If you haven’t heard by now, 3D Robotics (3DR) has shifted its focus to commercial drones. The company had to realign itself after sales of the Solo drone didn’t go according to plan. Forbes has a sobering account that details what happened.
In March 2016, 3DR worked with Autodesk to launch the Scanner Antenna Analysis Platform, using unmanned aerial vehicles, on its own chassis, for agriculture, construction, insurance, public safety, surveying and telecommunications applications.
Site scanning can now be used as a building information modeling (BIM) tool to “digitize construction sites”, helping with project budgeting and scheduling, making it easier to compare the entire process of website construction and design. This allows construction workers to catch errors – pipes or trenches dug incorrectly, for example, early and return to CAD models to change fixed costs.
The BIM capabilities also allow construction teams to measure the amount of raw material, such as sand, left at a plant or available for a job. During a press briefing this week, one 3DR employee called Site Scan “augmented reality for the construction site.”
How site scans work. You plan the UAV’s flight path and it will automatically survey the area and land. In the air, UAVs need a group of survey areas of the photos, these photos sent to the cloud, and create a 3 d model of the site. The 3 d image overlays the original CAD design allowing construction teams to identify problems.
According to 3DR, the average construction project runs 80 percent over budget and 20-months behind schedule. “Daily scanning allows you to spot problems as they happen so you can either fix it or, if it’s not a big deal, model it for the next guy who comes so he won’t make a mistake,” says 3DR CEO Chris Anderson.
Anderson at a news conference, a reporter asked what is the difference between the site scanning and UAV deployment and Kespry, the two companies provide similar solutions. “The big selling point is our integration with Autodesk,” Anderson said. “Just having a UAV image is not that cool.” The integrated workflow with Autodesk is cool.
Anderson was also asked if Site Scan is a “hailmary” for the company. He downplayed that, of course, saying 3DR always wanted to be an enterprise-focused company.
“As the FAA has been working on regulations, drone companies have been moving from the hardware side of things to the software side of things,” Anderson says. “You need to go through the consumer phase to get to the enterprise phase; to build the technology and have those drones ready for when they can be used as a tool and not just a toy.”
3DR has worked with PCL Construction, which is the eighth largest contractor in the United States and Canada, according to Engineering News Record (ENR) magazine. Bill Bennington, virtual construction manager for PCL’s Orlando area and a licensed UAV pilot, began using Web site scanning in mid-October. He collected aerial images twice a week using a Web site scan. Orlando is a test pilot and can scan PCL’s 32 offices in North America.
“Take a 400-acre construction site. There’s a buzz of activity happening everywhere,” Bennington says. “With our old process, we would systematically go through and check that everything is happening in the right spot at the right time and aligning with the original design. To quickly capture an overview from the air we can quickly get a feel that everything’s on track or that this area might have an issue and we can control our ground game better.”
Perhaps the key to Site Scan’s success is educating the construction industry about the benefits of using drones. When they hear the word “drone,” many construction companies have visions of drones flying through the air crashing into things. That, of course, isn’t the case, but it’s the perception many have.
“The more we can educate construction companies about the controllable, repeatable process drones offer, it comforts them a bit and helps them understand what to expect.”
The bidding strategy is critical to the success of the construction company. If a construction company that uses a site scan to submit a more expensive acquisition job, it is important that they spell out the benefits of a commercial UAV platform. At the end of the day, it may be difficult to offset a major cost difference if the customer does not understand what a Web site scan can do for them.
While education and competition are the main challenges 3DR site scanning, the building is an $ 8 trillion industry and the global commercial UAV market is expected to grow from about $ 2 billion in 2 billion years to $ 127 billion in 127 billion years. 3DR should have enough opportunity to prove the value of site scanning and eliminate the fetters it once had in memory in the North American consumer UAV market.