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Best Industries For Drone 3D Modeling?

Updated: Jun 8

Drones are versatile tools that can be used for a wide variety of applications. One of the newer uses for drones is to create 3D models thanks to special software programs that can turn aerial images into digital spatial models.

Aerial view of a drone hovering

Here's what you need to know about drone 3D modeling

How do you create 3D models with a drone and what can they be used for? First, you’ll need to know what a 3D model is exactly. It's a three dimensional representation of an object created by putting individual points in 3-D space along the X, Y, and Z axis. Points are connected by geometric shapes such as triangles, lines, or curved surfaces to form the model. You can create a 3D model manually by using 3D modeling software, by using an algorithm, or by scanning a physical object. This is where drones come in. Drones are essentially airborne scanners that can be used to turn large objects such as buildings construction sites or simply large land areas into 3D models thanks to a process called photogrammetry.

Photogrammetry is the science of making measurements from photographs, particularly aerial photographs, and using those measurements to generate a 3D model. The way photogrammetry works is it looks at photos of a subject taken from two or more locations. Using the different perspectives of the images along with the location data of where the images were taken, and try to detect the locations of points on the subject. The more photos you have of your subject taken from different locations, the more accurate this triangulation process will be. The result is accurate point locations plotted in 3-D space, which is exactly what you need to create 3D models. Drone photos are great for this process because every photo is geotagged. This means the latitude, longitude, and altitude from the drones GPS and onboard sensors are embedded in the metadata of the image. The metadata also includes information about the camera sensor in the optics of the drone. These geo-tagged photos can be processed by software programs such as DroneDeploy, Pix4D, Agisoft Metashape and others to create 3D models with high detail and accuracy.

To get the best results for creating a 3D model with your drone, you need to do two things. First, you need to make sure there's at least a 60 to 70% overlap between your aerial photos. This helps the triangulation process be more accurate and track the same points between images. Flight apps such as DroneDeploy and Pix4Dcapture allow you to create automated flight plans and set your desired image overlap. The second thing you need to do is make sure you capture photos of your subject at different angles and altitudes. Typically, you want to capture straight down images from around 100 to 200 feet. Then you want to circle your subject with your camera set to about a 30° angle. Next, fly a slightly lower altitude with around a 45° angle and lastly fly at an even lower altitude with a 70° angle. You of course also want to adjust your radius to keep the subject in frame, but remember to avoid having the horizon in the frame. Capturing these different angles and altitudes helps create a higher quality 3D model by providing texturing image data about the sides and the top of the building.

So how are these 3D models being used across different industries?

The construction industry has seen a huge benefit from drone imagery mapping and 3D modeling software. Construction firms can monitor progress of a construction site with regular updates and easily inspect different areas from the comfort of an office chair. The high accuracy of these 3D models also means they can be used to calculate distance, area, and volume measurements.

Digital surface model

Land surveying has also seen tremendous benefits from drone technology. Not only has it become easier to get project updates but you can create detailed bear earth models such as Digital Surface Models (DSM) and Orthomosaics. These provide the viewer a single image of the entire area rather than many individual photos of smaller areas. A digital surface model is an elevation model that captures both the environment's natural and artificial features. It includes the tops of buildings, trees, powerlines, and any other objects.

Along with generating 3D models of the terrain, firms specializing in inspection services can also utilize 3D models. Through mapping technology, you can safely inspect previously un-scene angles of tall structures and equipment more safely and more efficiently. Easily spot potential problems with detailed 3D models or the original high quality imagery for a better look at a particular area. Energy firms benefit from these kinds of tools as well. Much of their equipment is larger, more dangerous, or even challenging to reach. The ease of inspecting these types of areas with drones can help ensure it occurs more frequently and with less risk.

The agriculture industry is another area were drones are transforming the landscape. Farmers are not necessarily using 3D models but they can still leverage data from drones to create Orthomosaic maps of their fields. Newer drones are available with multispectral cameras, allowing farmers to create normalized difference vegetation indexes for a deeper understanding of the crop Health.

Public safety can also utilize 3D models for documenting and recreating crime scenes, recording evidence, and providing a fast clear picture for investigators. Imagine if you were a Detective sifting through hundreds of photos, trying to find clues. With this technology, it’s able to provide, you as that investigator, an overview of the entire scene. A ‘to scale’ 3D model, detailing the exact location of every item of evidence in relation to other items and locations found around it. Forensics investigators can even gather imagery and data in the wake of natural disasters in areas typically unsafe for people.

Lastly, architecture and engineering firms are using 3D models to create detailed and realistic models of their buildings or development projects. These models help architects communicate the final design to key stakeholders and investors. For investors, being able to visually see what they are putting their hard earned money toward goes along way.

Orthomosaic photo

Across all of these industries, drones are making it safer, faster, and more efficient by bringing together meaningful data while reducing liability and risk.

For more information on creating 3D models with drones and how these models are being used in different industries, visit our YouTube channel or our website at To get more drone tips, news, and guides, be sure to subscribe to our channel while your there.

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