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Why Construction Robots Should Be More Like Sprinklers

When I was kid, I spent my summers with my grandfather, Fred Hauser, a Swiss immigrant engineer living in Los Angeles. Back in the 1930s, he had worked in Hollywood, helping create the audio tape technology for the “talkies”. But by the time I knew him he was an inventor, tinkering in his garage workshop.

His most successful invention was a big one: the automatic sprinkler, which is basically a sprinkler with a clockwork timer attached to it (yes, that’s exactly what you might expect a Swiss engineer in Los Angeles, where the new bungalow owners “greened the desert” with their lawns, to invent: a sprinkler + clock).

Original patents for the automatic sprinkler by my grandfather, Fred Hauser

I learned a lot from him — how to do mechanical drawing, how to use a metal lathe, how to turn ideas into prototypes — but most importantly I learned that a great automatic tool was just that: automatic. Once installed, the sprinklers could be forgotten: they just did their job at the appointed time, and your lawn stayed green.

You may not think of an automatic sprinkler as a robot, but it is: it combines sensing, intelligence and actuation (as does a dishwasher or washing machine, which are also unheralded robots). Today’s sprinklers are connected to the internet, collect data, decide when to water based on weather, and, best of all, just work.

Fast forward more decades than I care to admit, and now, probably not coincidentally, I run a robotics company. 3DR, which I co-founded in 2012, helped pioneer the modern drone industry and, equally importantly, is today putting drones to work gathering data and making it useful. Our inspiration is the same as my grandfather’s: make advanced technology simple to do a needed job well. Great tools should just work—at the end of the day, there’s no reason for an automatic scanning drone to be harder to use than an automatic sprinkler.

Great tools should just work—at the end of the day, there’s no reason for an automatic scanning drone to be harder to use than an automatic sprinkler.

We’re just one part of the biggest movement to come to the AEC industry since CAD. The opportunity to digitize the physical world — scanning sites to create a “digital twin” —  allows us to finally follow that maxim that “you can only manage what you can measure”. This includes everything from drones to indoor scanners such as Matterport, total station laser measurement, RTK GPS, and AI cameras. And this, in turn, is part of an even bigger trend of all industries to digitize what they do, from manufacturing to transportation.

We stand on the shoulders of giants: smartphones and wireless data networks, AI, the cloud, extraordinary sensors from cameras to GPS, even the Internet itself. A decade ago, what we do would be impossible or impossibly expensive. Today, there’s an app for that.

But it’s all still harder than sprinklers. Between regulatory requirements for trained FAA-certified operators to the usual compatibility issues between software platforms, drones are still making their way onto construction sites. The same could be said for total stations a quarter-century ago, however, and now they’re ubiquitous. Drones may take five years, even ten years to get there. But the adoption curve is getting faster, thanks to the all the complimentary technologies, such as mobile and BIM, that are pushing into the AEC industry at the same time.

Capturing aerial data on-site with PCL Construction

Someday soon, the first worker on a construction site will go through their morning routine of opening the gate, unlocking the trailer, starting the generator and, yes, pressing the red button on the drone box. That box will be dusty, dented, unloved — just like any other piece of standard construction equipment, as unremarkable as it is essential. Nobody will notice as it flies overhead throughout the day, just as they don’t notice the crane overhead. At the end of the day, another worker will ensure that its batteries are recharging and close the box for the night.

The opportunity to digitize the physical world — scanning sites to create a digital twin —  allows us to finally follow that maxim that “you can only manage what you can measure”.

What they will notice, however, is that the BIM model of the job really is a “digital twin”. Always accurately showing the latest work, always evolving, increasingly relied-upon. The networks of the Internet are now something we take as much for granted as we do the networks of the electric power grid, but the data that flows over them continues to marvel. The same is coming to the construction industry: sensors that fade into the background, but data that shines brighter and brighter.

Now imagine drones doing the same in farms or corporate campuses or around oil refineries. Boxes with copters inside and solar cells outside to recharge their batteries. Like the irrigation systems, at some point in the day they wake up, emerge from the boxes, and do their thing: site surveying, crop mapping, security patrols, whatever. When they’re done, they return automatically to their boxes, the lids close, and they sleep until they do it all again the next day. They’re like flying security cameras or satellites: you don’t care how they work, as long as you get the data.

We’ve come a long way from thinking of drones as weapons, sci-fi movies or even headlines. But in the prosaic applications of advanced technologies lie their real impact. Once drones are as ubiquitous and essential as sprinklers, we all will have won.

The post Why Construction Robots Should Be More Like Sprinklers appeared first on 3DR Site Scan - Commercial Drone Platform.

Drones are Breaking Ground in Bridge Inspection

There are critical infrastructure needs across North America, especially when it comes to bridges. In the U.S., for example, over 54,000 U.S. bridges are structurally deficient, which is nearly 9% of all bridges across the country. Not only that, but assessing the current state of bridge infrastructure requires an increasing amount of time and resources—and there are no shortage of safety concerns.

Thankfully, new technologies are here to help. Drones and non-destructive testing devices, for example, are part of a variety of tools are that are shaping the future of bridge inspection and rehabilitation, helping improve project safety, reduce costs, and create more efficient and sustainable methods.

Building better with drone data

Long before inspection and maintenance, drone data platforms like 3DR Site Scan are being used at the very beginning of infrastructure projects to improve the way bridges are built in the first place. For example, see how drone data helped the Arizona DOT capture up-to-date existing conditions of their aging Pinto Creek bridge, and design a new bridge to replace it.

Designing a new bridge with drone data

Creating 2D maps and 3D models with drones has also been used to better document important utilities—like rebar and post-tensioned cables—before pouring concrete. This type of detailed documentation at key milestones can make a big difference on large-scale concrete construction projects, helping identify and address issues that may otherwise have been missed.

How drones are used for bridge inspection

Although surveying, planning, and quality control are common uses for drones in construction, they’re also increasingly being used post-build in the inspection process. As an American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials study found, 35 state DOTs are using drones for a variety of purposes, with of them 20 using drones daily and another 15 testing drones and determining how they can best put them to work.

Drones are capable of collecting far more detailed inspection data compared to snoopers and other more traditional inspection equipment. Not only that, but drones can collect this data without interfering with traffic, which is a big cost-saver: the Michigan DOT found that shutting down a four-lane, two-way highway bridge in a metropolitan area costs approximately $14,600 during the 10 hour period it typically takes to do a bridge inspection.

AASHTO did another study in 2016, comparing the price and labor needed to perform bridge inspections manually compared with a drone-based workflow. They found that not only did manual inspection required twice as many people, it also cost upwards of 18x more than using drones. That’s why, for DOTs, adopting drones is a no-brainer: they can perform inspections more frequently, cost-effectively, safely, and capture more information than ever before.

From gathering the initial data via still and infrared images, to being equipped with non-destructive testing devices for in-depth analysis, drones can be used for bridge inspection in a variety of ways. They make it easy to collect high-definition images and visual data from traditionally hard-to-reach areas, such as the underside of bridges and along the beams and girders. They also dramatically reduce cost and safety risks associated with traditional bridge inspection by eliminating the use of heavy machinery.

Inspecting the bottom of the Foresthill Bridge—the highest bridge by deck height in California—up close and personal

The 3DR Site Scan platform, for example, allows you to capture high-resolution images from manual drone flights, or target and outline an area to capture oblique imagery from four directions. It also has the capabilities to re-fly previous flight patterns, so you can gather images from the same area and compare them at different time intervals to view deterioration and changes in infrastructure.

Combining non-destructive testing equipment with drones

While most inspection drones are currently equipped with high-resolution RGB and thermal cameras, that’s just the beginning: innovative firms such as Giatec Scientific are equipping drones with their non-destructive testing equipment, such as the iCOR device. The iCOR is used to detect corrosion in reinforced concrete structures, and map corrosion potential and rate. What makes the iCOR unique—and gives it the ability to be used in combination with drones—is that it can perform tests in seconds and without the need for a physical connection to the rebar.

Using the data gathered with drones, in combination with corrosion assessment from tools like iCOR, contractors and inspectors can get an all-around, in-depth look at the state of bridges and concrete infrastructure. It also keeps workers out of harm’s way, amounts to considerable cost savings, and most importantly, it’s helping our state DOTs, engineers, and contractors do a critical job: repairing and replacing aging infrastructure across the country.

The post Drones are Breaking Ground in Bridge Inspection appeared first on 3DR Site Scan - Commercial Drone Platform.

3DR Launches GCP App

Commercial drone pilots want to use ground control points as often as possible, because it helps improve the accuracy of their drone maps and models. But shooting GCPs can be time-consuming and expensive: it requires dedicated surveying equipment, hours of work in the field, and having to export and manually upload points to your drone software for georeferencing.

Today, that changes.

We’re thrilled to introduce 3DR GCP, a brand new Android app that’s integrated with the Trimble Catalyst platform. Now, with 3DR GCP and Trimble’s low-cost digital antenna, what used to be an expensive, time-consuming workflow for shooting accurate GCPs is now as simple as just the press of a button.


Capturing points with 3DR GCP and the Trimble Catalyst DA1 antenna

Trimble Catalyst is a software-defined GNSS receiver and on-demand positioning service for Android phones and tablets. Developed by Trimble, a global leader in geospatial positioning solutions, the service uses a small, lightweight, plug-and-play digital antenna to deliver high-quality satellite data to the 3DR GCP Android app. This makes it easy for 3DR customers to quickly capture ground control points and automatically transfer them to their corresponding projects in the Site Scan cloud for georeferencing and processing.

The app offers a range of precision levels, from a meter down to only a couple centimeters. Customers simply go on-site, plug the Catalyst DA1 antenna into their Android device, launch 3DR GCP, and capture ground control points at the level of accuracy they need.

3DR GCP is the perfect solution for engineering and construction firms looking to make their ground control point workflow faster and more streamlined. “It’s important that our drone data is accurate so we can rely on it for grading, volume reporting, and more,” said Caleb Stratton, Project Engineer at Bogh Engineering. “By making it simple to capture ground control points, 3DR GCP helps us improve accuracy across all of our projects.”

“3DR GCP provides our customers an end-to-end, cloud-based ground control point workflow from the field to the office,” said Chris Anderson, CEO, 3DR. “With this app, we’ve closed the loop on ground control points by making one simple, connected workflow from start to finish.”

“Trimble is excited for 3DR to join our ecosystem with the launch of 3DR GCP,” said Gareth Gibson, business development manager for Trimble Catalyst. “With this innovative ground control app, 3DR is making it easier than ever for their customers across the world to create accurate, reliable drone maps and models and better capture their projects.”

“With this innovative ground control app, 3DR is making it easier than ever for their customers across the world to create accurate, reliable drone maps and models and better capture their projects.”

— Gareth Gibson, Business Development Manager, Trimble

To learn more about Site Scan GCP, pricing, availability, and more, set up a demo or contact us at sales@3dr.com.

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The post 3DR Launches GCP App appeared first on 3DR Site Scan - Commercial Drone Platform.

Your LAANC Questions, Answered

LAANC—which is the FAA’s initiative to open up more controlled airspace to commercial drone operators and speed up the authorization approval process—is steadily expanding across the US. This is a major development for the commercial drone industry: when LAANC is fully rolled out, it will make up to 78,000 miles of airspace easily accessible, approximately 500 airports across the country.

That’s why we partnered with the FAA to host a webinar about LAANC, so commercial drone pilots like you can learn more about the initiative, why it matters, and when it’s coming to your area. We had a ton of great questions from attendees, so we’ve answered the most popular ones in this post to help you get up to speed.

Want to see the webinar for yourself? Watch the recording!

Q: When is LAANC coming to my area?

A: LAANC will be fully rolled out across the US by September 2018. Here’s a map to show the key rollout dates:

The FAA will publish the list of states and specific airports on the LAANC website as the capability is rolled out. On April 30th, for example, you will be able to see which specific airports in the Central South Region can offer LAANC.

Q: It appears that LAANC will eliminate the need to submit authorization and waiver requests. Is that correct?

A: It definitely will reduce the need to submit airspace authorization requests through the FAA Drone Zone, at least in areas where LAANC is available. For other areas, or waivers, you’ll still need use the Drone Zone and follow the standard approval process.

Q: Is a software platform such as 3DR Site Scan required to get approvals through LAANC?

A: There are currently only four approved LAANC UAS Service Suppliers: AirMap, Skyward, Project Wing, and Rockwell Collins, with more coming soon. You can find more information on LAANC service suppliers here.

3DR is able to offer LAANC to our customers because we’ve integrated our Site Scan application with AirMap. Pilots can use the Site Scan Field app to plan their flights and get digital authorization in a matter of minutes. 

Q: Is it possible to request authorization in “0” grids, or is this best done through Drone Zone?

A: You can request authorization in “0” grids using LAANC, as long as your operation is below 400 feet. If it’s above 400 feet, you need to apply for a waiver through the FAA Drone Zone.

Q: is LAANC specific to flying for construction, or can it be used to get authorization for videography or other purposes?

A: While the LAANC integration in Site Scan is largely used by our customers in construction and engineering, that’s not all that LAANC is limited to. Any commercial drone operator can fully use and benefit from LAANC—not just those in construction.

Q: How long does it typically take for authorization up to 400 feet within controlled airspace?

A: Authorizations within any allowable UASFM altitudes can be, and often are, processed in near real time. In fact, out of the 3,500 authorizations processed through LAANC, over 90% of them were done in near real-time.

Q: Can you request an authorization for a specific date and time through LAANC, or can you only do it on-site when you want to fly?

A: You’re free to do either! You can submit a request for airspace authorization through LAANC up to 90 days in advance, which is a big help when planning your flights and making sure you’re able to fly. Or, if you have to get on-site to fly at the last minute, fast approvals through LAANC can make that possible.

Q: How can I reach out to the FAA directly with specific questions?

A: If you have a question about LAANC or anything else that relates to FAA drone regulation, please contact the FAA at UAShelp@faa.gov or call 844-FLY-MY-UA.

Q: Where can I find a recording of the 3DR + FAA webinar about LAANC?

A: Right here. Enjoy!

The post Your LAANC Questions, Answered appeared first on 3DR Site Scan - Commercial Drone Platform.

How PCL Construction Built a Successful Drone Program

Two years ago, the Orlando, Florida division of PCL Construction wasn’t flying drones on any of their projects. Their virtual construction team set out to change that. “We needed to capture our projects in detail,” said André Tousignant, Virtual Construction Manager at PCL. “We knew that drones could help.”

André and his colleague Bill Bennington built their drone program from the ground up in Orlando, capturing aerial data on a number of their projects. Fast forward to today, and PCL Construction has expanded their drone program beyond just Orlando to have a team of 26 pilots flying drones in multiple districts across North America, with nearly 50 people using their drone data on a daily basis. It’s had a big impact, helping PCL better collaborate between the office and the field, avoid costly disputes and mistakes, and keep projects on schedule.

We spoke with André to dive deeper into why they started looking for a drone solution, how he got the rest of his team actively using drone data, and how it’s helped on their projects so far.



Hugh: What were the original pain points you faced that made you and your team look for a drone solution? Why did you originally want to bring a drone in-house?

André: On construction projects, documentation is key. You can never have enough photos. We needed to capture our projects in detail, and we’ve used laser scanners and other ways of taking pictures, but we started looking for a drone solution so we can gather information on the whole site.

We quickly realized that a cloud-based drone platform could help us do more than just turn drone photos into orthomosaics and 3D models: they’re enterprise-ready tools that we could use to share this data with all of our teams. That sort of opportunity is what really sold us on bringing a drone solution in-house. Really, if you compare the cost to what you actually get—and the speed you can get it—it’s an easy decision.

Hugh: What are some of the biggest ‘wins’ you’ve had using your drone data? What are some that you didn’t expect?

André: There’s been a few! A recent one was on a large commercial structure that we’re building. One of the first times we flew the site, we were just starting to excavate some of our foundations. As soon as we processed our flight into an orthomosaic, we overlaid our design file onto the map to spot the difference between design and reality. We immediately realized the excavation was probably about 3 feet off, so we moved quickly and fixed it before it became an issue.

Digital elevation model viewer with design file overlay

The second example is something that we didn’t originally expect when starting to use our drone. A question arose on one of our projects about the amount of de-watering that had been installed. It wasn’t clear how many PVC pipes were actually placed, compared to the initial plan.

Often photo documentation of this type of scope is sparse and it would prove difficult to know the right answer. But thankfully, on this project, we had the drone imagery. We used Site Scan to count every 2-inch diameter pipe to see exactly how many were there, and it helped us resolve a potentially costly dispute.

What it comes down to is that you can’t argue with the data. As soon as we review and share the documentation captured by the drone, it puts these types of issues to bed immediately.

“What it comes down to is that you can’t argue with the data. As soon as we review and share the documentation captured by the drone, it puts these types of issues to bed immediately.”

Hugh: You led scaling PCL’s drone operations from a single user license to over 100 users across different projects and teams. How did you do that successfully? Who is using the data today?

André: Here’s the first thing we did: show people what they can actually do with drone data, and how easy the workflow is. It sounds simple, but it’s a critical thing to do.

I brought together project teams—project managers, project engineers, superintendents, and more—and showed them an example of how drone imagery is being used on other projects. Then, I showed them the different use cases and simple tools that are available to them, such as overlaying a PDF design file onto an orthomosaic, comparing flights, performing volume and area measurements, and more. Their eyes lit up, and the lightbulb went off. They said things like, “Hey, this is something we can use! We can do measurements. We can do a cross-section of the point cloud and see the elevation. We can share it with our teams.”

Comparing jobsite changes over time

With this initial positive feedback, we worked to standardize drone operations on all of our projects. For example, we’re expanding the number of drone pilots to more teams. A key part of this, when scaling into the enterprise, is maintaining consistency. We ensure that we’re effective recordkeepers and can plan flights properly. We have digital checklists that our pilots use every time before taking off, to ensure they fly safely and effectively. Also, all of our flights are logged in Site Scan, so it’s easy if someone else sets up a flight and completes it, then I can go out and re-fly that flight quickly. This ensures we have consistent flights that cover the same area, capturing the right overlap, and getting an expected result out of the [photogrammetry] processing.

Our team uses the drone data in a variety of ways. For example, it’s become an important part of coordination meetings, where our team talks through site logistics, reviews progress, plan work with subs, and more. They’re pulling that information up in Site Scan, in the browser, and reviewing it. It’s important to note that this data is usually from the previous day, which is great considering how quickly these sites can change.

“[Drone data] has become an important part of coordination meetings, where our team talks through site logistics, reviews progress, plan work with subs, and more.”

In addition to our project teams, we’re also give access to some of our owners so they can see progress on the job and see how it’s changing. We also give access to some consultants on other teams, as they may be interested in learning different things than we are.

Hugh: You work with new technologies everyday, not just drones. What new construction technologies are you excited about?

André: I’m excited about a few things. First, the impact of neural network software to further process and document models from our flights. I think that will have a huge impact.

I’m a fan of tech that can touch every project in a significant way. For example, look at what StructionSite has done. It makes it easy for us to document our jobs and manage the photos we take. By integrating StructionSite with other storage apps, we’re simplifying how we store and find images.

Overall, I’m glad to see more horizontal integrations between platforms. This helps us avoid having data silos, and ensures that our field staff can get the information they need, whenever they need it.

“Overall, I’m glad to see more horizontal integrations between platforms. This helps us avoid having data silos, and ensures that our field staff can get the information they need, whenever they need it.”

Hugh: You and your team at PCL have built a great drone program: you’re getting a ton of value out of the data and have scaled drone operations to more teams and locations. Now that you have this foundation, where do you want to take your drone operations next? What are you excited about what it comes to the future of drone technology?

André: First, I’m excited about where things are going with [Site Scan’s] BIM 360 integration. We’re big users of BIM 360 Field and Glue here at PCL—almost every single one of our projects uses BIM 360 Field. Site Scan’s integration with BIM 360 is exciting for a few reasons: it helps us overlay up-to-date design files onto our orthomosaics, create Issues and RFI’s to solve problems in the field, and it makes it easy for us to bring drone data into our design models, and not just look at them in 2D.

On a similar note, I’m excited about how easy 3D modelling has become. When the 3D mesh viewer was released, for example, our team couldn’t believe the type of model that could be created from a 10-minute drone flight. The detail is incredible. You can read our logo on the trucks!

André and his team getting ready to fly

We’re also starting to explore new use cases for drones, like making it more efficient to do pre-pour documentation of conduits and post-tensioning, among other things. In some of the initial experiments we’ve done with a drone, we’ve turned an hour of documentation work in the field down to just 15 minutes, and improved our processing times as well.

Also, we’re excited to see where the FAA regulation goes. For example, the evolution of LAANC is really exciting, because it’s opening up airspace and making it easier to fly in areas that took longer to get approval in before.

Lastly, and importantly, I’m excited about what’s possible within PCL. Every day, we on the VDC team hear about a teammate who is using the drone data in a different way. This is exactly what we want when introducing a new technology. There’s nothing more exciting than seeing project teams use the data in a way that we never intended, and I’m excited to see where we take things next.

The post How PCL Construction Built a Successful Drone Program appeared first on 3DR Site Scan - Commercial Drone Platform.

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