Category: Construction

Construction Drone

DroneDeploy Interview: Construction Tech Tools for the Future

In August 2016, DroneDeploy raised US$20 million to continue its expansion as the world’s leading drone mapping platform. In the same year, the team launched an App Market, allowing 3rd party developers to create and launch apps for use on the existing DroneDeploy software. This marks a significant step for the drone industry, as it matures from being seen as a range of cool flying cameras, to a piece of hardware that can power all kinds of value added analysis and insight. We spoke to the DroneDeploy team at the end of what has been a big year:

What’s the story behind DroneDeploy?

DroneDeploy was founded in 2013 by three college friends from South Africa – Mike Winn (CEO), Jono Millin (CPO) and Nicholas Pilkington (CTO) – who were inspired by local poaching issues to create a product that could help anyone, anywhere, gain insight into particular landscapes from a bird’s eye view. The three realized that although drones were beginning to boom in popularity, the ability to harness the imagery and data they collected was limited. Thus began the shift to build the most popular cloud-based drone mapping and analytics software on the market today. Today, DroneDeploy is leveraged across a multitude of industries, including agriculture, construction, mining, inspection and surveying. Simple by design, DroneDeploy enables professional-grade imagery and analysis, 3D modeling and more from any drone on any device.

Your software can both fly the drone and turn drone images into data maps that you can then analyse (e.g. % of construction progress)?

That’s right! DroneDeploy takes geo-tagged imagery from any drone and uses a process called photogrammetry to process that imagery into high-resolution maps and 3D models. It’s simple to use – just upload your imagery to DroneDeploy’s cloud-based Map Engine, and then we send an email when the map is complete. From there, you can explore your map on any device, export data, share maps in real time, make annotations and perform other analysis.

DroneDeploy - Elevation map example

If you have a DJI drone, DroneDeploy can also fly the drone for you. Our mobile apps for iOS and Android automate launch, flight, image capture and landing for DJI drones – all you have to do is select the area you want to map and tap a button to launch the drone.

What are the range of data inputs/analytics you can apply to a construction site (size, volume, etc.)?

DroneDeploy provides standard tools to measure distance, area and volume that are part of the core offering, as well as specialised tools available in our App Market that can be installed in your account. Some of these specialised tools include integrations to Autodesk and Box, the ability to generate a reports of all map measurements, as well as 3D printing of drone models.

What are the most advanced or interesting ways you are seeing construction companies use drones?

There are many interesting use cases for the use of drones in construction. One such example is 3D printing – users can download data collected through DroneDeploy to create a 3D model or map, which can then, in turn, be sent to a 3D printer, anywhere in the world and at any time. Another interesting application of our software is virtual reality. Companies like Brasfield & Gorrie have been experimenting with using virtual reality in conjunction with DroneDeploy maps and imagery, to provide immediate virtual representation of a design or construction site to clients and design teams. This allows real-time discovery of potential safety hazards, prediction of installation efficiency, and can decrease the amount of boots on the ground, as these virtual maps can be accessed anywhere in the world with a VR headset.

Tell me about the App Market? What was the thinking behind it, and why does it work for clients/developers?

DroneDeploy has the largest data set in the industry. Currently, our users have mapped more than 8 million acres in 135 countries across so many different industries. By opening up our platform and creating the App Market, we’re extending the possibility of what you can do with drones. End users will now have access to more solutions directed at their specific industries and use cases. On the developer’s side, creating specific, niche apps is time consuming and requires a lot of work before it can prove value.

With the DroneDeploy App Market, developers can build on the DroneDeploy platform, eliminating much of the time needed to develop just that layer, and it allows users to install the app within the DroneDeploy interface, so they don’t have to worry about toggling between apps to gather their specific data or maps. It also gives developers access to tens of thousands of our users who are already using drones – an audience that they might not have access to otherwise.

Was construction always a target market? If not, how did it come about?

DroneDeploy focuses on solving key problems around commercial uses of drones for mapping – rather than focusing solely on a particular market. That’s part of why we launched the App Market – so that we can continue to strengthen our core offering while also enabling our users to access best-in-class industry-specific tools from our partners. That said, over the last year, construction has grown to become one of the most dominant industries when it comes to drone adoption and it’s become more of a focus for us.

A number of factors have helped drive the growth in adoption among construction companies. The release of Part 107 in the U.S. this August, making it easier for companies to operate drones in a compliant way. The last year has also seen improvements in hardware and software.  Not only is drone flight now safer and more reliable, but improvements in software have made it much easier for construction companies to use drones to generate accurate 3D point clouds, contour maps and other outputs that are useful for construction.

Have you looked at construction safety?

Safety is definitely a top priority for our construction users. Drones allow us to get a bird’s eye view of whatever it is we hope to map. Having this perspective can also help inspectors identify potential safety concerns that might not be able to be seen from the ground. Drones can also provide a safer alternative for certain types of data collection. Falls are the leading cause of death on construction sites. Thanks to drone imagery, there is now less of a need to send humans high up on ladders or into potentially dangerous areas just to perform visual inspection.

Could you do indoor construction (eg. floor-by-floor to measure progress)?

Today, drones are not generally used monitoring indoor construction – in part because indoor structures tend to interfere with the GPS data connection and it can be challenging to avoid indoor obstacles. Another factor to consider is that drones don’t necessarily provide as much of a benefit over traditional methods. If the ceiling is only 9 feet high, how much more will a drone be able to show you when compared to a human walking around with a camera or lidar? However, as sense-and-avoid capabilities improve on newer drone models we could potentially see more use cases for monitoring indoor construction.

What are your plans for expansion/new products?

The long-term success of the commercial drone industry requires greater cooperation, including software standards that are scalable for the enterprise. We are building capabilities today to empower tomorrow’s full-scale drone operations by partnering with other companies on building holistic drone solutions for business applications.

Defect Inspection Technology

Snagr Interview: Defect Inspection Technology comes of age

Project management and construction relies heavily on processes and reporting to monitor progress and keep a wide range of stakeholders up to date. A number of technology platforms have advanced this space, although you are still likely to find excel at the heart of most site office reporting. Snagr is one of the most advanced, and client focused, defect inspection solutions available so we caught up with Managing Director, Mark Henderson, to understand more:

As a family business, there must be an interesting story behind Snagr?

The original idea came from my father Graham over dinner with an architect friend. They discussed the idea of plotting issues on plans. Devices in those days were either PDAs which proved to be cumbersome, slow and limited or windows ‘laptops without a lid’. Even the smaller, expensive ones that had a rear facing camera had no proper protection and needed a stylus. These devices got us started but we could not have progressed without the advent of the iPhone/iPad.

Did you or your father have a background in construction? If so, has the technology side been completely new to you?

Dad worked as a labourer in school and university holidays in the 70’s and loved construction. He also worked as a chippy, steel erector and roofer. He then studied architecture at the University of Liverpool but re-trained into computing 30 years ago. It all came full circle with the advent of SnagR. Graham’s extensive construction experience and my programming and UX Design background allowed us to create a compelling product without requiring outside investment. We were joined by Elizabeth (Mum) as head of Sales and my two brothers Nick as a software developer and James (with a PHD in Construction Management) heading the support team in Europe. Nick recently moved to Dubai to open our office there.

Was it originally born as a defect management system or something else?

Yes, the original version was purely for Defect Management. Capture on a mobile device, synchronise, publish and sign-off. We have always tried to engage with our clients and understand their needs. I must admit probably every great idea and function came from a feedback session with a client: ‘Can I do ‘x’ with the system?’ would be followed with ‘Hmm no not the way you want to do it, but it’s a bloody good idea, leave it with us!’. By being a tight-knit team of family programmers we were able to develop the technology quickly and release often. The system is now configurable for any data collection task which requires mobile devices. I think a better way to describe SnagR is Mobile Data Collection with Inspections and Issue management.

What are your plans for commissioning and safety?

We realised a few years ago that SnagR was perfect to be used by safety teams even in the same project it was being used for quality assurance. The data that needs to be captured is largely the same: take photo, assign to a team, categorise and track sign-off through a workflow. This year our clients have been winning awards for safety using SnagR including 6 awards from the Macau government and one from the Hong Kong government. We will be expanding the functionality of the core product to better suit safety team workflows and communication requirements, and are also now being used to record injuries and near-misses. The ability to report across projects globally is something unique to SnagR and allows our larger clients to profile where safety improvements can be made as part of company culture and policy efficiently.

Commissioning, Progress Reporting and Site Diaries are a personal passion of Dad’s. SnagR can be used for testing and commissioning in many different ways through checklists, inspections and progress reporting. We think that commissioning can be improved and made more efficient with better technology. Progress Reporting and Site Diaries are also something we want to make easier to capture, more accurate and useful.

It looks like you have expanded from the UK to Hong Kong and beyond… what has the overseas expansion been like (in terms of challenges, different cultures, clients etc)?

Expanding from the UK to HK and Dubai has been an exciting journey. Originally, we would go on overseas trade missions with the UKTI (UK Trade & Investment). We would go to Singapore, HK, Canada, Qatar, Dubai, Canada and South Africa. Our first major project in Hong Kong was the Tamar building and Peninsula Hotel refurbishment. As we had never taken outside investment we grew organically. The money from these projects was invested in supporting the projects with regular visits and the opportunity to try to develop the markets further. It was because we had many more projects in Hong Kong at the time that we ended up opening our first Asia office there and not Singapore.

We now have projects throughout Asia, with partners in Malaysia, Australia and Indonesia. As the Technical Director, when I moved to Hong Kong the software development came with me. Now all software development is done from Hong Kong. Expanding outside of the UK has helped us better understand the worldwide construction market. The software is now available in 8 languages with more being added. Projects in Hong Kong or with international clients use SnagR in a dual-language mode so that local sub-contractors and the client can all understand the data without the ongoing need for translation. At the beginning of 2016 we opened an office in Dubai – there are still a huge amount of large construction projects going on in the region so that office has grown rapidly.

Who are your key competitors?

There are other defect management solutions available in the market but nothing that really matches SnagR’s approach. We have over 3,000 active projects around the world and SnagR is designed to be a company wide solution helping larger clients and projects standardise their approach and look across their entire business for learning outcomes and improvements.

What is your business model?

SnagR is sold either per project or as an annual enterprise license. SnagR differs from most SAAS (software as a service) products in that we do not charge per user, instead we charge per project based on the construction value of the project. This means that users, data, drawings etc, everything is unlimited so that the sub-contractors, consultants and client users can all be issued with as many user accounts as required. We believe strongly that collaboration software like ours needs to be accessible to all stakeholders. The pricing structure is designed so that SnagR is used on all projects by default regardless of their size so that our clients can compare the performance and data collected across their whole business.

Typically, are new clients moving from completely paper based processes to cloud based, or are they already working with technologies then trying your product?

It depends, it’s not so much paper based processes we see anymore but normally something excel based. Lots of our larger clients have attempted to create defect management solutions in the past. The main problem with this approach is that mobile technology moves so fast that continual investment is required in order to keep up and support all the new device types and operating systems. SnagR does nothing else but invest and continually improve our product offering. New technological advances and changes in the industry, as well as new ideas that people have suggested elsewhere in the world are quickly added to the system and available to all of our clients.

The software industry is moving away from a swiss army knife approach towards apps that are specialised: the right tool for the right job that can talk to each other and can be integrated together to share data. On your phone you probably have a different app per social network, one for taking photos and other for ‘To Do’ lists and a Calendar app. We see this continuing so we work hard to keep SnagR being the best at mobile data collection, indexing data visually, analysing and reporting that data but also allowing clients to integrate with their other enterprise systems.

What are the biggest benefits your clients report – cost savings, time saving, improved quality?

I think the biggest benefits are speed, transparency, communication, standardisation and with that comes improved quality. There is a huge amount of reporting required in construction between all of the different stakeholders. Progress reporting back to the client, reporting issues to the sub-contractors etc. Site staff have to spend significant amounts of the week in the site office in front of a laptop compiling reports, trying to remember which photo was for what thing. SnagR removes all of that administration for issue management, safety, progress reporting, check-lists, inspections, handover, testing and commissioning plans, site diaries and much more. By the time you walk off-site and synchronise your data (the system works offline), the reporting and communication is automatic and you can analyse your data in real-time.

This saves time and money and more importantly improves safety and quality as your key people are able to spend more time out on-site solving problems instead of being behind a laptop compiling reports. A quantifiable example is our client Dragages working on the City of Dreams project in Macau. The 4 person safety team estimated they were spending around 18 hours collectively per week compiling reports of weekly statistics and safety findings. SnagR was able to completely eliminate the reporting requirement. We were able to recreate their standard report format so that the weekly report is automatically produced, available instantly but can also be created for any time period of the project duration. This same approach has now been rolled out for all Dragages projects in Hong Kong and Macau. This helped the team meet their KPI of spending 80% of their time out on-site as they now can concentrate on improving safety by quickly recording safety findings with photos using their mobile devices and signing these off through the system.

What do you think is the future of construction quality and safety in terms of new technology – ie. virtual reality, drones, IoT (Internet of Things)?

I think quality and safety will become more important in the future. More developed countries already take safety extremely seriously as the strengthening of health and safety laws, fines and the bad press that come with it have had a positive effect. In Asia, specifically some countries are still developing a ‘safety culture’. We are seeing international clients with projects in less developed countries demanding safety statistics and accident reporting. They won’t accept corners being cut and this is accelerating safety improvements. SnagR not only allows international safety practises to be imported and implemented more quickly, but also helps our international clients benchmark and feedback learning outcomes across their business more effectively. We see this being a major growth area in the next few years.

I think Virtual Reality can lower the cost of visualising a space which will improve quality and could be used to improve safety training. Drones are useful for remote surveying but are in their infancy in construction. IoT will make construction more complex with even minor components potentially requiring connected embedded sensors. Increased use of pre-fabrication could offset this complexity, but we will see.

Snagr includes a youtube tutorial series.