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Home » Methods

It’s a synthy world!

Submitted by on July 4, 2009 - 9:50 am

synth_cloud_captureby Jonathan Dandois

The real world is 3-dimensional. And so is real ecology! To improve our ability to observe and measure the ecology of landscapes in 3D, we are exploring a variety of new tools that almost anyone can use. To see some examples, I’ve just updated our <OLD: 3D landscapes page; NEW content on Ecosynth.org page>- do have a look!

One key element is software. For example, we are exploring the use of the Photosynth web-app, originally released as Bundler, for obtaining ecological inventory information at the scale of individual trees and plots using regular digital cameras mounted on cheap radio-controlled (RC) aircraft. These image processing methods are able to create rich 3-dimensional datasets from an otherwise simple collection of photographs taken from different view angles. For example, we are extracting ecologically-important information, like tree height and canopy dimensions, just from a simple set of digital pictures. Using this information, we can predict the amount of fuel in a tree canopy or how much biomass is distributed in the canopy and understory across a landscape.

The image above is a “synth” or “point cloud” (a set of pixels mapped in 3 dimensions) captured using Photosynth from a collection of photos taken from our kite aerial photography rig at left. The perspective being shown here was never actually in any of the photos taken from the kite- it was made just by the software using geometry from photos taken from above!

For perspective, at the bottom is a photo of the same scene from the ground (note that this was not used in the “synth” above).

We are still experimenting with different methods for low-altitude aerial photography including kites (KAP), small RC planes and helicopters (RCAP), balloons and blimps, and different image capture techniques including stills and video. Some photos of our current rigs are here. From humble beginnings…

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