Drones cement their place in the construction and industrial sector


Construction, land surveying and town mapping require extensive knowledge of sites. Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), in conjunction with their payload and software, are being used more frequently as they provide industrial practitioners with 3D models and data down to the centimetre.

This was one of the topics under discussion at the Drones and Digital Aviation Conference 2019, held at Emperors Palace Convention Centre late last year.

he industrial sector was the managing director of GoUAV, Philip Smerkovitz. GoUAV supplies DJI Enterprise commercial and industrial drones, including the DJI Phantom 4 RTK, P4 Multispectral, Matrice 200, Matrice 210, Matrice 210 RTK, Matrice 600 Pro and Mavic 2 Enterprise drones. GoUAV also provide software solutions for 3D mapping, photogrammetry and other data capturing software used in asset inspection, mapping and surveying and agriculture as well as training for end-users.

Smerkovitz presented on drones and thermal imagining in industrial operations as he began with the DJI Phantom 4 RTK offering centimetre-accurate data on anything the attached camera is filming, ideal for construction surveyors that need a good view of a site. The Phantom 4 RTK has a 20-megapixel sensor allowing the drone flying at 100 metres altitude to achieve a ground sample distance (the distance between centre points of each sample/pixel taken of the ground) of 2.74 cm. The Phantom 4 RTK has applications in construction as one can keep track of sites and conduct accurate measurements.

Smerkovitz moved on to the DJI Mavic 2 and specifically the drone’s integrated radiometric FLIR thermal sensor. This thermal sensor has a wide-range of applications as it is capable of detecting heat between the ranges of -10°C to +400°C. The radiometric thermal sensor can be applied to substation inspections instead of handheld thermal cameras inspecting each individual component for temperature-related problems. Similarly, the thermal sensor can detect if a building or structure is leaking heat. With a remote inspection using the radiometric thermal sensor and the highly manoeuvrable aerial view of a drone conducted from a control station, inspections become accurate, cost-effective, easier, time-efficient and safer.

The presentation “Reality Modelling – creating the digital twin” was delivered  by Heico Kuhn, chief operations officer for iGlobe, a company specialising in fusing aerial imagery with real-time, spatial data. A digital twin is a digital representation of a physical asset, process or system as well as engineering information, allowing one to understand and model performance. A digital twin can be continuously synchronised using sensors (cameras) and surveying, representing near real-time status, working condition or position. This digital twin allows users to visualise the asset, check status, perform analysis and generate insights.

Creating a digital twin is done using a drone, sensor, camera and remote control. Once the relevant data has been captured, it is then used to create a 3D model using ContextCapture, a 3D modelling software. Kuhn showed how creating a digital twin of a concrete asset, conveyor assembly and telecommunication inspection can be done in a more time-efficient manner than traditional methods. LIDAR (light detection and ranging) is a remote sensor consisting of a laser, scanner and a specialized GPS receiver that can be used to provide an advanced digital twin. Currently, creating advanced digital twins is the most accurate method for engineering and structure inspection.

DDDrones specialize in industrial inspections and accurate software integrated into drone operations. Unique to DDDrones is their web-based platform that gives data analysis along with a report for insurance providers using drones in assessments. With the insurance industry using drones to assess damage on buildings and other structures, DDDrones provide an application that can create incident reports from information gathered from drones. Application for this platform as well as DDDrones portfolio extends to mining and construction, single and multiple building inspection, powerline inspection, tower inspection and thermal inspection.

A presentation on “The latest in survey, geospatial and mapping technologies using drones” was delivered by Norbert Plate, a manager at IQ Laser. Norbert highlighted the sensor (camera) as the most important part of photogrammetry, the science of making measurements using photographs. Norbert stated that, “The determination of 3D coordinates of these feature points happens via a process called ‘Photogrammetric Bundle Triangulation’”. Using this process, aerial imagery for town planning contains a lot of information such as existing infrastructure, missing infrastructure, the amount of people living in an area, scale of service delivery needed, traffic management and flow and tax revenue. LIDAR, as mentioned above, is revolutionizing town mapping because it produces far more detailed imagery than radars. LIDAR uses light in the form of a pulsed laser to measure ranges to the earth, combining LIDAR with the aerial imagery capabilities of a drone and sensor for more accurate and insightful town mapping than what previous technology permitted.

Senior director for public safety at DJI, Romeo Durscher, stated that drones cut time spent surveying by 98% in construction and that $45.2 billion will be spent on infrastructure inspection utilising drones by 2020. Drones are now widely used in construction, surveying and town mapping for their capabilities in giving precision data to industrial companies.