3d Mapping


This page introduces how Copter/Plane along with the right equipment can be used to create 3d maps.


The image above is Sylvain’s “the fallen blockhouse” and the winnerof the Feb 2014 T3 competition.

Equipment you will need

Plane or Multicopter

A digital still camera with some method of triggering the camera shutter

GoPro cameras are not recommended because of their fish-eye lenses

A downward facing gimbal or hard mount to attach a camera to the vehicle.

Sample Mission


A good 3d rendering can be accomplished with 60 ~ 100 still pictures. There should be at least 65% overlap between consecutive pictures but aiming for 80% or even higher is recommended. The aerial photographs can also be combined with photos taken from the ground.

The altitude of the mission depends upon the subject. For large flat areas, flying 40m ~ 80m above the surface should provide very detailed images (and thus a detailed final product) but for buildings flying higher (i.e. 100m above the building) reduces distortion.

It is recommended to fly a mission that is made up of parallel tracks with each track between 25m and 100m apart. The higher the vehicle, the wider apart the tracks can be. In general you should aim for 65% overlap in pictures from adjacent tracks.

The camera shutter needs to be triggered throughout the mission (i.e every 2 to 5 seconds or at regular distance intervals). Many cameras include a feature to take pictures at regular time intervals. If not, then a camera shutter release method must be implemented via a relay control, see Camera Shutter Configuration for example.

A mission to accomplish this would include some or all of these commands:

TAKEOFF - will cause the vehicle to climb straight to the target altitude provided in the “Alt” column (normally in meters)

WAYPOINT - provide as many waypoints as required to fly over the scene in a grid pattern. Altitude should be entered in the “Alt” column. Adding “1” to the “Delay” columns will cause the copter to momentarily stop at each waypoint.

DO_DIGICAM_CONTROL will cause the camera shutter to be pushed once immediately if the autopilot has been connected using a servo. This command takes no arguments and like other “do” commands it executes immediately after the preceding waypoint command begins.

DO_TRIGG_DISTANCE is the same as do-digicam-control (above) except the camera shutter will trigger every X meters. Where X can be defined in the first column labelled “Dist (m)”. Note: in AC3.1.2 there is no mission command to stop the command from running so the shutter will be triggered continuously until the vehicle is switched out of AUTO mode.

RETURN_TO_LAUNCH should be the last command in the mission so the vehicles returns home.

DO_SET_ROI can be used to point the nose of the vehicle and gimbal at a specific point on the map.


Sharing your model

Sketchfab allows you to upload your completed 3d models so that others can interactively view the model in their web browsers. Click on the image at the top of the blog post to see an example.

Three.js allows you to provide 3D models on your own webpage.

Blender can be used to create video files of virtual fly throughs of the 3d model which can then be posted to YouTube. Here is an example by Richard.

Dronemapper allows uploading and managing raw images.

Additional resources and Examples