Process Maps, NDVI and 3d Models for Free


With the Drone Data Management System™ officially out of beta testing, I thought it would be helpful to go through and show new users how they can still use it to process orthomosaics, NDVI maps and 3d models with imagery from any drone for free. This isn't intended to be a comprehensive guide to mapping techniques, but I'll go through the basics for the sake of those with no experience. If you already have some data you're ready to try, skip to the post-processing section below.


Data Collection

First of all, to make any map, you need to collect the right kind of imagery. For a drone, that means collecting images that point almost straight down and overlap at least 60% with its nearest neighbors front and back as well as side to side. In other words, if your camera has a field of view of 100 meters on the ground along the path of travel, it should move only 40 meters between shots. In general, 60% is an adequate overlap balancing coverage and avoiding excessive data collection, which slows down processing.

Planning for overlap and sidelap for Pixhawk vehicles is straightforward if you use the Mission Planner Survey (Grid) function. You can read more about that here: ArduCopter Wiki

DJI doesn't provide planning tools for surveying missions, but some third parties do offer these features for the Phantom 3, 4 and Inspire 1. The UgCS app, for example, lets you plan a mission on a PC and then load it onto your drone. UgCS is free for private use and supports automated survey mission planning with camera and drone presets for DJI vehicles.

If your drone doesn't have a gimbal, do your best to fix the camera pointing straight down. This might mean aiming a little forward to compensate for a multirotor's pitch in flight. Most drones in ordinary weather conditions should be able to maintain adequate overlap. DDMS compensates for small angles off vertical that may be in some images.

Once you've collected all the raw images, give them a quick look. Make sure they aren't blurry, don't have part of your drone in frame, and that they appear to have significant overlap. It's not necessary to geotag your imagery before processing, but there are advantages to doing so if you can. It speeds up processing, scales your map, reduces warping artifacts and makes it possible to take measurements from your orthomosaic. If your drone is running on Pixhawk and you've triggered your camera using the distance trigger function, DDMS can automatically geotag your images if you upload the telemetry log (.tlog) with your images. DJI drones automatically add geotags to each image.<br><br>



Uploading to DDMS is simple. First, sign up here using just an email address. Then log in and click Create Mission. Enter a description for your mission and select the images and supporting files (.tlog) from your flight. Then just click Upload. At this point, your job is done, leave your browser open on this page until it prints a message that all images have been uploaded successfully!

To add NDVI or a 3d model to your mission, open the Missions Page in a new browser tab, select your mission and click the Analyze Images button. Be sure to leave the upload page open until it finishes. On the Analysis page, you'll have the option to add NDVI and 3d Model generation. More apps are available with a paid membership.

Sample "Analyze Images" Page, Select Apps Here


Our NDVI process is optimized for NGB (NIR, Green, Blue) converted cameras such as our own custom filters/cameras and similar options like those from MaxMax. Some converted cameras, particularly the small, cheap ones, have serious problems with rolling shutter distortions. These distortions make stitching much more difficult as they aren't consistent like the distortions from a lens, so try to check out some sample imagery before choosing a camera.

DDMS will take all your images and automatically process them into a 10cm/pixel geotiff (higher resolution available with paid memberships). If geotags are included, the mosaic will be georeferenced. It also automatically tiles your map for viewing online using Map Viewer. You can download the raw geotiff and NDVI mosaic for offline viewing by clicking Access Downloads on the mission page. Often times these files are too large for ordinary picture viewing software to open. QGIS or GlobalMapper are good options for offline viewing of geotiffs, but it's almost always slower to work with these large files offline.

The Analyze Images page also shows you the status of each step of processing as it progresses. When each step reaches 'Ready' status, you can access the result by clicking directly on it. In Map Viewer, toggle between the ortho-mosaic and NDVI results by selecting the layer from the upper-right corner and adjusting the opacity slider.

Composite of two Map Viewer Windows, Raw NGB Orthomosaic on Left, NDVI on Right


DDMS also recreates a 3d model of each mission. Select the 3d Model app and download the files to explore using Sketchfab, Meshlab or another modeling package. Although the beta period is over, we are still actively seeking feedback from the community. We see a lot of users doing things we didn't expect them to do with drone maps and we want to keep encouraging that kind of experimentation!


You can read more about the Drone Data Management System™ here. We have more apps available for the Pro and Advanced tiers, like DVI, 3d PDF, DSM, KMZ, Volume Calculation and Point Cloud Exports. Let me know what you think, what would be useful for you?

See the original post on Droneyard.

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  • @Glenn We're working on adding in-app 3d model viewer capability and it should be ready pretty soon, in the 4-6 week time frame. We'll send out period updates to users about big new features like that.

    @Michael It's true there are a lot and the number is growing, but I think the pool can be narrowed down pretty quickly once you identify a few things that are important to you like analysis capabilities, export file types, support availability, price, limits, etc. There's no industry standard yet for almost anything so I think the variety is good for users.

  • There are so many of these services now. It's very difficult to test them all, let alone make any informed decision on which is best. Even 3DR is getting into this game.

  • I'm after a browser hosted interactive 3d model viewer to display (to the client) the 3d model generated from a survey mission. Is this something you can offer?

  • Matt, Dronin - point taken, thanks for the feedback. We are able to handle that many images and more. If you want to try it out just message me here or on DDMS and I'll put you on a trial for that tier. We're still trying to figure out the best way to price for the various combinations: many small missions vs fewer, larger missions.

    @Michael you should be able to log in right away. The activation email comes from and may be getting filtered into a spam folder. Message me your email address and I can check/resend as well.

  • How long before I can try it out? I signed up...

  • Ya me too, I am generating 1000 images and 3 gigs on a single day out easy

  • Sweet!  From my perspective, 800 images is far too limiting though.  I regularly collect more than that from one field and one flight (fixed wing) without excessive overlap.  If you want <5cm pixel density you have to fly pretty low (at least with my camera), which means a lot of pictures to cover a 120 acre pivot.

  • Professional and Advanced tiers are limited at 400 images / 1.6GB and 800 images / 2GB respectively. We're still experimenting with higher capability tiers on an individual basis.

  • Hi Jeff, for professional and advanced account, what is the limitation of data size to be uploaded on single mission?
  • Thanks Randy! Yes that API does already exist and I'd be happy to try an integration like that if anyone is interested.

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