Using Drones to Take 3D Images of Landmarks to Convert them Into 3D Printed Objects

Drone technology has progressed so much over the last decade that almost anyone can use them to capture crystal clear HD images from a bird’s eye point of view. Because of this, drones have become pioneering photogrammetry tools for construction, inspection, and law enforcement. Previously, if any of these fields needed aerial imagery, they would have to rely on time consuming and extremely expensive images taken from a manned aerial vehicle. With drones, these images can be taken in minutes at a fraction of the cost.

Once the images, whether stills or video, are collected by the drone, they are uploaded to a software system for further inspection. These programs convert the images into 3D maps that can be inspected completely for any issues of concern. For a construction team, this could be ensuring that a building site is safe and sound. For an inspection team, the 3D maps can show any flaws in a structure. For law enforcement, the maps can be used to recreate a crime scene. The applications go on and on.

Now, the 3D images taken by drones can even be turned into tangible 3D replicas. On June 2, 2021, the leading US drone manufacturer, Skydio, launched their 3D scanning software that is integrated into a drone for transferring photogrammetric imagery into blueprints for a 3D printer. As stated on the company website, “Skydio’s 3D Scan can generate incredibly detailed 3D models of structures with greater reliability, precision, and safety than manual methods.” The whole system, including the drone, costs about $3,000 a year. While that sounds like a lot of money, it will save commercial businesses a lot of time and money in the end.

But if you are just starting in the drone industry, or are an amateur pilot interested in building 3D replicas of drone images, $3,000 can be way out of budget. In July of 2020, AliceVision was founded by 14 Europeans from the academic and industry sector who had spent the last decade working together in the field of 3D computer vision. Their goal was to create 3D replicas of important cultural and artistic structures for preservation. These representations would also be shared with the world for education purposes. As explained on their website, AliceVision is “a non-profit organization whose ambition is to democratize 3D digitization technologies from photographs.”

AliceVision uses an open-source platform called Meshroom for drone operators to upload images for 3D printing. Meshroom is not quite as simple to use as Skydio’s 3D Scan, but it’s free. To use the program, AliceVision recommends uploading a large number of drone images, taken from all angles. Once uploaded, the next step is to edit out any parts of the image not wanted, like background scenery. The software compiles all the images, which can be viewed in an immersive 3D computer image or printed with a 3D printer. With a little time and patience, anyone can now create 3D replicas from their drone photographs.

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