Innovative Vehicles, payloads, and sensors are redefining inspection, assessment and project monitoring.
by Brittany Kühn, Technology Reporter
As seen in the August/September issue of Inside Unmanned Systems
Inside Unmanned Systems recently featured a special issue on drones and data on the construction jobsite, an industry where Microdrones is making a big impact. The full article is available here and you can read how Microdrones is making contributions to the construction sector below.
Unmanned autonomous aerial vehicles and mobile robotics platforms equipped with payload sensors and cameras are a valuable—even necessary—tool for the construction business. Compared to traditional manned data acquisition methods, these intelligent machines enable construction companies to regularly monitor project progress and inventory, offering clients a real-time “big picture” snapshot via convenient mobile devices so they can make informed strategic decisions.
In that context, the term “a picture is worth a thousand words” has never been truer. Drones equipped with flight planning software capture aerial data with unparalleled accuracy through an array of sensors such as GPS, high resolution RGB and multispectral cameras, radar, lasers, photogrammetry and LiDAR options. One drone flight alone can produce thousands of measurements and critical outputs such as point clouds, geo-referenced orthomosaics, CAD, BIM, digital elevation and 3D models. Similarly, ground-based robots are roaming jobsites leveraging machine learning, AI and enhanced sensors to track progress and inform decision-making.
“Right now, it’s all about the construction industry’s hunger for data collection,” said Brian Ringley, construction technology manager at Waltham, Massachusetts-based engineering and robotics design company Boston Dynamics. “Companies are trying to create efficiencies on the jobsite as they deal with challenges such as skills gaps and cost overruns by going over schedule. All those things benefit from more comprehensive data collection on site.”
“We want to make sure we’re producing the best data and best quality results in terms of resolution and accuracy. When it comes to our construction customers’ mapping needs, they don’t care about the drone; they want the right tool to get the data they want and the end product they need.”Microdrones President Vivien Heriard-Dubreuil
A DATA-DRIVEN APPROACH
One leading company that recognizes the importance of data collection is Microdrones, which is widely known for a range of high-quality hardware and software solutions for complex surveying, mapping and construction applications.
Microdrones offers a robust end-to-end solution that allow customers to select the right drone, equip it with a LiDAR or photogrammetry payload that meets specific application needs, and navigate the stages of mission planning and post-processing.
“Our unique approach lies in our ability to master every point, from mission planning to the collection of quality data,” said Microdrones President Vivien Heriard-Dubreuil.
The company’s fully integrated workflow helps customers quickly and reliably generate point cloud visualizations in the field through an array of mdMapper models made for surveying missions on open sites and mdLiDAR platforms that can penetrate tree canopies in densely forested areas. Yet, at the end of the day, Heriard-Dubreuil said this process is not just about the platform at all—it’s about the data.
“We want to make sure we’re producing the best data and best quality results in terms of resolution and accuracy,” he said. “When it comes to our construction customers’ mapping needs, they don’t care about the drone; they want the right tool to get the data they want and the end product they need.”
In May 2020, the company decided to make its solutions accessible to a broader base of those customers with the launch of Microdrones as a Service (mdaaS). Bundling competitive pricing and conveniently tailored options allows customers to select plans according to their needs.
For Microdrones COO Frank Darmayan, an evolving business model and investing in innovation while enabling streamlined workflows and far richer layers of data constitutes the way of the future.
“I strongly believe we’ve just scratched the surface,” Darmayan said. “As good as we know our hardware is today, it’s nowhere close to what it will be in a year, two years or three years. We continue to gain more intelligence that allows our customers to make better and better decisions.”
According to Jillian Kreider, TLS sales specialist at RIEGL USA (globally headquartered in Horn, Austria), the construction industry has been slower to adapt to new technologies than other industries—but that’s rapidly changing.
“Construction companies are starting to become more openminded to the use of LiDAR technology, not just terrestrial but unmanned,” she said. “Drones are a hot commodity right now and having that kind of LiDAR with the survey-grade accuracy we have makes us a great contender in the market to produce some amazing results for people.”
Stephen Maciong, who’s on the ULS Technical Sales and Integration team at RIEGL USA, agreed: “As commercial UAVs have evolved and become more cost-effective, RIEGL USA has evolved with it. We see this evolution happening in the construction industry, which is now looking to utilize a UAV platform like this to save time and money. A UAV LiDAR solution will capture data for these construction companies in a fraction of the time.”
To do that, RIEGL uses the RiCOPTER, a high-performance unmanned multi-rotor aircraft built for construction site and corridor mapping that can be equipped with payloads such as LiDAR sensors and photogrammetric, thermal-infrared and hyper-spectral cameras. According to Maciong, RIEGL’s VUX-1UAV and the miniVUX series sensors are unmanned LiDAR data capture solutions for construction applications.
“What we’re able to derive from the point clouds that we’re generating are reflectance values off objects, and when it comes to construction, it’s the accuracy and precision,” he said.
While Maciong notes that photogrammetry is considered a cost-effective solution, a RIEGL LiDAR software has a higher data-capture to data-processing ratio, saving customers time and money. LiDAR sensors, he said, are also active and don’t require ambient light to capture data points; they’re able to penetrate vegetation whereas photogrammetry cannot.
“LiDAR is able to give extremely tight accuracy and precision. When it comes to construction it’s a matter of absolute safety and certainty, so you need to be able to rely on that accuracy,” Krieder agreed. “We’re just touching the tip of the iceberg in terms of using LiDAR in construction sites. We’re finding more uses for the data, and our customers are finding new ways of utilizing it. I think there are many possibilities ahead of us.”
If you'd like to learn how to incorporate drone LiDAR or photogrammetry into your construction workflow, CLICK HERE to speak with a representative from Microdrones.