Forging the Way for Drones in Construction

3DR was at REAL 2016, showing its snazzy, all-black drone quadcopters, capable of flying over a build site and recording down to the detail of a pebble.

What does this mean for construction? 3D Robotics (3DR) and Autodesk have announced that 3DR’s drones will be working with Autodesk’s Forge platform and the ReCap application for a new type of site inspection. The system, which will be directed toward construction, telecom companies, survey, mapping, energy and infrastructure industries promises to carry point cloud data directly to the cloud for speedier inspection.

Here’s a look at how it works:

“Capturing site data today is costly, time-consuming and often dangerous. Drones can easily go where it’s inefficient or unsafe for field personnel, making it easier to accurately measure our world so we can better manage it,” said Chris Anderson, CEO of 3DR.

The Forge platform consists of a variety of content for Autodesk, including cloud services, application program interfaces (APIs), and software development kits that will allow developers to create highly personalized experiences. As you’d expect, 3D Robotics is an early adopter of the platform and has leveraged Autodesk’s ReCap Photo Web API to put together a software application that can be used with their drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

The underlying goal is to improve the processes that are used when building things; through modern technology such as big data, cloud storage systems and, of course, drones.

What Can 3DR’s Drones and Software Do?

Nicolas Bonnafoux of 3DR showing his company’s latest offering at REAL 2016.

At REAL 2016, Nicolas Bonnafoux of 3DR, who happens to be licensed pilot, was showing the latest collection of 3DR drones, one with a GoPro, and two others with still cameras. One doesn’t need to be a licensed pilot to fly the 3DR UAVs, however, because The Solo is a smart drone that can control both copter and camera positioning while in flight. A user can simply point out the center of the scene they want to capture on a tablet and the UAV will automatically generate its flight path.

New laws in the U.S. do require that anyone flying a UAV for commercial purposes be certified, however. This seems to be a small price to pay for having a complete, color 3D model of a build site be generated for you.

The 3DR drone and software application are meant to work in tandem to carry out inspections, surveys and scans of a worksite.

Since drones can be maneuvered remotely—and they are equipped with hardware such as cameras, sensors and more—this eliminates the need for personnel to physically scour a site. This also lowers the risk of injury to personnel, and allows them to capture and assess parts of the site that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to. For example, a drone can hover around the outside of a support beam and capture photos from several different angles. Or, in the case of telecom tower inspections, a drone can be used to assess the entire structure from top to bottom, safely.

The drone can take multiple photographs and then transfer them to a web application that runs in the cloud. This can then generate a 3D point cloud, 2D orthographic views and 3D mesh models. The web application processes the collected information. That information can be fed into other Autodesk applications, such as Revit or Civil 3D, furthering analysis and planning.

The implications for a tool such as this are tremendous. A project manager or inspector could check out an entire worksite without ever stepping foot on the property. Not to mention the collected data that can be utilized to support use cases such as site monitoring, stockpile measurements, assessing the as-built context of a site and even mapping or surveys.

This comes at just the right time too, as Autodesk’s cloud-based subscription products are beginning to roll out. BIM 360 Docs, for instance, is designed to be an online repository of important documents related to a project. Through the platform, team members will always have access to up-to-date and bleeding-edge versions of documents. Imagine if those documents were expanded to include detailed models and 3D point cloud mock-ups?

Alternate Reality Capture Tools

Of course, 3DR isn’t the only company offering a reality capture and 3D mapping tool. Bentley Systems recently announced a partnership with Leica Geosystems that will see drones outfitted with Leica’s RCD30 Oblique camera.

The drones will also make use of Acute3D’s ContextCapture software to conduct 3D urban mapping projects. They will be capable of producing high-definition 3D models, out of nothing more than photographs that were taken during a scan. Furthermore, they will be able to do all of this without human intervention; they will be automated.

Just to reiterate, these drones will be able to scan an environment or site and build a full 3D model using captured photographs, and this will all be done through an automated system without human input. While The Solo will cost you $5,000 (including a Sony tablet), the same UAV with a GoPro camera and no tablet will cost about $3,200. When budgeting for 3D mapping technology, the small initial investment will save you in the long run with reduced labor costs and improved mapping.

About the Author


Megan Wild is a construction expert who writes about the latest trends in the industry and building news around the world. She also writes on her own home improvement blog, Your Wild Home.