Capturing Sites in 3D with Consumer Drones
As the consumer drone market drives the price of aerial photography to the ground, constructors have a new opportunity to economically capture job sites in three dimensions. 3D captures are a substantial improvement over the traditional progress photo, as they provide high quality imagery from multiple perspectives, and provide a reference tool for taking measurements and sharing markup. In this article, we’ll walk through how to fly over a job site, capture photos, and convert those photos into a 3D model.
Selecting Your Drone
At the time of writing, DJI leads the market in consumer drones. In the JBKLabs, we’ve purchased and tested each available DJI consumer drone for job site performance. We recommend the Phantom 4 Pro for the job site. This drone is priced around $1,500, has a 4K camera, excellent stability, and has a small bank of 3D sensors for collision avoidance. The collision avoidance is a safety bonus for the job site; the drone will constantly scan its surroundings to prevent its operator from flying it into an obstacle, like a crane.
Operating Your Drone
Your drone’s operator will need to fly the drone over the job site and capture many high-quality photos to later be “stitched together” into a 3D model. While the operation of the drone can be accomplished manually, an automated tool provides the ability to eliminate operator error along the flight path, ensures careful upfront planning of the path, and frees up the operator from being occupied by flying the drone.
Using an app like Skycatch Flight App for DJI, the operator can map a flight path over the job site and automate capturing photos over the entire path. The more photos captured, the better the quality of the final model.
Planning a flight path with the Skycatch Flight App for DJI (image by Skycatch).
There are several alternatives to Skycatch; one alternative is DroneDeploy. The DroneDeploy app can be used to automatically pilot your drone over the job site. Unlike Skycatch, DroneDeploy works with more than just DJI drones.
An elevation map captured by a flight path generated in DroneDeploy (image by DroneDeploy).
Once the drone has flown the area of the job site and taken photos along the way, the photos can be exported from the drone into a computer to generate the 3D model.
Generating a 3D Model From Drone Photos
With a paid plan, Skycatch will automatically upload your job site photos to their cloud and process them to create a 3D model. The algorithm uses common features in photos from multiple perspectives, and GPS data captured by the drone to extrapolate a three-dimensional model from the two dimensional photos.
Once the model is generated in a platform like Skycatch, users can collaboratively annotate the 3D model, and use it as a measurement reference tool.
With a paid DroneDeploy plan, users can also see a 3D model generated from the DroneDeploy-controlled flyover from within the mobile application.
Drones are an economical way to capture the job site in three dimensions. Using simple tools like a drone and a mobile app, constructors can view their job sites from many more perspectives than progress photos.
In addition to the listed tools, there are many drones, apps, and cloud software solutions available to complete this process. There are many consumer drones, many flight path planning applications, and many model generators and collaborative tools. If your company could stand to benefit from capturing your job sites in three dimensions, feel free to reach out to the JBKLabs team to see if our expert research team can find an ideal solution to your needs.
About the Author
Graham Leslie (@GrahamLeslie) is the JBKnowledge Research & Development Team Lead (JBKLabs), which is dedicated to disrupting and accelerating the architecture, engineering, and construction industries by building solutions with the emerging technology. Graham is a computer scientist with research interests in mixed reality and reality scanning. JBKLabs is available for advisory, research, and custom software development services. Learn more at jbknowledge.com/labs.