Systematic Error in UAV-derived Topographic Models: The Importance of Control
Abstract:UAVs equipped with consumer cameras are increasingly being used to produce high resolution digital elevation models (DEMs) for a wide variety of geoscience applications. Image processing and DEM-generation is being facilitated by parallel increases in the use of software based on ‘structure from motion’ algorithms. However, recent work  has demonstrated that image networks from UAVs, for which camera pointing directions are generally near-parallel, are susceptible to producing systematic error in the resulting topographic surfaces (a vertical ‘doming’). This issue primarily reflects error in the camera lens distortion model, which is dominated by the radial K1 term. Common data processing scenarios, in which self-calibration is used to refine the camera model within the bundle adjustment, can inherently result in such systematic error via poor K1 estimates.
Incorporating oblique imagery into such data sets can mitigate error by enabling more accurate calculation of camera parameters . Here, using a combination of simulated image networks and real imagery collected from a fixed wing UAV, we explore the additional roles of external ground control and the precision of image measurements. We illustrate similarities and differences between a variety of structure from motion software, and underscore the importance of well distributed and suitably accurate control for projects where a demonstrated high accuracy is required.
 James & Robson (2014) Earth Surf. Proc. Landforms, 39, 1413–1420, doi: 10.1002/esp.3609