DRONE DIARY: New perspectives in New England

DRONE DIARY: New perspectives in New England


by JASON PETERS, Virtual Construction Manager, PC Construction

This article combines two entries from PC Construction's company blog

On October 30, we were pleased to have Ian Ray and Jon Budreski of AirShark visit PC Construction’s Vermont office with two prototype drones. AirShark is a startup company in Burlington VT that is in the early stages of developing a series of drones for use on construction and industrial sites.

Two drone examples were brought in for us to examine. The first was a Heavy Lift drone designed to carry large, specialized cameras and sensor equipment. It weighs 8-10 lbs, but has a limited flight time of about 10 minutes. The second was an Endurance drone. Weighing in at a lighter, 4-5 lbs, this drone can stay in the air 15-30 minutes and can easily carry lighter cameras such as the GoPro or other smaller weight sensors.

FPV monitor displays a live feed through the eyes of the drone’s onboard camera.

FPV monitor displays a live feed through the eyes of the drone’s onboard camera.

Just like in construction, safety is a big concern with drone use. AirShark discussed issues such as the proximity of airports, maximum flight elevations, routine maintenance, redundant design and manual overrides if autonomous flight is being used. For example, if the drone loses contact with the pilot, either by malfunction or exceeding the transmitter’s maximum distance, the drone will automatically turn around, return to its takeoff zone and land safely.

The reason for using a drone on a construction site is to get some type of sensor to a position that would otherwise be difficult or expensive to reach. The most basic type of sensor is video or still photography. Photography can be utilized for a range of services including high-level aerial photography, or documenting difficult-to-reach construction details up close for inspection later on the ground. Other possibilities include thermal imaging for energy analysis, or LIDAR, and photogrammetry for the creation of 3D models and point clouds of terrain or structures.

Other Possibilities
The sky is the limit (pun intended!) with drones. I see this field expanding rapidly in the coming years, if not months. Imagine using drones to move hand tools or replacement saw blades to someone working in a difficult to reach location.  And with other sensors growing smaller and less expensive (think of all the sensors in your typical iPad), many new uses will begin to emerge.

Waterbury State Office Complex
On Tuesday, December 16, we met up again with Ian and Jon from AirShark, this time at PC Construction’s jobsite at the Waterbury State Office Complex project in Waterbury VT. There, we were able to observe as AirShark flew several “missions” around the site with its two drones.

The weather was cold and overcast, but the winds were just calm enough to fly safely. One drone was flown to an elevation of about 200 ft and then moved south to the far end of the project. From this vantage point, it was able to take great photographs of the entire project that would otherwise have to be taken with a traditional aircraft. The final flight was lower and closer to the new office building under construction, which showed a very different perspective of the project. These shots show a high level of detail and would be impossible from a standard aircraft.

They also demonstrated features of the equipment and software that communicates with the drones during flight. For example, they utilize software run from a laptop that reports the drone’s location on a map, as well as vital live data about the flight systems, like battery power and flight time. They also explained the use of the FPV (First Person View) monitor, a small video display mounted on the remote transmitter that shows a live feed of what the drone sees though its onboard camera.

We are excited to continue our relationship with AirShark while exploring how drones can benefit the construction process. During my next blog on this topic, we’ll explore the potential of photogrammetry by creating a 3D model directly from photographs taken by the drone.

DRONE'S EYE VIEW: Waterbury (VT) State Office Complex construction site in December.

DRONE'S EYE VIEW: Waterbury (VT) State Office Complex construction site in December.

A civil engineer certified in Revit and AutoCAD, the author is virtual construction manager for PC Construction Company in Burlington VT.  

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