The announcement of a technology partnership between Doosan Mobility Innovation (DMI) and automated analytics provider AI Clearing broadens the horizon for aerial drone capabilities. Doosan’s hydrogen-powered drones are capable of staying airborne for up to two hours, a dramatic increase over devices powered by lithium batteries. Coupled with their ability to carry more data sensing hardware, longer flight times will reduce the need for multiple flights, thereby increasing efficiency.
“Companies that have come to realize business value derived through data gathered by drones are increasingly demanding longer flight times,” says Doo Soon Lee, DMI’s CEO.
From a data standpoint, Taco Engelaar, AI Clearing’s chief commercial officer, says their proprietary software when installed in the drones makes near real-time insights possible, rather than transmitting data to a ground base for processing.
It sounds very exciting. However, it again brings the question builders and designers must ask themselves: “What is the best option for my aerial visualization needs — in-house, third party, or a combination of the two?”
According to DroneDeploy, an international provider of aerial drone services and data platforms, there are critical questions that companies need to address first: “Why are drones needed? What problems need solving? What’s wrong with current processes?”
Aerial visualization using drones has moved well beyond the basic image capturing that initially drew the attention of the construction industry a few years ago. Sensors, software and data collection have become more sophisticated, as the Doosan/AI Clearing announcement makes clear.
Drone imagery can play important roles during the four critical stages of a project: Proposal research, site planning, preliminary design assessment, and project monitoring and communication. In fact, many industry observers remark it’s hard to win a contract bid or meet today’s start-to-finish client expectations without some sort of drone capability.
As geo-spacial services company Nearmap explains, the longer the project, the more important the role performed by drones.
“Aerial imagery can’t replace survey-grade measurements and inspections, (but) it can serve as an easily assessable and regularly updated complement and help monitor change over the course of multiyear infrastructure projects.”
Of the three choices, is an in-house drone program really feasible for companies beyond those with the largest resources?
Perhaps. For smaller companies needing only aerial images to keep clients up-to-date on project progress or to conduct cursory site inspections, the case for an in-house service is compelling. Flights and analysis can be undertaken quickly and as needed. Consistent image quality can be assured. Of course, even if the capital cost of sophisticated and expensive equipment is acceptable to management, companies must consider pilot training, licensing and insurance.
Yet drones have the capability to do much more than deliver attractive visuals for clients. They can provide massive amounts of data that can measurably improve many aspects of company and project operations. In-house IT support on the ground is needed to make proper use of the massive data that will be collected. This requires even more company resources and time to set up.
That’s why making a call to a third-party drone provider and ordering exactly the level of data surveillance needed has strong attraction. There’s no need to be concerned about flight permissions or the level of sensor sophistication required for the task, the third party will have that in hand.
The downside is the potential loss of direct control, the time delay between the request call and receiving the required data and the consistency of image quality. Some of these issues can be overcome through discussion with drone providers available in the geographical area.
The best answer may be a blend of in-house and third-party services.
For example, easily repeatable imaging requirements within a series of well-defined locations might be effectively managed with properly trained company staff and company-owned equipment. When the data requirements become more complex and need intense analysis, partnering with a third party that can provide the necessary sensors and data processing platforms would be a good solution.
John Bleasby is a Coldwater, Ont.-based freelance writer. Send comments and Inside Innovation column ideas to [email protected]