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Drone surveillance now means the ability to check materials and build maps of construction sites, not just spot thieves

COURTESY: DRONEDEPLOY - Drones and wall-mounted cameras are being used more in construction now, as they can track changes and perform site inspections.

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP - Drones are becoming useful in construction.

Drones and construction? It had to happen.

California winemakers were some of the first civilians to adopt drones for industry, flying cameras with infrared detecting lenses over fields to look for sickly leaves.

Heavy industry is all-in already: Unmanned Aerial Vehicles already scan oil pipelines in the boonies and wave machines out at sea. For example, a company called DroneMapper maps the size of Arch Coal's ever-changing stockpiles and pretty accurately estimates their volume.

Drone applications have exploded in the last year as the hardware has become more powerful and the brains behind the cameras have become more intelligent. Now there are a couple of smaller scale applications that will show up in Portland's construction boom.

The first is DroneDeploy. DroneDeploy claims it can do three things all construction managers would love to have: Site surveys, BIM integration, and mapmaking.

The first of those is to be able to fly around a structure by themselves, adjusting course automatically, making site safety checks and progress monitoring easy and accurate.

At the construction site opposite where i live, they pay a man to walk around the site every half hour. This was easier when they were still building and he had a lot of nooks and crannies to investigate and shelter from the rain in. But now the building envelope is done and people are starting to move in, he's mostly on the outside. In the future, a drone might do this. Maybe he would be kept on to man the drone and track its data? Maybe not. He'll probably be replaced by a teenager who drives from site to site, flying drones for a few minutes, before moving on, all night. (A bit like those gas can teens who drive around bringing gas to people who have run out, or jump starts to those with dead batteries.)

DroneDeploy would actually be checking on how the construction is going, not how many shady characters are trying to get in to the parking garage. And it can do other things.

According to the company, it can provide seamless integration with Building Information Modelling software. This is the software that shows where all the mechanical, electrical and plumbing are in the building, as well as the engineering, a sort of digital blueprint and construction document. (Revit is a common software app used in BIM.) If a drone can tell you a pile of pipes is sitting on the opposite side of where it was supposed to be delivered, that's useful. The crane driver can get to work on that at 7 a.m. sharp.

A huge part of building is coordinating all the different subs and supplies and making sure no one gets killed. So, getting a bird's eye view of the site, every morning, on their tablet at home, can be a great help to a project manager and foreman.

Like most tech company statements in 2017, this uses the terms "machine learning" and "AI" (artificial intelligence). In this case, AI is need to make sense of the thousands of measurements, accurate to within a centimeter, of the comings on of a building site.

COURTESY: DRONEDEPLOY - Drones and wall-mounted cameras are being used mor ein construction now, as they can track changes and perform site inspections.

Don't look now

The other firm is TrueLook, which makes a construction camera that combines live jobsite viewing, project time-lapsing, and HD security recording.

The firm points out that according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 2017 construction spending during the first nine months of the year increased 4.3 percent compared to the same period in 2016. (TrueLook works with Skanska and has cameras at the Grant High School site, among others in Portland.)

TrueLook is adding new features all the time. These include an ethernet-based camera for indoor jobsite monitoring, a 20-megapixel outdoor camera and a 1080p pan-tilt-zoom camera.

The cameras can be set to record 24/7 — a sort of black box for the job site (how long before these come to the boardroom?)

Time-lapse upgrades. For marketing purposes, time-lapse photography is useful, because it's extremely gratifying to see on screen in 90 seconds what you spent 18 months looking at every day from a traffic jam. (And they can eliminate the boring bits, like darkness.

TrueLook is also offering "integrated drone mission services". So, the camera is not just perched on a building corner, it hovers with the birds.

In Portland city limits it may not always be safe to fly commercial drones in populated areas, but on industrial sites in the exurbs it could become common. All this should be useful to AEC (archutecture, engineering and construction) companies looking to save time and money. It also represents one of the first use of surveillance in the private sector, beyond what the police, military and first responders do with UAVs.

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