Using Drones to Create 3D Renderings


By: Phillip Capon, PE

Over the past few years, one of the biggest engineering industry buzzwords is drones. Here at Straughan, drones and their associated technology have the potential to add enormous value to much of our work. And we have started to realize that potential as we are working to incorporate drone technology to aid in site inspections to document changes over time, creating as-builts, and even using the technology in the creation of concept sketches and designs. 

Modern drones feature advanced, high-resolution cameras and control software making them simple to control in complicated outdoor environments and allowing users to collect detailed photographs from all angles. Industry standard software such as Autodesk’s ReCap can recognize elements in these pictures and take measurements from them to create a 3D model of the site complete with photographic textures. When coupled with a survey GPS system and ground markers, the models are dimensionally and spatially accurate. 

The technology can be used across all of our service areas on a variety of tasks. For example, drone flights could capture monitoring data over several years to document vegetation growth or soil erosion. They can create detailed existing conditions models for concept designs that show basic dimensions, locations, and conditions of constraints such as manholes and pathways. Flyovers can be done during and post- construction to record as-built conditions and compare construction to the original plans.  

The model shown here is of Point of Rocks, Straughan’s recently completed stream restoration project in Frederick County, Maryland. This 3D model was developed from three flights with our drone up and down the stream and about half a day’s work processing the footage. While this model is not survey grade, it clearly shows the extent of the new stream features and plantings and the shape of the floodplain and rock weirs.  

Make sure to check out Part I of this series for a refresher on 3D technology. And stay tuned for our final portion about 3D models in designs coming out at the end of 2021.