Drones and their real-time data will likely help shift construction sites toward more automation and more efficient, on-time projects. (Ben Torres/Bloomberg News)

As Amar Hanspal, Autodesk senior vice president, sees it, construction sites are orchestras without conductors. It’s difficult to know immediately if the violin solo started at the right time, if the concrete truck is where it needs to be, or if that wall was built in the right place.

Real-time awareness has long been a challenge on construction sites. Time and money are lost to correcting flawed work. One group of workers may arrive only to have to stand around, wasting time, because someone else didn’t complete his or her task.

Autodesk envisions drones empowering the leaders on construction sites with real-time information, leading to projects that are finished faster at a lower cost. The company, which makes software for 3D design and engineering, has invested in drone start-up Skycatch, which sees a huge opportunity in data from construction sites. With automated drones, a contractor could analyze progress on a construction site far quicker than if a human was tracking progress.

“It’s the place that changes the most, even down to an hour,” said Skycatch chief executive Christian Sanz of construction sites. “We’re discovering things that we didn’t even know were problems on the field, that we’re able to solve with data.”

Sanz believes we’re just at the beginning of automation’s arrival at construction sites, and says Skycatch has only built 1 percent of what’s possible. Autodesk’s software provides a way to make use of all the information Skycatch’s drones collect.


Here’s an example of Autodesk’s software identifying buildings in images taken from a drone. (SkyCatch)

“You’ll have machines on the ground that are going to be data aware,” said Sanz, whose drones deliver data within a centimeter of accuracy. “They’re not going to have a pilot seat, they’re going to be autonomous.”

In the construction site of the future, drones would regularly whirl overhead, constantly taking photos. Software in the cloud would compare volumes, to see how much dirt was moved, if a structured was built or if erosion is a problem. Regular reports would be emailed to leaders on site, keeping them abreast of progress.

“Yes the chiller was delivered and installed, yes this work was done. It triggers off inspection. It triggers off payment, all these other steps,” Hanspal imagined.

Sanz expects an especially big impact of drone data in the developing world. His company also does work in mining, but sees construction projects as its biggest opportunity.

Initially the partnership will start small, with linking the two companies software, and bringing it to existing Skycatch projects. But much more appears to lay ahead. After all, why shouldn’t a construction site have closer to the degree of automation and efficiency we see in factories?

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