Point cloud generation from aerial image data acquired by a quadrocopter type micro unmanned aerial vehicle and a digital still camera

Sensors (Basel). 2012;12(1):453-80. doi: 10.3390/s120100453. Epub 2012 Jan 4.


The objective of this investigation was to develop and investigate methods for point cloud generation by image matching using aerial image data collected by quadrocopter type micro unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) imaging systems. Automatic generation of high-quality, dense point clouds from digital images by image matching is a recent, cutting-edge step forward in digital photogrammetric technology. The major components of the system for point cloud generation are a UAV imaging system, an image data collection process using high image overlaps, and post-processing with image orientation and point cloud generation. Two post-processing approaches were developed: one of the methods is based on Bae Systems' SOCET SET classical commercial photogrammetric software and another is built using Microsoft(®)'s Photosynth™ service available in the Internet. Empirical testing was carried out in two test areas. Photosynth processing showed that it is possible to orient the images and generate point clouds fully automatically without any a priori orientation information or interactive work. The photogrammetric processing line provided dense and accurate point clouds that followed the theoretical principles of photogrammetry, but also some artifacts were detected. The point clouds from the Photosynth processing were sparser and noisier, which is to a large extent due to the fact that the method is not optimized for dense point cloud generation. Careful photogrammetric processing with self-calibration is required to achieve the highest accuracy. Our results demonstrate the high performance potential of the approach and that with rigorous processing it is possible to reach results that are consistent with theory. We also point out several further research topics. Based on theoretical and empirical results, we give recommendations for properties of imaging sensor, data collection and processing of UAV image data to ensure accurate point cloud generation.

Keywords: calibration; photogrammetry; point cloud; small sensor digital camera; unmanned aerial vehicle.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Calibration
  • Computer Simulation
  • Finland
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted / methods*
  • Microtechnology / instrumentation*
  • Photogrammetry / instrumentation*
  • Statistics as Topic*