Article by Sarah Dorsey

As freshmen at Clemson University, Hannah Sarver, a sophomore environmental engineering major, and Joe Green, a senior biosystems engineering major, were both interested in three-dimensional (3D) technologies. Little did they know their interests would allow them to 3D-print a topographically accurate, scaled miniature model of Clemson’s campus. The From Drones to 3D Printing Terrain Models Creative Inquiry project is mentored by Blake Lytle and Patricia Carbajales-Dale from the Clemson Computing and Information Technology Research Support as well as Dr. Michael Dale from the Department of Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences.

The Creative Inquiry project analyzes drone images of campus and turns them into miniature 3D-printed models. The ultimate goal is to create a manual of standard operating procedures for drone image processing.The team explores the process by documenting their methodology—from drone to 3D printing models. After taking drone images of campus, they process the set of images into a digital, 3D model, assess its accuracy and use a 3D printer to print the final product. To test and document the process, Sarver used the football stadium and scaled the 3D prototype to the size of a quarter. Green processed parts of Bowman Field, Brackett Hall and Tillman Hall, each reduced to the size of a Skittle.

Each student documents their workflow and the team collectively decides on the best processes to include in the manual. This work is important because the use of drone technology is exploding and will potentially have huge economic impacts in the agriculture, military, business, trade and communications sectors. For example, this research may assist the drone powered package delivery services, as well as in the effective integration of drones into crop management systems in agricultural communities. As the team showcases their miniature campus models, they provide proof of the procedures they are developing. Their creativity and problem-solving skills are apparent.

“My role as mentor is rewarding because students get to use their creativity and problem solving on cutting-edge technology,” Lytle said.

This Creative Inquiry project gives students practical experiences with up-and-coming drone and manufacturing technologies, key skills in today’s job market. Green and Sarver hope the knowledge and skills gained in this project will give them a competitive advantage over other applicants when they enter of the workforce. For many students, enjoying a project and excelling are just as rewarding as good grades, and Sarver and Green seem to have found that in the From Drones to 3D Printing Terrain Models Creative Inquiry project.