Comparing and characterizing three-dimensional point clouds derived by structure from motion photogrammetry
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Structure from Motion (SfM) is a photogrammetric technique whereby three-dimensional structures (3D) are estimated from overlapping two-dimensional (2D) image sequences. It is studied in the field of computer vision and utilized in fields such as archeology, engineering, and the geosciences. Currently, many SfM software packages exist that allow for the generation of 3D point clouds. Little work has been done to show how topographic data generated from these software differ over varying terrain types and why they might produce different results. This work aims to compare and characterize the differences between point clouds generated by three different SfM software packages: two well-known proprietary solutions (Pix4D, Agisoft PhotoScan) and one open source solution (OpenDroneMap). Five terrain types were imaged utilizing a DJI Phantom 3 Professional small unmanned aircraft system (sUAS). These terrain types include a marsh environment, a gently sloped sandy beach and jetties, a forested peninsula, a house, and a flat parking lot. Each set of imagery was processed with each software and then directly compared to each other. Before processing the sets of imagery, the software settings were analyzed and chosen in a manner that allowed for the most similar settings to be set across the three software types. This was done in an attempt to minimize point cloud differences caused by dissimilar settings. The characteristics of the resultant point clouds were then compared with each other. Furthermore, a terrestrial light detection and ranging (LiDAR) survey was conducted over the flat parking lot using a Riegl VZ- 400 scanner. This data served as ground truth in order to conduct an accuracy assessment of the sUAS-SfM point clouds. Differences were found between the different results, apparent not only in the characteristics of the clouds, but also the accuracy. This study allows for users of SfM photogrammetry to have a better understanding of how different processing software compare and the inherent sensitivity of SfM automation in 3D reconstruction. Because this study used mostly default settings within the software, it would be beneficial for further research to investigate the effects of changing parameters have on the fidelity of point cloud datasets generated from different SfM software packages.