UAVs and the Cloud Create 3D Models from 2D Pics

From a stack of aerial photographs, snapped by unmanned drones, then transformed into a patchwork that can be utilized for 3D models, the world of cloud computing just got a little higher and more accessible to the masses. (Source: EPFL).

From a stack of aerial photographs, snapped by unmanned drones, then transformed into a patchwork that can be utilized for 3D models, the world of cloud computing just got a little higher and more accessible to the masses. (Source: EPFL).

New software from EPFL spinoff Pix4D automatically generates 3D models from aerial photos. (Credit: EPFL)

New software from EPFL spinoff Pix4D automatically generates 3D models from aerial photos. (Credit: EPFL)
Up, up and away. That is where many businesses are now looking and it is for a great reason. The industry of 3D modeling from aerial photography is now well within the grasp and budgets of the largest portion of businesses ever. What used to be only for the well-funded firms all over the world is now attainable to the smaller, daily-surviving businesses. The future of 3D modeling with aerial photography has now landed on planet earth and the present-day benefits are vast and very interesting.

The cloud is a term used to describe most of the functioning of an Internet-based project. From scrapbooking to detailed, high-tech imaging of the earth’s surface, cloud technology is making business as usual something entirely different and very unique.

The cloud-based enterprises are now enabling ultra-fast, large-scale three-dimensional modeling of almost any landscape and with brilliant clarity and resolution. These 3D models are generated from easy-to-obtain aerial photos from UAV drones—unmanned aerial vehicles.
The UAV sector has rapidly transformed itself from a purely military area of interest to the vast recreational endeavor to a high-tech, revolutionary, commercial region. These unmanned aerial vehicles started to make an impact in the world and in the art of war way back when in the late 19th century.

The Australian Air Force (RAAF) lays claim to the earliest recorded use of a UAV when the Australians attacked the Italian city of Venice. The RAAF sent about 50 unmanned balloons, bristling and loaded with high-blast explosives, against the fabled city of Venice. This started an avalanche of interest from the global military sector that to this day is one of the most compelling, as well as promising, aerial combat features.

The pure definition of a UAV is that of an aerial unit that is capable of being controlled and sustaining a level flight while being powered by a jet or reciprocating engine. The key features here are unmanned and with a mode of propulsion. This is the place where gliders left off and manned, dangerous aerial reconnaissance and combat sorties, begins.

The key to the business world, when it comes to the use of UAVs, is pricing and cohesiveness. Enter the cloud. Unmanned aerial drones (UAVs) are becoming inexpensive enough for small businesses or even individuals to utilize. This is allowing thousands of aerial photographs to be taken of points of interest.

One of the barriers for the smaller business realm, and one that still has its underpinnings and limitations, is the high-powered analysis software requirement. You see, the UAV is a great tool to take high-resolution pictures of an almost unlimited count and angle, but the cost of the analysis software that is required to arrange and augment the array of landscape pictures was a high cost to bear for most businesses. That is until today.

A new sector of inexpensive cloud-based services is appearing on the scene and is capable not only of stitching together those blankets of photographs, but even able to automatically interpret what they see. The end result is spectacular three-dimensional (3D) models, and within the budgets of most small businesses. Move over big boys!

A great example of these inexpensive, cloud-based programs is the Pix4D Project. A spin-off from the pioneering European research organization named the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL), the Pix4D has the ability to transform the fourth dimension, time, into a methodology that is making 3D models from 2D images possible and attainable by even the smallest of businesses.

The Pix4D software harnesses time with the assistance of a UAV equipped with a high-speed digital camera. The ability to take thousands of crisp, clear photographs while keeping a remote-controlled trajectory allows the UAV to step into the world of landscape 3D images and escalates that to the afore mentioned fourth dimension, time. What used to be a laborious task and a major expense as well that was only obtainable to the wealthiest of businesses is now wide open to almost every business that uses landscape photography.

The cloud has made the use of inexpensive, high-powered analysis software a feature that is most appealing to the firms that require this high-tech photography assistance. By stitching together thousands of 2D images to make accurate maps, 3D information is then utilized to make a model that can then be viewed from any orientation, and in a time-based reality.

How the cloud service operates is through the use of geo-tags. These tags are meant to identify each image and to compare and contrast one image to an infinite number of photos. A Pix4D cloud service then accepts a stream of related photos and quickly generates a spectacular 3D model. Once the photographs are tagged, they are then ready to be transformed into 3D concepts and images. An end result is a 3D map that can be viewed from any angle and depth. Points of interest can then be added, such as directions to a local pizzeria in Rome or a bakery in Brussels, that can be cataloged by consumers.

A great demonstration of this cloud-based service was enacted by the developers of the Pix4D service. What they did was to snap 50,000 photos of its host city of Lausanne, Switzerland. After running the photos through the Pix4D program in the cloud, what was created was the world’s highest-resolution 3D modeling of a city! Another feature and asset of the Pix4D service is that the users can now easily navigate to any location in the city. The ability to view the key points of interest or zero in on one particular location is what is making 3D modeling a great benefit to all.
TFOT has covered new technologies that are related to cloud computing and 3D modeling in earlier issues: SMX-25 a Ship-Sub Hybrid and Israel Developing Flying Elephants. More information on cloud technology and 3D modeling can be found on the smartertechnology website.

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