As 3D printers have become more popular over the last few years, so has the idea of 3D scanning. No longer in the realm of only high-end games companies and movie studios, everybody has relatively easy access to create 3D scans of the real world these days. You can even do it with your smartphone and free software. But it’s still a fairly laborious task that typically takes a long time to process.
SkyeBrowse seems to have solved this time sink problem, though, with an iOS app that processes 90-second videos from DJI and Autel drones into high-resolution 3D models. It uses a patented new technology called videogrammetry – which it says is different from the more traditional photogrammetry many of us have been using for years.
The idea of photogrammetry is that paths are created from finding common points amongst multiple images, potentially hundreds of them, and the position of the camera for each image is essentially reverse-engineered from those common points. Once it knows the position of the camera, more points are discovered in order to generate a 3D model that you can then bring into your regular 3D software like Blender to either render or clean up for 3D printing.
The way SkyeBrowse works is a little different. The app itself talks directly to the drone to precalculate the camera path to generate the 3D model while the flight is actually happening. It’s essentially scanning it in real-time(ish). Once the video is finished and uploaded to the app, it’s simply sticking on those higher resolution textures afterwards.
And you can even extract exact measurements from the scene you’ve scanned with centimetre accuracy after it’s all been processed. The company has published white papers comparing its accuracy to 3D modelling platforms such as Pix4D’s photogrammetry and Leica’s LiDAR solutions and the whole process is pretty much completely automated (and very quick) once you’ve told it what you want to scan and from what height.
There’s one big snag, though. Unlike photogrammetry software, LiDAR scanners, and many other solutions, you can’t edit the 3D models. This is apparently to comply with Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) mandates. It was initially designed for accident investigation but now fire departments, HAZMAT teams, disaster relief agencies and construction companies are using it to survey incidents and real-world environments. DroneDJ mentions that a fire department in Ohio used SkyeBrowse to map out the Cleveland Browns’ stadium to pre-plan ingress and egress points for potential terrorist attacks on the stadium. Naturally, you don’t want people to be able to edit those models.
Of course, that doesn’t help us much if we want to scan a real-world environment and then 3D print it in miniature to paint and photograph, or CG-render it as the background scene for a composite shot in the studio, or as a digital set extension for a video sequence. It can potentially be a very handy (albeit expensive) tool for location scouting, though. Even if you can’t edit the models generated by the app, you can survey a potential shoot location and get a very accurate map of the scene very quickly for planning a shoot.
Personally, though, I think I’ll stick to photogrammetry.
The SkyeBrowse app is compatible with most drones from DJI and Autel and it even supports 3D modelling with thermal imaging drones, such as the Autel EVO II Dual and EVO II 640T. If you want to try it out for yourself, you can download the SkyeBrowse app for iOS free from the Apple App Store – although it’s only a free 2-week trial. After that it gets… Well, kind of expensive, to say the least.