This feature is part of a series that takes an in-depth look at drones in construction. To view other posts in the series, check out the spotlight page.
In June 2016, the Federal Aviation Administration released Part 107 of its rules for commercial drone operators, largely opening the skies above construction job sites for the use of drones for imagery, data collection, structural inspections and more.
Pre-established and start-up drone companies have since charged into the construction industry to offer a wide range of hardware, software, analytics and end-to-end drone-as-a-service (DaaS) solutions to contractors, architects, engineers and property asset managers.
Here’s a look at a selection of drone companies to watch as the technology evolves to meet the unique needs of the AEC sector:
Berkeley, CA–based 3D Robotics provides drone software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions to the construction industry, including the Site Scan reality capture and quality assurance system providing 3-D topographic maps and analytics to contractors and engineers, as well as volumetric calculations for earth-work and aggregate movement. Co-founded by former Wired magazine editor-in-chief Chris Anderson, the company has received more than $126 million in venture funding from investors including the $100 million Autodesk Forge Fund.
San Francisco–based Airware provides drone analytics, concentrating primarily on aerial inspections and claims management for insurance providers. In September 2016, the company acquired Redbird to gain greater construction market share and to enter the mining vertical. In February, the company announced that Caterpillar had made a significant investment and would offer Airware drone SaaS solutions through its dealer network. Total investment in the company stands at $90 million, according to TechCrunch.
Shenzhen, China–based DJI is the global market leader in drone hardware, including gimbals, cameras, propulsion systems, flight controllers and fully integrated UAV systems. Founded in 2006, the company’s Phantom line of quadcopter UAVs has helped generate its U.S. commercial drone market share, which has been estimated as high as 42.9%. In January 2017, the company acquired Hasselblad, a Sweden–based medium-format camera technology firm. DJI has $105 million in total equity funding, according to Crunchbase.
The Uber of DaaS providers, Santa Monica, CA–based DroneBase connects UAV pilots with businesses who pay for a 10-minute flight and related flight data assets. The networks connects idle pilots with construction companies and major property owners including Hilton and CBRE. The company secured a $3 million Series A investment from investors including DJI. As part of its user agreement, DroneBase requires its pilots to fly DJI drones exclusively, according to TechCrunch.
Corvallis, OR–based Drone Complier, as its name would suggest, provides drone compliance software to track drone units, equipment, pilots and UAV maintenance with integrated job scheduling calendars and a detailed flight logger. Founded in New South Wales, Australia, the company also provides airmaps with up-to-date information on restricted airspace, airfield locations and airport manager contact details not featured in the FAA’s B4U fly mobile app.
San Francisco–based DroneDeploy is a provider of cloud-based drone mapping and analytics to the agriculture, construction, mining and real estate sectors. In August 2016, the company secured a $20 million Series B investment round, bringing total investments in the company to $31 million across four rounds, according to Crunchbase. The company offers a variety of drone technology services including orthomosaics, terrain and 3-D modeling and point cloud output.
Based in Carouge, Switzerland, DroneLogbook provides a mostly pilot-centric suite of flight and compliance management software tools including flight logging, incident and legal reporting, battery performance and charging status, mission planning and equipment and maintenance logging. DroneLogbook also offers flight-mapping with an airspace safety check and the ability to create FAA compliance documents on demand.
According to TechCrunch, Austin, TX–based Hangar secured $6.5 million in seed funding in October 2016 to launch a DaaS platform, providing hardware, pilots, data collection and analytics to construction companies seeking to outsource their UAV play. Still in start-up mode, the company is accepting applications to participate in a beta-launch to test its autonomous flight technology and proprietary analytics engine.
Pittsburgh–based Identified Technologies offers end-to-end DaaS solutions to the construction and excavation, energy and gas, mining, engineering and surveying industries. The company’s system features automatic flight planning, volumetric calculations and analytics, and 3-D and orthomosaic mapping. In March 2017, the company introduced Truck IQ, and Internet of Things–enabled integration with fleet-telematics sensors to improve the optimization of materials in earth-moving applications.
Global semiconductor manufacturer Intel jumped into the UAV hardware game in October 2016 with the introduction of the Falcon 8+ heavy-duty drone designed for the rigor of industrial environments. The 6-pound flyer features an anti-collision camera and can reach speeds of 35 mph while offering site mapping, surveying and structural inspections, with an airframe largely developed by Ascending Technologies, which Intel acquired in January 2016.
Menlo Park, CA–based Kespry offers a complete UAV system — hardware, software and cloud storage — for high-resolution aerial images, topographic maps, 2-D and 3-D models, and volumetric data for the construction industry. The company has recently focused on the development of smaller, lighter, longer-flying micro drones that can capture 150 acres of aerial imagery at 400 feet, as well as volumetric analytics for product stockpiles. Total investment is $28.4 million, according to Crunchbase.
Measure, based in Washington, DC, offers DaaS solutions to the oil and gas, agriculture and insurance industries. The company secured $15 million in funding from Cognizant Ventures in January 2017 to target new customers — which could include those in the construction industry — by offering enhanced data services, according to Measure CEO and co-founder Brandon Torres Declet.
Pasadena, CA–based NVdrones offers drone analytics and flight reporting, as well as integration with AirMap for airspace and weather conditions. Comprehensive post-flight reports include equipment information, telemetry overlays, airspace classification through AirMap, weather data and battery status.
PrecisionHawk, based in Raleigh, NC, provides orthomosaic 3-D modeling and volumetric measurements software for UAV platforms, including the company’s precision construction option package for DJI micro drones. Investors including Intel, Verizon and Yamaha have pushed total equity funding to $29 million, which the company has used, in part, to create an online library of algorithms for users to access analytics tools.
San Carlos, CA–based Prenav is exploring autonomous flight and precision navigation solutions for UAVs, focusing on global industry verticals including construction, agriculture, insurance and entertainment. The company has secured $9.75 million in total equity funding, according to Crunchbase.
Pix4D is a Lausanne, Switzerland–based provider of photogrammetry software for translating drone imagery into point clouds, terrain models, orthomosaics and textured models. The company’s construction unit focuses on integration with BIM and features a flight-planning app and software for volumetric earth-work calculations and digital surface models. Inspection services include thermal imaging and other structural analysis and imagery tools.
Drone software developer Skyward, based in Portland, OR, brings equipment and systems in drone projects into a singular workflow. The company's software focuses on producing interactive airspace maps, planning project operations and receiving and synthesizing flight log data, while also allowing firms to access insurance and licensing documentation. Acquired by Verizon Wireless in February, Skyward has $8.15 million in total equity funding, according to Crunchbase.
Sunnyvale, CA–based Trimble provides GPS receivers, laser range finders, UAVs and associated SaaS management tools. Designed for durability in extreme environments (including rain, sand and salt resistance), the company’s line of fixed-wing and quad-copter micro drones features field-processing, flight-control and image-capture technology as well as photogrammetry software for converting data into orthomosaics, surface modeling and point clouds.