September 6, 2016
The assembly line was a breakthrough in manufacturing that forever altered the world. Its efficiency cleared the way for the cost effective mass production of goods and in many ways birthed the modern economy. Sequential advances since then have been equally revolutionary: air travel, computers, the internet, mobile phones, and now, drones.
Dick Zhang, drone expert and CEO of Identified Technologies, did not just invent a drone that intelligently pilots itself. He invented a drone that can replace its own batteries mid-flight and is appropriately called the Boomerang. How can a self-piloting drone change the world? Zhang says intelligent machines are currently disrupting industries all over the globe. Including those that do not seem particularly tech-driven, like construction.
“A large development site, like a highway or an apartment complex, needs to be meticulously mapped by a team of surveyors. Depending on the project, this can take weeks or even months,” said Zhang. “But a drone that is operating on highly sophisticated software and that has state of the art cameras onboard can do even the most complex job in a fraction of the time, sometimes in minutes.”
Construction is a challenging business in many regards. A project that is estimated to take a year to complete can be delayed by equipment failures, weather problems, inventory mistakes, labor issues, and more. Delayed projects are also considered projects that go over budget. Extra days cost money in salaries paid, equipment rented, and lost revenue.
Estimates from the United States Census Bureau suggest that construction is a $1 trillion industry. With so much money being invested in projects across the country, small improvements in efficiency can translate into billions of dollars in savings.
“Aerial mapping is undoubtedly a huge cost saver. But it is also a tool that propels construction into the future by giving developers information they previously never had access to,” said Zhang.
The benefits are numerous. Drones are fast and efficient, which means they can be used continuously throughout a project to monitor progress and help project managers to assess where problems may arise. The cameras and sensors that can be loaded onto drones are capable of producing complex imagery that is impossible to generate otherwise. A short list of the possibilities includes 3D models, contour line maps, orthomosaic overlays, volumetric analysis, and more.
This kind of information is game changing, a reversal of the natural order when everything has to be estimated. Imagine the concrete subcontractor that can start its day knowing they need to deliver 23 truckloads of a certain type of concrete. Instead of hearing a project manager say, “Start with ten loads and we’ll go from there.”
“Knowledge is power. Knowing what needs to be done, and precisely how it needs to be done. Is something that every project manager dreams about,” said Zhang. “Getting rid of the guesswork brings a construction project into the 21st century, something that is long overdue.”
Photo: Flickr / Joe A. Kunzler
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