The ongoing shift to remote work and high competition for labor have Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) firms of all sizes taking a fresh look at how to digitize operations. They’re streamlining workflows with more efficient equipment and materials management. They’re using virtual tools to effectively collaborate at a distance. And they’re looking to improve safety with automation.

Data collected by drones is helping with all of these things. Here are a few ways the AEC sector is using aerial intel to speed up decisions, automate processes, and reduce costs.

(As always, please note that Skyward does not provide legal advice. For legal and regulatory advice on drones or drone laws, contact an aviation attorney.)

Better real-time progress updates using photogrammetry for 2D & 3D modeling

Construction companies have been enjoying efficiencies from drones for years. But it’s still early days for innovation with drone data. 

It’s now possible to collect aerial photos of a site and use software to automatically stitch them together into a 2D orthomosaic map. Such maps make it possible to speedily calculate measurements like area, elevation and volume. This can be helpful for pre-planning, estimates, and situational awareness.

(A quick note on the terms used here: Surveying is a licensed profession in most areas, but what constitutes a “survey” or “map” can vary widely from one jurisdiction to the next. Check with your local regulators and make sure you’re following all applicable laws.)

Because these 2D drone maps retain high resolution, you can zoom down and see fine details. During construction, such maps make it far more efficient to report on progress, locate trucks and equipment, document compliance, and even assess the volumes of stockpiles.

Exploring a 2D orthomosaic map in Skyward Mapping & Modeling

Drones have also made it easy to perform 3D modeling. Drone photogrammetry merges coordinate data and aerial photos to create 3D mesh models and point clouds of a structure. Never before have AEC firms been able to capture 3D models of structures so quickly and frequently.

Using photogrammetry, builders can make “digital twins” to see actual site conditions and integrate them into their Building Information Modeling (BIM) software. This helps to assure that the work being done reflects the original blueprint, and makes it easy to show progress updates along the way. Compared to traditional methods, it’s a fast process to update these 3D models with new drone data, often in a day or less. That means construction companies can do multiple, cost-effective drone surveys during a project, creating an as-built record of structures.

Given the right tools, these drone-generated 3D models can live in the cloud, so everyone — structural, mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineers, site managers, contractors, designers, clients — can collaborate and view the most recent information from virtually anywhere.

3D Model of Office Building in Skyward

Automating tasks and providing improved insights 

Drones can make project planning, estimates, and progress tracking faster and, in some cases, more accurate. Estimators can quickly collect drone data to assist in calculating Quantity Take-Offs (QTO) to better forecast material needs and construction costs. Skyward customer Thompson Turner Construction uses drones to document topography and existing site conditions for project proposals and for site coordination efficiencies, like placement of materials and trailers.

Drone systems are also excellent at collecting and analyzing volumetric data like stockpile and fill quantities. A drone can automate calculations like how many truckloads of gravel remain to be moved, how much soil has been redistributed, or how much water will be needed to fill an artificial pond.

Again, getting insight from the air means such scoping can be done much faster, more often, and provide clearer insight on the project’s actual status. And monitoring construction progress can be safer, with data collection done at a safe distance and not on a potentially hazardous pile of unstable material.

Stockpile volume measurement in Skyward Mapping & Modeling

Construction’s future: Robotics on the ground and in the air

Expect no slow-down in adoption of new technology adoption by the AEC industry. U.S. construction tech investors pumped more than $2B into contech in 2021, a jump of more than 100% over 2020. Ground-based robotics like autonomous construction vehicles and robotic site surveyors are being tested. Robots that can lay bricks, move heavy objects exactly where they need to go, tie rebar, and do other tasks that are hazardous or difficult for your workforce may not be far off.

Today, drones are helping to make immersive 3D visualizations of future construction a common practice. It’s already possible for stakeholders in multiple locations to put on VR goggles, view an industrial-scale 3D model from the cloud, and mark up the model in real time. New possibilities in the areas of simulation and interactivity are coming, as Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), and Mixed Reality (MR) are increasingly adopted by the AEC sector. And much of this future will be built on drone data.

How can Skyward help construction and engineering companies adopt drones?

Skyward provides flexible solutions to meet the needs of enterprise clients working with drones. Whether you need training to get started with drones for the first time, or you need photogrammetry software to turn your drone data into results, Skyward can help you assess your needs — and equip you with the hardware, software, consulting, and training you want.

In fact, Skyward supports a number of leading AEC firms including Brasfield & Gorrie, Hensel Phelps, JE Dunn, Moss, Thompson Turner, and more. We’ve collaborated extensively with construction companies and helped solve some of the most significant pain points they’ve encountered with drones. We’d love to help your company, too!

For companies that want to quickly get going and leverage drone data, Skyward offers a bundle that includes the hardware and software you need to get started. It includes:

  • A Parrot ANAFI Ai drone, which can connect to Verizon’s 4G LTE cellular network
  • A Skyward software subscription — a single platform to plan missions, fly your drone, and analyze your data
  • Verizon 4G LTE connectivity for your ANAFI Ai — included in your Skyward subscription at no additional cost
  • Program Start training available as an additional option

Want to order yours now? Visit Skyward’s Parrot ANAFI Ai page.

Preview Parrot ANAFI Ai on Skyward