3D Maps Made With Drone Footage Show the Destruction of a Ukrainian Airport

Time lapse video and 3D models give context to raw footage.

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Jan 20 2015, 8:04pm

​The viral drone-shot footage of Ukraine's destroyed Donetsk airport that came out this weekend was shocking. But unless you already knew what its newly-finished terminal looked like before pro-Russia troops allegedly destroyed it, the video merely showed row after row of burnt-out buildings, with little context.

The Professional Society of Drone Journalists (disclosure: I'm on the board) has just released time-lapse videos and 3D maps of the destruction, which, paired with archived satellite images, show just how much has been lost in the conflict.

Donetsk Int'l Airport Terminal by Matthew Schroyer on Sketchfab

Matthew Schroyer, president of the PSDJ, used Google Earth satellite images and the drone footage to create the models, which he says are more illustrative than the footage alone. About one frame per second was taken from the video and processed through photogrammetry software, which takes estimated real-life measurements from digital images. This process produced dramatic photographic maps as well as three dimensional models of the war zone.

" Inthemodels, details come alive that are not all apparent from the videos," Schroyer wrote. "The models contain markers, which point out relevant aspects of the models, such as floors that have collapsed, skylights and skywalks that had been obliterated, and a TU-134 jet aircraft that was apparently abandoned and destroyed."

Donetsk Int'l Airport ATC by Matthew Schroyer on Sketchfab

Information that was not available on the airport website was obtained from user-generated photos and comments on Google Earth, he said.

Schroyer is right—seeing a giant hole in the ground is certainly jarring, but seeing the remnants of a skywalk, specific aircraft, and air traffic control towers contextualizes the destruction.

CNN and the Federal Aviation Administration are discussing how to properly use drones for journalism in the United States. But, it's increasingly obvious—from this footage, from footage in Ferguson, from environmental footage in the Arctic and in the United States—that journalists around the world are already using them to great effect.