The Most Common Drones for Construction at a Glance

A drone can be quite the handy device on a construction site. It allows you to monitor everything from a distance and helps you documenting your construction site—you can read more about this in our recent article. Nowadays, the consumer market offers a wide range of drones for any purpose, and it can be hard to find your way in the drone jungle. Depending on the kind of drone you want and what you are going to use it for, you can expect the price ranging from around $30 to roughly $2400. For instance, DJI offers a great variety of drones — Mavic, Inspire or Phantom, just to name a few (they recently announced their newest model DJI Phantom 5 X). However, they are mostly for personal use and don’t offer yet the necessary software to edit the collected data. So if you are in the construction industry, you will most likely turn to any of these six companies: DroneDeploy, Airware+Redbird, Skycatcher, 3DR, Kespry or MAVinci.

First, in this article we will present the most common UAV, UAS and cameras in the construction industry. Then, we will talk about the possibility to take 360° photos with drones and the availability of 360° drones. At last, we will discuss what the future beholds for these topics.

We would like to start with the American company Skycatch, which offers both hardware and software. They have an app and a cloud-based platform which are compatible with both their own drones as well as the DJI Phantom and Inspire drones. The drones capture high resolution recurring images of the construction site and automatically transform them into 3D site data. The platform then applies the data to site drawings or models — such as CAD or BIM — and turns it into usable information. The software allows you to monitor the process in near real time giving the impression to be right on site.

The start-up company 3D Robotics (3DR) launched an aerial analytics package called SiteScan in close cooperation with Autodesk. The package includes a cloud-based platform, easy-to-use app and a drone. The platform incorporates tools like Autodesk BIM 360 and InfraWorks 360, allowing you to create contours maps, orthomosaic base maps and 3D models with just a few clicks. 3DR’s app automatically calculates a flight path for the drone and takes care of taking off and landing it safe and sound. The drone uses the new Sony UMC-R10C camera which is supported by a specially made gimbal. This enables the drone to take photos from any direction and to remain stable during the flight.

The software company Kespry provides its drone system with a compatible aerial intelligence platform, the Kespry Cloud. The 35mm industrial Sony APS-C Sensor with 20 megapixels and Post Processing Kinematic allows the latest model Kespry Drone 2S to take high resolution pictures. The collected data can be automatically analyzed in order to accurately measure distance, angles or volumes, and to identify safety hazards. Instead of joysticks, you can simply start the drone via an app on your smartphone or tablet. The drone will then plan and fly autonomously using LiDar sensors to avoid any obstacles. The little weight of the drone allows you to capture 150+ acres in one single flight. The platform supports over 30 different formats and offers various tools to create and share 3D models.

Reason #1792 for getting a drone: create great-looking gifs of your building project. (Source)

DroneDeploy has developed an app which is compatible with any DJI drone. Simply download the free app for Android or iOS and with a few swipes your drone will take off to capture your construction site from above. You can easily create georeferenced, orthorectified maps and accurate 3D or terrain models. Tools such as cropping, measurement, NDVI (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index) and annotations help you analyze your site in an instant. The app monitors the drone by running automatic safety checks before and during the flight.

Another software solution was launched by Airware and Redbird. The Airware Flight Core is a flight control system which can be installed into any kind of drone. It is basically the pilot of the aircraft. The commercial drone solution company and data analytics pioneer also offer a platform to plan and fly a drone, create and analyze detailed site-maps and monitor the construction site.

Last but not least, the German company MAVinci developed a complete system including a desktop solution and a software to plan, manage and monitor the flights of their fully automatic drone, the MAVinci Sirius. Unlike the other companies, which use quadcopter drones, the MAVinci Sirius resembles a model aircraft. This, however, does not limit its power. The UAV allows you to merge the information of multiple flights into one file and preview the data during the flight. Their desktop solution allows you to incorporate image processing tools, such as PIX4D and Agisoft, in order to create orthophotos and 3D models. The latest model MAVinci Sirius 5.0 provides you with stable images, regardless of the surrounding weather, due to the small and flexible Fujifilm X-M1 camera. Depending on the data you want to collect, MAVinci offers different kits which can be upgraded with a near infrared NIR camera.

(Most Common) Cameras at a Glance

We created an overview and comparison of the cameras mounted to the previously mentioned drones. There are others, such as the DJI Mavic Pro, which are on their way to be used more frequently in construction.

Click to zoom

Drones and Virtual Reality Capturing?

Drones used for construction projects are usually equipped with normal cameras. Nonetheless, there are ways to capture 360° photos with your drones. You can either use apps, such as Litchi, SkyPixel or Drone Pan, or mount 360° cameras, such as the GoPro or Theta, to your DJI drone.

Moreover, there are companies which offer drones with fixed 360° cameras. The French company Drone Volt developed a drone which allows you to take 360° photos and videos. The Janus 360 has two heads, each carries five 4K cameras, which allow you to take obstruction-free images. As the battery lasts only for 15 minutes, it is not suitable for larger areas, such as construction sites. It is, however, the perfect gadget to capture virtual tours for personal use. The British company SkyEdge 360 both offers the service to do aerial and VR filming as well as build custom 360° drones. Thanics Robotics worked together with Ricoh to create the Thanics Halo drone, which relies on the Ricoh’s Theta S. Unlike the DJI drones, the Theta S is fully integrated into the quadcopter which allows it to retract into the body of the drone when it’s not in use. The 16 ultrasonic sensors enable semi-autonomous flight which means that the drone can avoid obstacles on its own and even follow or orbit the user.

Once your drone captured your construction site, you can use tools like HoloBuilder to create aerial tours of the premises. You can let stakeholders virtually fly over the project and keep the helicopter in the garage!

At least on the ground Drone-VR is already working. (source)

The Future of Drones

Drones will continuously improve in order to accumulate to the growing requirements and tasks. On the one hand, CAD, BIM and other design and project management softwares will soon be integrated into drones instead of just the corresponding desktop software. This will allow the supervisor to easily compare as-designed and as-built plans. Other plans include improved cameras which can be combined with additional scanning sensors, such as thermal imaging cameras, and laser measurement tools. The real-time data could change the building material supply chain including billing and payment. The simplification and automatization of the software will allow laymen to operate drones making experts obsolete.

On the other hand, some changes seem impossible at the moment but are worked on. Scientists in Switzerland are currently working on prototypes for spider-drones which can assist in the construction of rope bridges. Drones will be able to connect wires while simultaneously scanning the area allowing the supervisor to remain safe somewhere else. Another improvement is the air control traffic system for low-flying commercial drones. NASA is currently working on a prototype technology to make monitoring drones easier and less human-based. Drones might also assist or even replace cranes in the near future. The plan is to connect every machine in order to get as much information as possible to find the best approach. As mentioned in our previous article about drones, there are only makeshift solutions, such as the DJI Mavic Pro, or services, such as Air Capital Drone Co. (AC/DC), to collect data from inside a building so far. The Mavic is only half the size and weight of its predecessor DJI Phantom, but equally equipped. Thus it enables experienced and competent drone pilots to fly indoors and collect immersive information. As the FAA is working on improving the regulations, they might loosen the laws concerning delivery in the future. It might then be possible for drones to carry small tools or supplies and later on, even heavier payloads or hot shot deliveries.

As you can see there are quite a few drones and drone systems on the market specifically designed for the construction industry. Researchers are working hard on improving the hardware as well as the software. But the better the drones become, the more regulations are required. In addition, the public is wary of and prejudiced against drones due to their history. Nonetheless, drones can be a huge advantage in the construction industry. With more uses and better devices, the trend will surely continue in the future and eventually sweep the public off of their feet.

If you are interested in 360° virtual reality capturing and digitization of your construction sites, we would love to see you at!

Please note that this article is legal information and should not be seen as legal advice. You should consult with an attorney before you rely on any information provided. 
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