Drones Fly High Hailing Data

Drones are becoming ubiquitous at construction jobsites, with project managers crediting them for providing pinpoint accurate data and safer circumstances.

So how do construction companies best manage all the data coming off of the radio-controlled aircraft? One way is to understand the many ways that the data can be transmitted and used, experts say.

“It’s a transition,” says Tom Zaiderman, senior product manager at Skycatch, www.skycatch.com, San Francisco, Calif., which helps enterprises such as construction companies and energy and mining firms collect data from drones and leverage AI (artificial intelligence) or machine learning to make sense of the data. Skycatch counts 2,000 U.S. jobsites and another 3,000 globally using its software.

“First, you have to reliably capture data,” he says. “We don’t just provide a 3D model of a roof, for example. We say, ‘This is a model that you can put into your CAD (computer-aided design) program. It’s about transforming the data into real insights that people are looking for.”

The drone user specifies the area he or she wants the drone to photograph and whether the photos will be reconstructed into 2D or 3D models. The photos and the models are analyzed with AI algorithms for anomalies, based on the user’s specifications.

“The AI will scan the photos for anomalies, detect defects, and point those out to the user for additional action,” Zaiderman says. “It may say, ‘You have a crack in this area or you have corrosion in that part, so it’s time for inspection or maintenance. The time to action is minimized significantly, by at least 60% versus traditional human action.”

In some cases, different teams within a construction company may collect, analyze, and process unique data sets, he says.

A cloud software platform company, DroneDeploy, www.dronedeploy.com, San Francisco, Calif., offers a tool that creates a visual timeline of a project from start to finish. This lets construction companies and their stakeholders see in a digitized format what’s changing, how much soil has been moved, and how much progress has occurred over time.

Ryan Moret, field solutions manager, McCarthy Building Companies, www.mccarthy.com, St. Louis, Mo., says a photo app lets everyone—superintendents, contractors, and certain clients—log into data for weekly updates. The data is dated, archived, and can be searched.

Construction companies also may cross examine drone data with a 3D schematic to check that materials are being managed properly and no unnecessary wasteful practices are going on.

The drone can also be set up to fly the same route week after week, executing the job again and again with the exact focus, angle and resolution, and the data culled so that construction companies can compare each flyover side-by-side, says Zaiderman.

Such software solutions will become even more important when drones start flying inside buildings. Zaiderman believes this will happen as soon as the next five years. And, at some point, drones will do their jobs automatically because of machine learning.

Wearables Awaken the Construction Jobsite

Mobile apps were all the rage at jobsites a decade ago, but new technologies now track workers’ moves via sensors and give them near-realtime, already-analyzed data on handheld devices.

Indeed, wearables are now in vogue, experts say.

Wearables can give workers instructions, improve their efficiency and productivity, act as a communications interface, and augment workers’ skills by providing them with access to information in a hands-free format, experts say.

ABI Research, www.abiresearch.com, Oyster Bay, N.Y., analyst Stephanie Lawrence cites these examples:

Technologies like exo-suits and smart clothing provide a stop-gap between human workers and robots, limiting the risk of injury.

Smart glasses give workers automatic access to communications, company data, and instruction manuals directly in their line of sight, enabling them to complete a task while accessing information about how to do so. This allows the worker to concentrate on the task without having to look away.

Companies use smartwatches to provide workers with alerts of the work they should be completing. These alerts are easier to notice on a smartwatch than on a smartphone as they provide haptic vibrations on the user’s wrist. A haptic vibration, or an audible sound, can be missed from a device in a user’s pocket, particularly if the worker is in a loud environment.

Certain kinds of wearables, including jackets, can track conditions, detecting, for example, a gas leak, and alert the user and supervisors to stay out of the unsafe area.

Triax Technologies, www.triaxtec.com, Norwalk, Conn., which develops wearable IoT (Internet of Things) technology for construction sites, has launched a spot-r network technology that provides realtime data about the construction site environment.

It consists of a lightweight wearable sensor that clips onto a construction worker’s belt, and a closed mesh network that is powerful enough to go through concrete and steel. The device is designed to track workers while on the jobsite to monitor their safety and alert required personnel of any issues or incidents.

Drones are playing their part, too. A worker who inputted drone data captured in a 3D model realized that a chemical had spilled on the site and alerted the crew to stay clear.

A separate drone survey found a crack in a coalmine pit that was a few hours away from causing an avalanche, enabling the work crew to make repairs and avert a disaster. Drones also can measure roofs within 1 inch of exactitude, as opposed to 6 inches when performed by a human, and can pinpoint the dimensions 10 times faster, says Mike Winn, CEO and cofounder of software firm DroneDeploy, www.dronedeploy.com, San Francisco, Calif.

These technologies are especially important given that 20% of the 4,835 deaths from worker-related injuries in the United States occurred in the private construction industry, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, www.bls.gov, Washington, D.C.

And let’s not forget robots. A technology called SLAM (simultaneous localization and mapping) enables a robot to find its location and be able to navigate across the site, including picking up heavy materials.