News about Caterpillar Ventures investing in Airware to advance work site intelligence was just announced today, and it signifies a powerful commitment on the part of both Airware and Caterpillar to create and provide drone solutions that make sense for construction, mining and quarrying organizations.

What's especially interesting to consider in light of this news is the way in which conversations about where and how this technology fits into these industries has changed. Not long ago, commercial drone proponents had to push the value proposition of the technology, but for the most part, stakeholders are at least aware of the potential drones possess. That has meant these conversations have shifted to something a bit more nuanced, which was something Jonathan Downey, founder & CEO of Airware, was able to detail in light of this announcement.

"For a lot of companies in the space, they started using commercial drones because they were thinking about how they could do things like replace a two week land survey using GPS equipment with a one day drone survey," Downey told Commercial UAV News. "Yes, that is happening and it's leading to cost savings, but I think there are much bigger and more valuable business outcomes that can be driven when you don't just take a new technology and apply it to an existing business process. We’re interested in getting people to think about how their business process can be changed as a result of the technology. What if they do things different? What would that look like? That is what we are engaged in with a lot of our customers, which is helping them rethink how they assess site compliance and productivity."

Those conversations are directly related to the news that came out today. Since I last connected with Jonathan, the company has been continuing to focus on being able to provide a complete end-to-end solution in two key verticals: the insurance and the mining and construction space. The news today is an illustration of exactly what that commitment looks like for professionals in mining and construction.

One of the key elements of this news centers on the fact that Bergerat Monnoyeur, an exclusive dealer of the Caterpillar brand, is going to be among the first dealers. Their ability to specifically speak to the challenges and issues that operators face when trying to utilize this technology is going to be a critical aspect of adoption for users. Their involvement will allow operators in this industry to get a specific understanding around how business processes can and will change thanks to drone technology.

Specifically what that adoption piece can and does look like is something that varies from company to company, and how that adoption plays out is critical to understand, especially in light of how developments like this that will make the technology more available. That availability directly plays into plans many companies have already laid out and begun to develop.

"More and more large companies are finding that what started as a drone based initiative is turning into a core element of either their Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) initiative or their broader, company-wide digitization initiative," Downey said. "Ultimately, these efforts are about taking data that has historically be siloed or in an analogue format and bringing into the digital age. We're removing the silos and getting it all in one place so that companies have better visibility around everything that's going on which allows them to make better quick decisions."

Whether a company identifies these efforts as an initiative to digitize, or a reason to begin to create an IIoT ecosystem or anything else, what matters is that they've recognized something that needs to change. It speaks to an understanding of short and long term goals, which ties back into the approach Airware as a company has taken.

Downey mentioned that the Redbird acquisition has all been part of their strategic plan of entering this vertical, and they acquired Redbird because they felt the company had the most comprehensive data processing analytics and reporting for the mining and construction industry. That kind of perspective directly plays into the importance of dealers being able to offer their customers drone services and analytics, since those options are also about creating new opportunities across an entire project and organization.

"It's not just about what one person on the site is doing, it's what everyone on the site is doing," Downey said. "Collaborating is a critical element of what we've been doing, and leveraging a cloud-based technology solution which is also on mobile to collaborate and help people on a site make decisions has been critical. Drone based surveys can help determine decisions around everything from when a haul road needs to be flattened to providing critical detail about an area that's getting blasted on that day. These are things that help drive more efficiency, and it's a critical issue because the construction industry faces substantial challenges in terms of finishing projects on schedule and keeping them on budget. There was a recent McKinsey report on the construction industry that said on average projects are taking 20% longer to finish and coming in 80% over budget. The mining industry is facing similar challenges with 28% less productivity than ten years ago."

airware_ming1Those numbers and specific insights around how drone technology can make a difference are the sorts of details that dealers like Bergerat Monnoyeur will be able to share with professionals in powerful ways. The strategic investment that Airware has secured from Caterpillar Ventures will be a great thing for all parties involved as well as the mining & construction industry as a whole. By and large, the potential and capabilities of drones are understood, but what's been missing is the piece around exactly how the technology can make a difference on a specific project for a given user. Developments like this will be able to bridge that gap.