Beyond the buzz

15 September 2018

Drones are changing the way we address a widening range of issues, from conducting routine inspections on infrastructure to helping manage safety and productivity on construction sites to giving California wildfires first-responders real-time situational awareness.

So great is the potential that consulting firm McKinsey & Co. believes drones could deliver an annual productivity boost of between $US31 billion and $US46 billion to US GDP by 2026.

Photo credit: Hangar

Much of this benefit will occur as the data collecting capacity of drones merges with technologies such as artificial intelligence, automation and machine learning - a combination Austin-based software company, Hangar Technologies Inc., is piecing together with impressive results.

Hangar’s software is lifting productivity and improving bottom lines in the $US8 trillion global construction industry, where its JobSight app allows users to quickly assess drone-gathered insights on large-scale building sites, browse the complete visual history of a project, identify previously unseen issues and act with precision.

“A client constructing a multi-story tower used JobSight for progress reporting, and was able to quickly spot a problem with the exterior construction on many levels,” says Hangar Vice President of Worldwide Sales Greg Brown. “By leveraging drones, they were able to quickly identify the issue, resolve this quickly with the subcontractor and avoid a potentially costly claim.”

Similar technology is improving workplace safety, enabling developers to carry out more comprehensive site inspections at altitude, an important breakthrough given Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) figures show falls were responsible for around 38 per cent of all deaths on US construction sites in 2016.

“Drones are reducing construction site injuries and potential fatalities by identifying job site safety issues that place the construction company and their employees at risk,” Brown says.

The detail needed to open new frontiers

Drones will become more valuable as technology continues to improve.

“Hangar’s software already makes gathering detailed data by drone an autonomous exercise,” says Larry Handen, Senior Managing Director at Macquarie Capital.

“It’s their ability to get up close and to identify critical information not previously detectable that makes drones so valuable across so many industries, reducing costs, increasing productivity and operational efficiency, all while keeping workers safe.”

Greg Brown, VP Worldwide Sales, Hangar.

“Where it gets really exciting is where it combines with machine learning and artificial intelligence to open the potential for predictive maintenance on projects. Eventually, no human intervention should be required at all to assess or even navigate hazards. A drone will be able to do it on its own.”

Before that can happen, drones must become big data enablers. The challenge facing the drone industry centers around transitioning away from short-lived photography, to generating increasingly structured spatial data about the world around us. Drones are essentially data collection vehicles, combining near infinite mobility with a budding sensor marketplace. By autonomously capturing the same sets of data over time with precision and accuracy, the opportunities of big data can be applied to physical world information - increasingly requiring computer analysis to reveal changes, patterns and trends.

“By tackling autonomous mission planning and automating the data supply chain, we’re unlocking structured spatial data at scale,” says Brown. “We’re exposing millions of data points to machine learning algorithms that detect change, recognize patterns and unleash the power of AI.”

“It’s their ability to get up close and to identify critical information not previously detectable that makes drones so valuable across so many industries, reducing costs, increasing productivity and operational efficiency, all while keeping workers safe,” he concludes. The combination of big data, digital transformation, unlimited processing power, edge computing, vision-based machine learning, and autonomous mobility will enable robotics to augment and replace mundane human activities — leading to an exponential increase in business intelligence, productivity, insight and societal value.

The uses will broaden further. While human intelligence is required to derive insights from the visual data gathered by drones, Hangar has identified what it calls 4D Data, in which computers cue humans to act. The next frontier would be autonomous robotics, which collect, understand and react to visual insights in real time, without the involvement of humans.

Hangar is a participating company of the Macquarie Capital Venture Studio with R/GA (“Studio”). Drones and other key technologies are a focus of the Studio: a platform designed to promote innovations in InfraTech. The Studio collaborates with companies that have the potential to accelerate industries including utilities, transportation and environmental services.

Macquarie Capital Venture Studio

The Macquarie Capital Venture Studio is a unique initiative to identify and promote companies with the potential to accelerate industries including utilities, transportation, and environmental services.