How UAV Technology is Changing the Face of Heavy Industry
If you think drones and UAV technology are simply the tool of enthusiasts, photographers, and the occasional real estate professional, think again. The drone industry is changing fast. No longer the toys of hobbyists, drones have entered the heavy industry and agriculture sectors in a big way.
In August of 2016, the FAA passed new regulations that created a clear path to certification for pilots flying UAV technology for commercial applications—providing further regulatory certainty for large companies that previously remained wary of drone adoption.
Along with advances in hardware and software, today’s drones are safer, more accessible, and more advanced than their earlier counterparts. As the commercial drone industry expands, it has become a hotbed of innovation. An entire ecosystem of specialized services has emerged, much of it geared toward heavy industry.
UAV technology is reducing costs, increasing efficiency, and improving safety for some of the biggest players in construction, agriculture, energy, and mining.
Not Just a Pretty Picture: Drone Maps and 3D Models Deliver Powerful Insights
Today’s UAV technology delivers far more than just aerial photographs and video. Industry professionals are using mapping software to create high-resolution maps and 3D models of everything from oil storage facilities to 400-acre cornfields.
Companies across industries are integrating drone technology into their everyday workflows, allowing them to collect real-time data from projects and identify potential issues before they become costly.
Project managers and site engineers at Choate Construction use drone maps to manage progress on some of the company’s largest projects, including a recently completed 550,000-square-foot manufacturing plant in Chesterfield, Virginia.
As the site’s Project Engineer Matthew Forster pointed out, weekly drone maps gave the team an overhead view of the entire site, allowing them to easily track progress on everything from steel and precast erection to roofing and earthwork.
Like Choate, McCarthy Building Companies is also in the process of scaling up their enterprise drone program. Field Solutions Manager Ryan Moret anticipates that by the end of 2017, the company will have well over thirty drones in place at job sites across the country.
He says this is because drone mapping software allows McCarthy to not only extract powerful insights, but also to easily annotate maps and share key data across teams.
“At the end of the day, we’re coordinators and communicators. We pull a lot of people together to try to build very complex jobs, and we can’t do it alone,” Moret recently told a group of commercial drone professionals during an industry webinar hosted by DroneDeploy.
Improving Jobsite Safety: Identifying Hazards and Forecasting Potential Risks
Increased oversight and collaboration also means improved safety on jobsites. Project managers and field inspectors are using drone data to pinpoint hazards and forecast potential risks.
As Chris Bartlett of ReconnTECH—the technology solutions branch of major field inspection company USIC—put it, “Everything is about safety in our industry.” He uses drone-generated 3D models to help clients remotely inspect elevated water and cell towers.
“Introducing drones increases safety in the workforce by giving our customers tools to perform inspections in a safer manner,” said Bartlett.
Measurement, Analysis, and Increased Efficiency on the Jobsite
Although oversight and collaboration are key, one of the greatest improvements that UAV technology brings to jobsites is its ability to analyze data directly from drone-generated maps and 3D models. Built-in tools, as well as integrations with industry software like Procore, Fulcrum, and AutoCAD, make it simple to extract powerful insights. Leaders across industries are using drones to create accurate aerial surveys, take area and volume measurements, and analyze crop health.
At DroneDeploy, we’ve seen mining companies increasingly fly drones at their quarries on a monthly basis. Built-in tools allow them to measure stockpile volumes in real time, improving efficiency and providing analysis on the excavation work of outside contractors.
The energy sector is also increasingly turning to drone technology. Solar design and installation firm iSolara flies a drone at all of their large sites. Their team then exports the data into 3D design software, where they complete shade designs and radiation maps right on top of the drone-generated 3D models.
“Now we can design directly from the images,” said Albert De Sousa, iSolara’s Operations Manager. “We have the tools to simulate roofs in a fraction of the time.”
Earlier this year, De Sousa and his team reduced the design cycle on a calf barn by a stunning 70 percent.
New Technology Brings Instant Field Analysis to the Agriculture Industry
In agriculture, growers use drone technology to spot variance in their fields, analyze drainage issues, create prescription maps, and complete stand counts.
Earlier this month, based on feedback from the agricultural industry, we released Fieldscanner. The first of its kind, this technology lets growers generate an aerial map of an entire field in real time, as the drone is still flying the field.
A grower can then sync their drone map with built-in plant health tools, and apply instant vegetation indexes that allow them to make quick decisions. As any grower knows, when plant health is at risk, every minute counts. More advanced analysis is also available within hours should the grower need it. High-resolution maps and 3D models can be used to analyze crop stress, identify pests, and stop disease in its tracks.
Jim Love, Light Robotics Manager at Beck’s Hybrids, was an early tester of this field scanning technology. “With the ability to capture data in minutes, offline, with just a drone and a phone,” said Love, “FieldScanner represents the missing link that will transform drones from a useful tool to a must-have for weekly crop scouting.”
The Bottom Line: Drones are Here to Stay
There’s no denying it: drones are here to stay.
By delivering costs savings, improving safety, and increasing efficiency, drone-generated maps, and 3D models are changing the face of many industries. As hardware and software continue to improve, drones are sure to become even more indispensable.
We are working toward a future where there will be a drone on every jobsite, and I think this will happen faster than any of us anticipate. For leaders in construction, agriculture, energy, and mining, the idea of integrating drones into business operations is no longer something on a fanciful, high-tech wishlist. It is quickly becoming a business imperative.
Mike Winn is the CEO and Co-founder of DroneDeploy, a leading cloud-based software platform for commercial drones. DroneDeploy enables professional-grade imagery and analysis, 3D modeling, and more from any drone on any device. DroneDeploy users have mapped over 10 million acres across more than 160 countries. Prior to starting DroneDeploy in 2013, he worked at Google as a technical lead for big data and tools, and as a sales account manager.