3D Robotics

3689603275?profile=originalDroidPlanner has just been updated with an incredible feature that comes very close to "one-button 3D mapping" with ArduCopter. Here's a quick tutorial on how to use it to create a mission that autonomously takes off, circles a building taking pictures of it and lands, capturing all the imagery you need to stitch together a 3D model like the above. This model was taken with a 3DR Iris and GoPro camera in just one circle and stitched together with Autodesk Memento/ReCap.

You can see some 360-degree rotatable examples here and here. For best results, click the little cube box at bottom left and pick "Shadeless" for the rendering options. 

(Don't forget you can now do this via Bluetooth with your Android phone or tablet, in addition to the usual 3DR long-distance radios.)


1) In the Edit screen, hold down the trash can icon, which will clear any previous mission you had and auto-create the first waypoint, which is an auto-takeoff. Then tap the Add Waypoint button (the top one with the "+") and tap the center of the structure you want to 3D-map:


2) Tap on that new waypoint and in the drop-down menu, select "Circle". This will tell the copter to do a single circle at the default altitude (20m) and the default radius (10m), with the nose of the copter and camera always facing into the center of the circle. If that's what you want, you're done!

3689603183?profile=original3) (Optional) If you want it do to do multiple circles at the same altitude, change the "Orbits" number in the menu below. If you want it to do multiple circles at different altitudes (to give the stitching software a range of views), tap on Advanced and change the Steps number to the number of circles you want, with the Altitude Step being how much higher each circle should be over the one before:

3689603329?profile=original4) At that point, you can either launch the mission and when it's done it will loiter, waiting for you to manually land, or you can add more more waypoint to autoland (triangle waypoint icon below). If you're done, don't forget to press Send Mission to send it to the copter!


5) If you want the copter to circle with a larger or smaller radius, select Parameters 


In the Parameters list, scroll down to CIRCLE_RADIUS and change it whatever value you'd like. (Note that in the screenshot below there's an error: the units are in centimeters, not meters. So 2000 is 2000cm or 20m. That will be fixed in the next push)


When you're done changing that, remember to Write the parameters to the copter:


6) Now that you've finished the mission, set your onboard camera to take a picture once per second in stop-motion or "intervelometer" mode (I use a GoPro Black with my Iris, which works great, but you can use any camera that has this mode). Don't forget to start the camera!

7) Now switch your copter to Auto mode and nudge the throttle up a bit. The copter will take off, fly to the structure, circle it at the altitude and number of times you selected, and automatically return and land at your feet! Mission accomplished!  

Some safety notes:

  • Watch out for trees and other obstacles! Make sure your first circle is above any trees or other things that might be in the path of the circle
  • Make sure your radius is at least twice the distance from the center to the edge of the structure. You want to have at least ten meters clearance from the structure at all times
  • If you're doing an autolanding, make sure you've got plenty of room for the landing and no obstructions on the route home. If you can't ensure that, do the landing manually.
  • Don't plan any mission where your view of the copter will be obscured. You must be able to take over manual control if it looks like your mission will take the copter into harm's way


Once you've finished the mission and acquired the imagery, you'll need to use stitching software or a cloud service to turn it into a 3D model. Autodesk offers some good free choices for that:

  • 123D Catch. Quick and dirty. This won't make the best model, but it's easy, works most of the time, and has a good web viewer so you can share the 3D model with anyone.  Mac, Windows or Web
  • ReCap 360: This offers better renders, but it can be hard to get it to reliably generate a model. Web
  • Memento: This is beta software, but it works great for me and is my go-to tool for high-quality renders and a very easy-to-use interface.  You have to join the Autodesk Labs program to use it (that's free and open to all), but it's well worth it for this gem. The only downside is that it's Windows-only so if you're a Mac user like me you have to dual-boot or run Windows in a VM

Coming soon...

In the next version of DroidPlanner, the interface to change the altitude, radius of the circle and the number and step-distance of each orbit will be improved to a simple "point and drag" feature, which is very intuitive. Basically, you'll just point at the structure you want to 3D map, drag the circle so it's well outside the structure, drag a slider for the altitude and press go. One-button mapping!

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  • Hi, has anyone found other stitching software that is not listed above or is it still just the 3?

  • I have a question about the Geo Fence in the Iris+. If I have to fly higher than the 100m geo fence hight, can I change the altitude in Droid Planner 2 and go to 125m which is the 400m FAA limit for flying?

  • Wow, I would like to try that too.

    Did you use the default picture settings on the GoPro? Did you correct for the fish eye effect before you did the 3D stitching?

  • Thanks for the update and info Chris. 

    Circle mode is working fine for me.  Now to find something to photograph and try stitching it all together.

  • 3D Robotics

    Here's another 3D model of my house in the Berkeley Hills. This was an interesting experiment because I have high trees on both sides of the house, and 100ft rise over the property. I only did one circle, at 30m to be safely above the trees, which meant that I was capturing imagery from quite a high perspective and didn't expect much more than roof structure.

    That said, Autodesk Memento did an amazing job. I'm still looking for a web viewer for the models, but here's a screenshot. One note: the first time I tried the stitch, I uploaded all 170 images and it failed. So I did it again with just 42 images, each one showing a pretty different perspective, and that worked well. So the lesson: more is not better when it comes to images. Select the best 30-50 and you'll get the best results (and it will stitch much faster)


  • Arthur:  Yes, rebooting made the DP logs appear - thanks!

    Chris:  Here's two logs.  The first one has the first flight and part of the second (14:23 start).  This flight started and I realized I needed a higher altitude, so I came back, landed and rebuilt the mission (and cycled power to be safe).  In the same log is the next flight (14:29:45) that had the issues.  You can see that it doesn't make a good circle towards the end of the first lap and starts to misbehave.  I flip to RTL and she starts heading away.  At this point, I'm losing sight of it and it lost connection to DP.  Eventually I jump in a boat and take off after it and reconnect to DP (2nd log) as I'm heading towards it.  It touches down in the water just as I'm approaching it.  Dove in right after, but wasn't quick enough.  We'll see if I'm able to recover it (26' of highly stained water).  If I do, does anyone have any experience with water?  What's salvageable?

    First log:  http://www.droneshare.com/mission/7108

    Second: http://www.droneshare.com/mission/7109

  • That did it.  Thanks Chris .  Now to test it!

  • Developer

    @Shad: DroidPlanner should keep a log of all bytes transferred via the telemetry link on a .tlog file. What may be happening is the Android device (notably the Nexus line) is not showing the files because of a bug on the way the transfer protocol is being implemented on USB. Try rebooting the device and looking at the /DroidPlanner/Logs/ folder.

  • 3D Robotics

    Stephen: I think Memento is optimized for 3D modeling, especially of structures. It looks for features that should be straight, such as roof edges and walls, and makes them STRAIGHT. It's very architectural that way. 

  • T3

    Anyone know how well Memento stacks up against Photoscan?  (Or for that matter, Pix4D?)

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