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Drones and 3D Property Reconstructions for Homeowners Associations

10/01/2020 9:49 AM | CAI Rocky Mountain Chapter (Administrator)

By Taylor Spiegelberg, Knott Laboratory

For HOA’s, it can be very useful to have a tool to document a house or property to view later.  Often, this would entail just taking photographs of anything relevant or particularly specific on a property.  However, photos can only get you so far.  Say perhaps you want to have a measurement on a wall or area but it was not documented on your initial inspection, or maybe you want to look at the roof closer but it was either too difficult or dangerous to access.  Through modern technology and software, photos can be taken and processed to create a digital 3D version of the property which can be used to check measurements or view items through angles that just might not be possible by the human eye.

Let’s look at one tool that can be used to assist in the documentation of roofs, and that would be the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, more commonly known as drones.  Until recently, to inspect a rooftop or even higher elevated window or siding, you would need to physically go up yourself.  This can cause a lot of headache, as there is the safety concern of falls as well as the extra necessary equipment such as a ladder, a lift, harnessing, ropes, and the like.  Certain properties you may not even allow access to use those, which would leave the entire roof undocumented.  With drones, this takes the guesswork out of how to get on the roof and stay safe.  By flying a drone, you can quickly and easily navigate the entire roof area, and with many drones having high resolution digital cameras onboard, you can take high quality photographs and video of the rooftop.  This imagery is actively captured by the remote-control display while flying, so on site you can view overall and target specific areas if you see areas needing more focus.  Taking the guesswork out of roofing inspections is one valuable part of using the drones, but the imagery can be transformed into a useful asset for HOA’s once processed on the software side.

So you have photographs and video of the roof and other areas on location, now what?

Say you want to measure a distance or find an angle; you couldn’t find this unless you had a tape measure or other measuring tools in the photo you are concerned with.  Today, there is software that allows a set of photographs to be converted into a scaled 3D representation of your property.  This allows you to later look at the property from any view you’d like, such as a top down representation which can lead to an accurate floorplan.  Not only does the view help, but as this is a 3D format known as a point cloud, you can grab dimensions on anything you need.  This is an invaluable tool, as often you may notice things well after the fact, and the point cloud allows you to view the property again without having to physically be there.

Now not every set of photographs can be used to create these 3D point clouds.  The software is looking for similar points in between photographs to be able to tell where each photo was taken from to make the point cloud.  This means that the photographs need to be taken with a lot of overlap to create a high-quality point cloud of what you’re trying to capture.  Drones are good at this in general, as they can be programmed to fly set paths above roofs and take plenty of photos for this specific use.  For an interior space or going around an exterior, you’ll want to take a lot of photographs, maybe taking a step or two in between.  Picture yourself looking at the house or room and going in a circle around it, and that’s what you want your pictures to capture.  This is good for getting an overall model, and if you need more detail in spots you can take a set going in and focusing on specific areas.  There is also software which can create a detailed model of an interior space using 360° cameras and taking fewer pictures by spacing the photos periodically throughout the interior.

You’ll also want to remember a tape measure while taking your photographs.  This is to ensure that the resulting 3D point cloud gives you accurate measurements.  You don’t necessarily need to have the tape measures in photos, however you can if you wish, but you’ll want to know several dimensions to be able to set the scale of the point cloud and check against your measurements.  You only need to do this in a few spots, and don’t need to go over everything, as the point cloud scales everything together so you can measure things you did not initially measure.

These advanced tools put the freedom to explore a property well after the fact into the HOA’s hands.  The value this brings is not only the ability to look at the point cloud made from the interiors or exteriors, but also the time, safety, equipment, and efficiency of looking at the property in detail.  Technology moves fast, and there are more and more streamlined approaches to help HOA’s.  It’s exciting to see what will come next!


Taylor Spiegelberg is a Senior Visualization Expert with Knott Laboratory, a forensic engineering firm. Mr. Spiegelberg earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 3D Graphics and Animation from the University of Colorado- Denver.



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