to know how to navigate the general photogrammetric 3D modeling workflow. As for photogrammetry software, I would recommend Agisoft as a cheap option that’s also user friendly. Photomodeler is another leading software solution, but does not have as strong a community. Then go over to digitaltutors to find software training tools.

Once you have these elements in place, if you get creative, you could use your aerial photogrammetry skills to make money as a freelancer depending on the quality and interest in your models.  Here are some examples:

  • Selling 3D Models: There are many sites that allow you to sell your 3D models such as Turbosquid or the 3dstudio.
  • Creating Photorealistic 3D Models for the Video Game Industry: For instance, recent games like The Vanishing of Ethan Carter have actually used photogrammetric 3D models to create their beautiful game scenery.
  • Virtual Reality Tours: With virtual reality headsets becoming popular, it is not too far out there to think that people will start to demand virtual reality experiences from the comfort of their couches.  This would require numerous people to create 3D models of landmarks around the world.

With increased accessibility to drones for the common consumer. It may be just a matter of time before 3D models made by our drones become the new photographs of the modern world. Instead of just looking at a picture of the pyramids of Egypt, we’ll be able to step into that world and experience it virtually. Become an elite drone pilot and perfect your photogrammetry skills and you, too could be on the next frontier of this new exciting aerial mapping technology.

 

Image via Flickr:  RhinoPhoto Photogrammetry

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