Building a 2.5D Digital Elevation Model From 2D Imagery

High-quality DEMs are generated from a collection of 2D images.

When projecting imagery into a georeferenced coordinate frame, one needs to have some model of the geographical region that is being projected to. This model can sometimes be a simple geometrical curve, such as an ellipse or even a plane. However, to obtain accurate projections, one needs to have a more sophisticated model that encodes the undulations in the terrain including things like mountains, valleys, and even manmade structures. The product that is often used for this purpose is a Digital Elevation Model (DEM).

The technology presented here generates a high-quality DEM from a collection of 2D images taken from multiple viewpoints, plus pose data for each of the images and a camera model for the sensor. The technology assumes that the images are all of the same region of the environment.

The pose data for each image is used as an initial estimate of the geometric relationship between the images, but the pose data is often noisy and not of sufficient quality to build a high-quality DEM. Therefore, the source imagery is passed through a feature-tracking algorithm and multi-plane-homography algorithm, which refine the geometric transforms between images. The images and their refined poses are then passed to a stereo algorithm, which generates dense 3D data for each image in the sequence. The 3D data from each image is then placed into a consistent coordinate frame and passed to a routine that divides the coordinate frame into a number of cells. The 3D points that fall into each cell are collected, and basic statistics are applied to determine the elevation of that cell. The result of this step is a DEM that is in an arbitrary coordinate frame. This DEM is then filtered and smoothed in order to remove small artifacts.

The final step in the algorithm is to take the initial DEM and rotate and translate it to be in the world coordinate frame [such as UTM (Universal Transverse Mercator), MGRS (Military Grid Reference System), or geodetic] such that it can be saved in a standard DEM format and used for projection.

This work was done by Curtis W. Padgett, Adnan I. Ansar, Shane Brennan, Yang Cheng, Daniel S. Clouse, and Eduardo Almeida of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. For more information, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The software used in this innovation is available for commercial licensing. Please contact Dan Broderick at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. NPO-47571

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