SkyeBrowse Is Helping to Assess Bomb Damage in Ukraine

Company issues free version of drone-based reality capture application.

A bombed structure in Ukraine was mapped using SkyeBrowse. (Image credit: SkyeBrowse.)

A bombed structure in Ukraine was mapped using SkyeBrowse. (Image credit: SkyeBrowse.)

Since we last reported on SkyBrowse, we have learned of the application’s use in Ukraine to map buildings damaged by bombs and missiles. The speed at which SkyeBrowse can acquire the model makes it uniquely valuable in Ukraine. Other methods require a longer timeframe to capture and process data. SkyeBrowse can be in and out of a selected area in minutes, decreasing the chances of the drone being shot out of the sky, according to SkyeBrowse’s founder and CEO Bobby Ouyang.

SkyBrowse, a 3D mapping tool initially used by law enforcement agencies, is finding new uses in engineering and construction—and in a war zone. The company has just released a free version that could make the tool even more popular with technical professionals and hobbyists alike.

SkyeBrowse, which uses videogrammetry instead of photogrammetry to create 3D maps, has been used by over 500 law enforcement agencies in the U.S. for accident reconstruction and crime scene investigations. Borne of research at Rutgers University funded by state and federal agencies, the software uses drone video instead of still images to map sites. Rather than taking hours to capture the data for a 3D model via still photographs, SkyeBrowse speeds up the process by using video footage to produce a model in minutes.

Ouyang says that the company is experiencing rapid growth and wants to build on that development by exposing more people to the tool—hence the recently introduced free version. “We believe 3D modeling will become commoditized in the future, where anyone can use it,” says Ouyang. “We just happened to get there first [with the video-based tool].”

The free version will have certain limitations. For example, users will not be able to take measurements or make annotations directly on the model. For those and other features, users will need to upgrade to SkyeBrowse Premium for $2,999 per year.

Relative accuracy (i.e., between any two points in the model) is within 1 cm, according to Ouyang. Absolute accuracy (i.e., locations tied to a grid location) depends largely on the drone but could range from 2 to 3 cm for high-end drones to 1 m for low-end models, he noted.

One key to the tool’s speed is that the model is “pregenerated” during the calculation of the drone flight paths. When the video is uploaded, the model is essentially already built, and video frames are then superimposed to display 3D images. “We know what the 3D model looks like before uploading the video,” notes Ouyang.

The value of rapid model generation has been key for law enforcement applications. Forty or more years ago, law enforcement agencies primarily used measuring tapes and wheels to document scenes, spending multiple hours or even days reconstructing accident scenarios. More recently, agencies have used laser scanners and cameras to document scenes in shorter time frames, but this process still requires several hours. Early use of drones shortened the process to an hour or less but required extensive training. With SkyeBrowse, all the evidence can be collected in under five minutes with little or no training, according to Ouyang.

Rooftop Measurements

In addition to the law enforcement applications, engineers have found SkyeBrowse helpful for mapping project facilities. Michael McDermott, a mechanical engineer and founder of the McDermott Group consultancy in El Dorado Hills, Calif., has used SkyeBrowse to locate mechanical equipment on building rooftops. Before using SkyBrowse, McDermott often had to climb onto roofs and measure equipment locations with tape measures or laser scanners.

“It’s a huge time saver,” McDermott says of SkyeBrowse. “It also has a safety advantage, since I don’t have to climb up on a roof.” In addition to determining dimensions, McDermott has used SkyeBrowse models to generate material take offs and identify optimal locations for solar panels.

SkyBrowse can be used to map rooftop mechanical equipment. (Image credit: McDermott Group.)

SkyBrowse can be used to map rooftop mechanical equipment. (Image credit: McDermott Group.)

McDermott says that recent feature upgrades have enabled him to map large warehouse sites encompassing several acres. While SkyBrowse was originally geared to map specific areas of interest for traffic accident reconstruction, the tool now includes a WideBrowse mode that can map larger sites. “To produce a 3D model in a matter of minutes on a building site of several acres is really quite helpful,” notes McDermott.

With his firm’s regular use of SkyeBrowse, clients and project partners have grown accustomed to the 3D maps. “When I go to a job site now, engineers and architects expect a drone with dimensions and images,” McDermott notes.

To enter data into a CAD drawing, McDermott typically uses CAD features to manually place equipment in proper locations, as SkyeBrowse files are in a proprietary format. Users can also export SkyBrowse models in LAZ format, a compressed light detection and ranging (LiDAR) data format used to transfer point cloud data. The LAZ format is compatible with point cloud tools from Faro, Leica, Trimble, CloudCompare and Esri.

SkyeBrowse models can also be shared with anyone who has a SkyeBrowse account or by providing a public link. High-resolution JPG files can also be generated of select model views.

SkyeBrowse also introduced a feature that will enable certain drones to create 3D models of an area using thermal imaging. The thermal mapping feature enables first responders to recreate accident sites or crime scenes at night—a huge potential cost savings and safety benefit. Previously, nighttime reconstruction required large laser scanning devices in potentially dangerous areas. The thermal capabilities help reduce the amount of time that officers spend at crime scenes. 

As SkyBrowse’s use has grown, Ouyang’s team has grown from four to 24 employees, but so far the company has done so without a dedicated sales team. “We’ve been growing organically,” says Ouyang. “It’s a product-led growth motion. As more users test out the product and invite friends to use it, we’re able to grow a lot quicker and to larger organizations.” He welcomes new users with the free version and is confident many of those users will upgrade to the Premium version.