Visualskies discover misplaced cities with drones

By DRONELIFE Staff Writer Jim Magill

A UK-based company has used drones, 3D scanning technology, LIDAR and other cutting-edge technologies to measure, interpret and visualize data to uncover lost civilizations and create augmented reality for film and television.

Founded in 2014, Visualskies has grown from a company closely focused on capturing data from the air to a collaborative network of architects, archaeologists, surveyors, and visual effects artists doing aerial, ground and high resolution photography 3D mapping and creation offers virtual reality environments.

“We have developed an integrated system where we take all types of terrestrial and aerial data collection – LIDAR, area photogrammetry, heat-sensitive cameras, terrestrial laser scanners, terrestrial photogrammetry – and optimally integrate these for our customers’ needs,” said Duncan Lees, Visualskies 3D-Scan -Specialist, in an interview.

For aerial photography, videography and other data acquisition missions, the company uses commercial drones, typically the DJI M600 Pro and Inspire II Pro drones, which it equips with its own technology arrays.

One of the biggest challenges for Visualskies was participating in the production of National Geographic’s Lost Cities With Albert Lin series, in which the company used its technology to reveal the remains of ancient civilizations in remote regions of the world, including the rugged rainforest in the Coastal region of northern Colombia and the dense jungles of Micronesia.

“We use existing technology and add bespoke developments,” said Lees. Visualskies’ payload includes a series of multiple cameras on a specially designed gimbal that multiplies the amount of data that can be captured in a single flight. “Instead of the normal photogrammatic process of capturing vertical and oblique images, five cameras allow us to capture all of this information at once,” he said.

By installing LIDAR aerial photo scanners on the drones, the team can “not only take photos from the air, but also collect information with the help of lasers,” said Less. “This has allowed us to break into the canopy in some of the heavily overgrown areas we faced in the Lost Cities program.

Reaching just a few of the sites of ancient, long-undiscovered ruins posed particular challenges for the team. “In Peru, we climbed 4,000 meter high mountains with heavy drone equipment, scanners and everything else,” recalls Lees.

Also, given the tight timeframe for filming the series, the Visualskies team used its drone-mounted cameras and other data collection devices to record data while capturing the visual images featured on the series.

“The collection of information and the presentation of the information was done on the timescale in which the programs were filmed,” said Lees. “The response to the new discoveries we’ve made has been real. It was more lifelike than a set up a few months later after a lot of processing. “

As a result of the images and measurements taken both from the air and from the ground, “people can get a feel not only for what the environment looks like now, but also what it might look like if the vegetation is removed and what it might have looked like 1,500 or 2,000 years ago when the archaeological remains were built, ”said Lees.

Contribution to the preservation of monuments

Currently, the Visualskies team is working in the northernmost region of Scotland on a Netflix series that Lees says will further test the limits of the company’s image and data capture technology. Filming for the series, the title of which has not yet been released, combines elements of virtual reality with actual real-world backgrounds.

“There are large landscapes here that are to be used for the shooting in the sense of a virtual production – LED walls with a digital background that make this possible [the filmmakers] film real elements, but with a real-time CGI background, ”he said. “We create huge digital landscapes using data acquisition from the air and on the ground in order to capture mountains, heather and heathland landscapes as well as snow and rock in a single integrated whole.”

The company’s next project will range from creating a new reality to documenting the story in the real world. Visualskies is awaiting final UK Government approval for a conservation and historic restoration project at the Palace of Westminster, the historic building that houses the two Houses of Parliament and that serves as the seat of the UK’s Democratic Government.

“We will be flying drones inside and outside the structure, as well as performing laser scanning and digital photogrammetry to provide a perfect digital representation of the structure,” said Lees.

“There is great interest in ensuring that the building fabric is preserved in the best possible way. We will help by providing a digital record of the building that is accurate to the millimeter and reveals any existing problems. “

The Visualskies team will fly drones both outside and inside the structure and use laser scanning and digital photogrammetry to create a digital representation of the building. The project will include both autonomous and pilot-controlled drone flights.

“After first exploring the site and setting the parameters for the site, we used preprogrammed flights,” said Lees. “The array is set up so that we fly programmed flights in two different directions so that we can all cross data.”

However, some of the flights, especially inside the building, are pilot controlled “because there is simply no way you can be as precise as you need to unless you are in full control of the drones,” said Lees.

Although the data collection work will only last three or four days, as the team cannot fly drones during the session of Parliament, the project duration can be spread over a month or even two months. Additionally, due to the historic nature of the site as well as the pervasive threat of terrorism in the UK, the Visualskies team must be given the highest levels of security to complete the project, Lees said.

“We even have to load our equipment into a separate security vehicle, which then takes our equipment. and we have to go through a separate security system and not take anything in, ”he said.

Lees said that the company’s level of technology experience, as well as the wide range of life experiences among members of the Visualskies team, helped open the door for the team to pursue a wide range of different projects.

“Sometimes we create a reality that is entirely made up and sometimes we document something that exists, and it’s often difficult to separate the two,” he said.

Miriam McNabb is editor-in-chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a marketplace for professional drone services, and a fascinating observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has written over 3,000 articles focusing on the commercial drone space and is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry. Miriam graduated from the University of Chicago and has over 20 years experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
For advice or writing on the drone industry, email Miriam.

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