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    How to 3D Map Your Own Drone Streetview

    Written by

    Brian Anderson

    If you’ve ever spotted any of Google’s elusive Streetview cars IRL, you’re likely familiar with the strange rush that comes along with having bested the long odds of encountering what’s essentially the automotive equivalent of a Thomas Pynchon in its quest to map damn near every last inch of the globe. It’s a strange thing, and not at all limited to the crush of urban milieus.

    But as hobbyist drone markets proliferate, with up-and-up companies like former Wired top dog Chris Anderson’s 3D Robotics democratizing aerial drone technology, we could be approaching the day where the Streetview-car rush is replaced by the cartographic buzz of something much, much smaller: Micro drones. Never before has it been easier to ditch the search giant’s sprawling, yet oftentimes censored map in favor of making your own. The age of DIY 3D streetview mapping is here.


    Alan Sanchez, an engineer with Anderson’s San Diego- and Tijuana-based lab, breaks it down in a recent blog post over at DIYDrones, the burgeoning online community that spawned 3DR. Using a 3DR quadcopter, a GoPro Hero2 (he suggests not going fisheye), and Autodesk’s 3D-enabling app 123D Catch, Sanchez created a simple 3D map of the 3DR’s compound. (Pro tip: Look out for Sanchez piloting some of 3D’s aircraft later this month in Drone On, Motherboard’s feature doc on the unmanned revolution.) It’s a matter of snapping pictures of all angles of any one subject – in this case, 3D’s headquarters (pictured above) – with “a bit of overlap.” And the more elevations, the better.

    But first thing’s first. Set your ROI, or region of interest, in Mission Planner (ironically, a program in Google Code). It’ll look something like this:

    via Alan Sanchez

    Next, in Mission Planner, set a Takeoff Command, Waypoints (connect-the-dots, basically), Land Command, and Speed. Then launch. I’m not giving the intricacies justice, of course. His full post is worth checking out.

    This isn’t Alan’s video, but it should give you the gist.

    via Stenfanw3

    And there you have it. Because to hell with relying on automized Thomas Pynchons.

    What’s crazy, here, is that 3DR, which is only a few years old and specializes in open-source, autopilot-enabling software and components, has already sold over 10,000 autopilot packages. By the company’s estimation, America’s DIY drone fleet now far surpasses the number of drones owned and operated by the US government. That’s a lot of potentially non-Googled maps. Imagine the crowd-sourcing potential. Oh wow.

    With this comes the realization of just how easy it would be – indeed, will be – for drone pervs to totally corrupt the age of DIY 3D mapping. If anything, the only thing that’ll keep the future of personal drone mapping grounded will be its own widespread availability.

    Top via Alan Sanchez / 3DR

    Reach Brian at brian@motherboard.tv. @thebanderson