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Could drones be the future of surveying?

I can't help noticing that drones often get a bad rap. With all the talk of privacy and safety concerns, it's easy to lose sight of just how incredible this technology can be.

Drones can put cameras in places that no other cameras can go - that opens up so many new opportunities. The people at Ridracoli Dam are using drones to build a 3D model of a 400+ metre high dam which is accurate to about two centimetres. I am simply astounded by both the accuracy and scale of that.

Imagine having up-to-date 3D models of cliffs prone to landslides, or sand dunes, or anything prone to changing over time. This approach has that perfect blend of low cost and incredible potential - Ridracoli Dam will definitely not be the last people using drones for 3D mapping.

The group processed these photographs using Bentley’s ContextCapture photogrammetry software, which uses structure from motion (SfM) algorithms to automatically reconstruct the geometry of the dam. Bentley’s software generated both reality mesh files (3D models consisting of colorized and texturized polygons) and dense point clouds. Romagna Aqua and their partners checked the ContextCapture 3D mesh and dense point cloud by comparing them to the traditional survey data gathered with total station, GPS, laser scanners, and aerial survey. The results? The UAV data exceeded their expectations, showing deviations within a range of 2 centimeters and sometimes even less than a centimeter.

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