Stockpile measurements are a vital part of any project, but they can be time-consuming, costly, and manually climbing up aggregates can put workers in harm’s way. Contractors shouldn’t have to choose between accurate volume data and a safe, efficient projects, and now they don’t have to: drones are proving their value on-site as a safer, more efficient way to measure stockpiles and seamlessly integrate with existing workflows.
If you’re thinking about using drones to measure stockpiles on your next job, here’s what to expect:
1. Saved time on site
Drones make volume measurement as simple as the press of a button: automated, pre-programmed flights can capture lengths, areas, and volumes in just minutes. Once you set your flight path, you can re-fly that same flight without any manual piloting, saving time and labor. In fact, drones helped a large aggregate company that sells asphalt and readymix cement cut their field data collection time by 96%.
Drones helped a large aggregate company that sells asphalt and readymix cement cut their field data collection time by 96%.
2. Lower data collection costs
Aerial data capture has also proved to be the most cost-effective approach to monitor stockpiles and aggregates. McKim & Creed, a leading surveying and engineering firm in the US, used drones for landfill surveys on a 60-acre site and found they were 10%-20% cheaper than traditional ground surveying, 30–40% cheaper than aerial photogrammetry, and 40–50% cheaper than LiDAR. While costs change depending on the size of the site, drone solutions consistently prove to be more cost-effective than traditional methods.
3. Accurate data
Every drone scan creates millions of datapoints that are used to create a surface model of each stockpile. Our customers have found that drone solutions like Site Scan offer comparable accuracy to both traditional and LiDAR measurements. Typically, our drone data comes within 95% accuracy of a laser scanner — learn more about measuring accuracy for volume measurements here.
4. Immediate cloud processing and Autodesk integration
It’s not enough to just capture the data — tools like Site Scan make it easy to process it directly in the cloud, and export as an RCS/RCM into Autodesk tools like ReMake and Civil 3D. This is a simple workflow compared to laser scanners, for example, which require first transferring the data into ReCap, manually calibrating it, and then exporting as an RCM into ReMake.
Drones are taking off on construction sites across the world, and for good reason: they’re helping save time and money on every project. Looking to start flying drones on your site? Here’s how you can quickly get started:
1. Identify your stakeholders
To be successful, you first need to find an advocate for drones on-site: someone who will own the process and is excited about the possibilities that drones have to offer. Take time to identify the stakeholders and team members within your organization that are going to lead your UAV initiatives, and gauge their interest and ability. You’ll need to find someone that’s tech savvy and familiar with reality capture, which will likely be someone on your laser team who may have already used LiDAR for surveying.
2. Get FAA certified
Once you’ve identified your internal champion, get them FAA Part 107 certified so they’re able to fly drones on-site. They’ll need to take the Remote Pilot Certification test, which costs $150 per person and takes approximately 10 hours of studying. 3DR has created a number of helpful resources to help prepare for the test, including a study guide and practice exam. Alyssa Odom, a field engineer at PCL, shared her story on preparing for the Part 107 exam and getting certified as an FAA Remote Pilot. The Part 107 regulation is a complete game changer for the construction industry: it makes it easy for anyone to get started with drones and start flying as soon as possible, without needing a regular pilots license.
3. Get started!
Once you find your internal stakeholders and get them certified as UAV pilots, your team is ready to bring drones on-site and can start flying immediately. At this point, determine what your specific use cases are with drones: perhaps you want to use them to survey a large area, report progress back to owners, or manage subcontractors. Whatever your goal is, now you’ll be able to start getting value out of drones in every project.
In January 2017, PCL Construction broke ground on the first-ever Crystal Lagoon project in the United States, just north of Tampa, Florida. The 7.3 acre lagoon will be the centerpiece of a 3,000 home development, and future residents will be able to swim, kayak, paddleboard, and enjoy the beach right in their backyard.
The lagoon is approximatly 7.3 acres with a perimeter of 4,382 feet
PCL used drones on the site as a QA/QC tool, and on March 15th 3DR held a webinar with PCL to share how they incorporated drones on this project. Bill Bennington, Virtual Construction Manager at PCL Orlando, and André Tousignant, Virtual Construction Specialist at PCL Orlando, led the webinar and discussed how they used drones to transform their surveying workflow. To watch the recording, click here.
As the first lagoon of its kind ever to be built in the U.S., and PCL had three main challenges to overcome in order to ensure the project went smoothly:
1. Verify grade elevations at key phases of the project: before breaking ground, after completing self-performed work, and before turning the site over to the owner
2. Efficiently prioritize and focus traditional QC in the field on a site with a large footprint
3. Share progress and data both internally and externally with project stakeholders
The solution: Site Scan with a 3DR Solo Drone
PCL partnered with 3DR to use our Site Scan platform to survey the lagoon, make their QA/QC process faster and more efficient, communicate and share progress, and more. Bennington explained the decision to go with 3DR: “What it came down to, for us, was the simplified workflow, the support we received from 3DR, and the scalability of the product. We also liked using both 3DR hardware and software, along with the integration that 3DR has with Autodesk in cloud processing.”
Field engineers at PCL earned their Remote Pilot Certification and quickly got up and running with drones on the site. They first set up highly visible ground control points, input the points into Site Scan, and ensured accuracy by using independent checkpoints. Before each flight, pilots completed a pre-flight safety checklist and used the “refly” button to perform scans automatically.
To learn more about their drone program field workflow, hear directly from PCL’s Bill Bennington in a video recording of our webinar about this project.
“What it came down to, for us, was the simplified workflow, the support we received from 3DR, and the scalability of the product. We also liked using both 3DR hardware and software, along with the integration that 3DR has with Autodesk in cloud processing.” — Bill Bennington, PCL
1. Millions of precise points
A typical survey collects a limited amount of precise points, usually around 15–20. With Site Scan, PCL was able to collect millions of precise points in a fraction of the time a regular survey would take.
It typically takes a surveyor one week to perform this kind of survey, process the data, and export the PDF, CAD file, and contours. With a drone to cloud solution, PCL was able to cut this process into just 1.5 days: it takes 10 minutes to fly the drone and transfer the data into the cloud, up to an hour to process the job, and a day to export the CAD file and contours, in addition to orthoimagery and a point cloud.
2. Focused QC
With a perimeter of 4,382 feet, the Crystal Lagoon has a large footprint that PCL wanted to help cover using a drone. They continued to go on-site for quality control, but now that they could also use the 3DR Solo to fly the site in minutes, capture aerial data, and easily zoom in for high-resolution imagery. With the combination of drones and on-site surveying, their QC process became more focused and efficient.
3. Regular scans, regular progress updates
The PCL team used Site Scan to create a flight path for the site, then were able to re-fly the same path to automatically capture scans of the lagoon. This made it easy for them to collect detailed imagery and share frequent progress updates with their client and other stakeholders.
We’re thrilled to announce the release of DroneKit, an open platform for drone app development. DroneKit packages years of 3DR’s flight control R&D into a single robust and extensible platform which developers can use to create web-based drone apps, or even apps onboard the drones themselves. DroneKit works with any vehicle powered by the APM flight code.
We want to empower makers anywhere to create apps that fit their purposes. Imagine an agriculture app that surveys your land; a search & rescue app; a football practice app. Before DroneKit, if you wanted to create any of these single-purpose apps for a drone you’d have to reinvent the wheel, building all the flight control software from the ground up. DroneKit abstracts away the hard parts of writing flight control software, leaving you a clean, modern interface to code on.
A good analogy is the smartphone: In order to make a smartphone app, you don’t need to design and create a phone first. The hard part (the platform, in other words) is already done. With DroneKit, we’ve made the phone, so to speak. Now everyone has the creative freedom to build apps and new functions.
“Unlike other APIs for drones, there are no levels of access to DroneKit; it’s completely flexible and open,” noted Brandon Basso, 3DR’s VP of Software Engineering. “The platform works on laptops as well as mobile devices. Best of all, once an app is created, the app automatically works on any computing platform—the interface is always the same.”
Our role is to maintain DroneKit: we created the API; we’ll fix any issues with it; we assure it works with all APM vehicles; we add experimental features from our labs and from those contributed by the global community, and we make all updates available to anyone for free. And should you develop an app, just put it up on 3DR Services, “the app store for drones,” where you can price it how you want, and we won’t take anything off the top. DroneKit is a community garden for technology; we want anyone to be able to use it to cultivate and take their product to market.
What you can do with DroneKit:
With DroneKit, you can develop apps for three platforms: mobile apps (DroneKit Android); web-based apps (DroneKit Cloud); and onboard computer apps (DroneKit Python) [i.e., for a companion computer on the actual drone].
DroneKit allows you to:
Fly paths with waypoints
Fly in spline path with fine grain control over vehicle velocity and position
Have the drone follow a GPS target
Control the camera and gimbal with regions of interest points
Access full telemetry from the drone over 3DR Radio, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, or over the internet
View playbacks and log analysis of any mission
Advantages of DroneKit:
Truly open; no “levels” of access that you get from other proprietary programs
Computer agnostic: Create an app for controlling drones on whatever computing platform you want, and the interface is always the same
Works on planes, copters and rovers
Works on laptop computers as well as mobile devices
Provides web-based access to vehicle data
DroneKit powers the most successful flight control programs in the world:
Tower (formerly Droidplanner), hands-down the best flight planning mobile app out there, was built on DroneKit for Android
Droneshare, the global social network for drone pilots, is built on DroneKit web services
Project Tango Indoor Navigation is built on Pixhawk, APM and Tower
IMSI/Design TurboSite aerial reporting app for construction
If you drop by any of our offices on any given day you’ll probably hear a Star Wars reference within, oh, under 12 parsecs. We’re not entirely sure why this is. Engineers don’t typically live in the past. But look around, our code names for pet projects and even truly viable 3DRx prototypes take on references: Boba and Jabba; Lando; C3PO. They bubble up unbidden and gleefully from our DNA.
We’re huge geeks. We play with flying robots for a living. But sometimes drone innovation doesn’t feel like engineering the future at all, but taking a trip back to a long time ago and bringing all those Lucasian images from our childhood bedsheets, those pictures that osmoted into our minds while we dreamed of a life after gravity, into the practical measures of today’s high-tech robotics world.
The good news is, we’re not insane. We know this because we’re not alone: This past year has seen a invasion of incredibly inventive and ingenious Star Wars drones. And many have been powered by our Pixhawk autopilot, the closest we’ve been able to get to The Force on Earth. Here are four of our favorites.
Imperial Speed Bike Quadcopter (Powered by Pixhawk)
Designed by Google employee Adam Woodworth, who got into FPV drone flying just recently. The fast, low-level flying reminded Adam of the Endor chase scene from Return of the Jedi (should you need a refresher, click here), so he set out to duplicate it as faithfully as he could. He designed and built his own quadcopter from the ground up specifically to carry a 12-inch Hasbro “Power of The Force” Imperial Speeder Bike model. He put a Pixhawk in for flight control, swapped the Trooper’s heavier plastic limbs out for pipe cleaners and even sneaked an FPV camera into the helmet.
From left to right: full-size quad prototype; 1/3-scal quadcopter (pictured in flight); full-size original dual rotor prototype
Malloy Aeronautics Hoverbike (Powered by Pixhawk)
Inspired by the very same scene, this drone is now a reality. Thanks to a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign last year, Malloy will soon begin mass producing and selling these Pixhawk-powered quadcopter hoverbikes. Like Woodworth’s project, these 1/3-scale quadcopters will also transport a toy Trooper, but the end goal is even cooler: The proceeds from quadcopter sales will go to funding the development of a full-size model that will carry a person and have autonomous capabilities. Obvious safety and engineering questions arise, but Malloy is committed to seeing the project through.