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.
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.