Integrated 3D Visualization: Drones, Photogrammétry Tied To 3D Printing

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France-based company Drones Imaging integrates UAV imagery with 3D printer technology. Based on photogrammetric approaches, the integration of drone gathered images results in the building of 3D printed models for use in applications that include mining, building models, public works and other infrastructure activities. This approach results in digital data capture for use in collaborative design as well as the generation of 3D models for communication and advertising purposes. 

French regulations have allowed commercial use of drones for two years and about 1,000 operators are now successfully operating in the country. The primary activity that these operators provide includes advertising or communication with about 80% of them involved in this kind of work.

However there is a significant amount of industrial applications delivered through the use of photogrammetry, which is often not well known by the majority of professional operators. Industrial applications include mining, building and public works, archeology or high risk areas such as rocky cliffs.

Fig. 1 - Open quarry shoot ( Image by Francis Bocquet)Fig. 1 – Open quarry shoot ( Image by Francis Bocquet)

Digital photogrammetry combined with 3D modeling can perform surveying work by automatically generating several million points through images taken in a few minutes by a unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).

In the short-term, a combined approach that integrates photogrammetry and UAVs will likely replace many traditional office procedures and a significant amount of the manual GPS work that currently takes place.

“In addition to drones and photogrammetry that offer new prospects, the recent breakthrough of 3D printers should similarly contribute successful growth “ says Loïc Hussenet CEO of the France-based company Drones Imaging.

“During the first part of his military career as an analyst in imagery intelligence, he often worked with special forces to prepare military operations from satellite imagery. “At that time, we built models with polystyrene by photo interpretation. Later, in the mid-2000s with the advent of software such as Sketchup, preparation of special operations has been naturally scanned,” Hussenet said.

Innovation leads to new solutions

Manual 3D modelling in the past often took a long time to complete. The workflow was often complex and sometimes not well understood. In addition, the interpretation of satellite images sometimes led to misinterpretations.

Automating the process of 3D modeling has interested many people. Today, thanks to software solutions and high-performance computing capabilities, photogrammetry can automatically build complex models, usually without many of the errors photo interpretation previously involved through manual methods.

In the 3D printer sector there are a lot of solutions and Formlabs was attractive to Drones Imaging because of it’s cost / effectiveness ratio. Using a series of aerial photographs made by the company “photos aériennes” on the open quarry named DIPA, we wanted to test the method that links photogrammetry to 3D printing from simple aerial photographs taken at 700m above ground level.

The images (Figure 1) which meet the requirements of photogrammetry (longitudinal coverage of 75%) were able to generate an initial 3D model with PhotoScan software. Images originally created in OBJ format (Figure 2 and Figure 3) show 3D mine faces acquired through this approach.

Fig. 2 - 3D mine faceFig. 2 – 3D mine face

With 3DReshaper software and after processing dedicated to close the volume on a base, the model can be printed (on the scale of the printer). Figure 4 is an example of a 3D model ready for printing in the HMI FormLabs.

Fig. 3 - 3D mine faceFig. 3 – 3D mine face

The high-resolution printer Formlabs gave very good results. Details such as the forest, stocks ofmaterials or tracks are perfectly rendered. The resulting piece (resin solidified) measures 12cm x 8cmon a subject of 1000m x 700m.

Fig. 4 - Creating a full volume with 3DReshaper (left) for 3d printing interface of the formlabs printer - .obj format - after 10 hours printing (right).Fig. 4 – Creating a full volume with 3DReshaper (left) for 3d printing interface of the formlabs printer (right)

The Formlabs printer is not able to print large areas but the technology is already promising and provides very encouraging results.

Fig. 5 - Finished 3D printed model from UAV aerial images.Fig. 5 – Finished 3D printed model from UAV aerial images – after 10 hours.

Drone Imaging will conduct further tests with 3D printers colors to enhance the aesthetic appearance and also to increase the printing surface. Our goal is to provide more realistic models for large sectors of industrial activity such as mining, building and public works or archeology.