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How Drones and Data are Improving Project Outcomes in Construction and Energy

For construction companies, visibility into status and activities is critical to project execution. One innovative company, Uplift Data Partners, is taking that fundamental concept to new (ahem) heights, helping construction and industrial organizations get a new level of visibility into their projects by enabling the capture and analysis of drone data to improve outcomes. Uplift will take part in a panel discussion on drone technology at Oracle Industry Connect in April. To preview that discussion, I recently sat down with Chief Operating Officer Andrew Dennison to explore how drones are being used to deliver actionable information (and savings) in construction and engineering.

Burcin: What is Uplift Data Partners’ role in the commercial drone space?

Andrew: Uplift is a drone data collection platform. Any company that wants to use drone data can plug into Uplift, and we’ll collect their drone data throughout the country. We began by flying construction sites, and are currently the leading AEC drone data capture company. We’ve used our expertise to serve real estate and insurance clients as well. 

Burcin: What are some of the key uses of drones in construction and industrial settings?

Andrew: Currently, the number one use case in construction is job site media updates – photos and videos showing progress on construction projects. And what’s coming next is using the point cloud –which is essentially a virtual 3D model of whatever the drone flew over – collected on construction sites to dive a lot deeper and gain some really interesting insight into project progress beyond just the video. Some of the first things that are coming out of these point clouds are relatively simple surveying-type measurements, such as cut and fills and volumes.  Another really interesting use case is what we call “overlay,” where you take the design of your foundation and you overlay it with the drone imagery to ensure that everything is lined up properly and check your underground utilities, concrete pours and the like. In the future, as the drone data gets more accurate and the software for processing this data gets more intelligent, we think that these three-dimensional models that you can collect can be compared to the building design, so then you can do some really interesting automated clash detection. The long-term goal for data processors in construction is a status bar that you can share that really shows the status of construction with regard to the schedule – and this should be entirely automated using only drone data. Again, we’re definitely seeing more interest from construction firms, including leading companies like Clayco, and expect that sector’s interest to grow.  

In energy, the general use case is new inspection capabilities – particularly for utilities, which are doing regular inspections of their distribution, their substations, and their transmission lines throughout the year. Using a drone, you can inspect more towers per day. It’s much easier and faster to inspect using thermal cameras. And also it’s much safer.

Burcin: Can you share some of the demonstrable benefits of drone use in construction today?

Andrew: Let me share a couple of real-world examples studies showing how we’ve saved projects money. The first one – and one that we see quite often – involves a dispute between the surveyor, the soil engineer, the general contractor, and sometimes even the haul-off contractor about how much dirt is being hauled off and how much is getting charged. So weekly measurements using  drones can help provide an objective record and get everyone on the same page about how much earth is actually being moved. In one case we worked on, the drone data indicated that the haul-off contractor on a project was almost double charging, and that determination resulted in a savings of around $50,000. Another significant example involves using overlays. When reviewing an overlay the site design against the actual imagery of the site, we have been able to detect several elements that were misaligned, including concrete footings and underground utilities. If those mistakes hadn’t been detected by the drone, it could have been weeks or months before they were detected by someone out in the field. And every day an issue goes undetected, the change orders get bigger and bigger to fix the problem. In one example, we found a cold storage pipe that was connected to the wrong coupling – a discovery that the project team estimated saved more than $200,000, as they likely would not have found the issue for a few weeks.

Andrew will join panelists from DPR Construction, ComEd, and drone company H3 Dynamics to explore these issues further during the Construction and Engineering Program at Oracle Industry Connect 2018, to be held April 10-11 in New York City. Visit the Oracle Industry Connect site to learn more and register to attend.   

Read insights from the Oracle Industry Connect 2018 report here.

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