The manufacturing agreement between Skycatch and DJI to deliver high-precision drones for heavy machinery giant Komatsu was a big deal for several reasons. While the 1000 drone deployment has set the pace for how the more than $100 billion market opportunity for drones that some have predicted will be realized, the practical effects of this development are even more important to consider.

Simply put, the agreement has created a model around how large enterprise organizations can sensibly approach drone adoption Skilled labor shortage is on the rise around the world including Japan and the reliable and accurate 2D sitemaps and 3D models created by the Skycatch Explore1 drone have enabled expanded use cases for the autonomous operations for Komatsu’s customers. By identifying where and how the data captured by drones could create efficiencies, Skycatch and DJI were able to create a solution that represents savings of up to tens of thousands of dollars per week for many construction and mining customers.

It’s a development that is the direct result of Skycatch’s dedication to becoming an all-in-one solution for the enterprise, as well as their specific focus on what that means for construction and mining organizations. Their success in this realm is a result of collaboration with other industry stakeholders that will literally take center stage at the DJI AirWorks event.


Fighting for Attention

Some of the top names in construction, mining, and energy have adopted Skycatch solutions, but their success in the construction segment is all about their recognition of how construction companies are always working against time. It's the biggest factor in how projects are bid to the point that optimization and operation are more art than science. It’s a reality that meant there was and is an incredible opportunity to make such processes more science than art.

One day on a big site or project could cost as much as $4-6 million depending on the site. That means if a couple weeks can be eliminated from a project, tens of millions of dollars can be saved. That’s a difference Skycatch technology has made by being able to provide models that are as much as 80% more accurate than ones generated from data gathered by a standard drone. Their High Precision Package technology is designed to be a complete solution, but it’s a difference that stakeholders sometimes need to see for themselves before they’ll believe it.

“I remember going into a big project a few years ago where they pushed back on us having access to anyone on the site, and only wanted to provide us with data once a month,” said Christian Sanz, CEO at Skycatch. “So what we ended up doing was to print out all of the maps we created on a daily basis and posted them in the cafeteria. In a matter of weeks, everyone was taking pictures of the map and gridding them out, annotating them, etc. It wasn’t long before we were providing the site with daily maps rather than weekly ones. It just goes to show that when you give people the right data that they can trust, they can put it to work. They can find ways to optimize the way they work day-to-day, just by looking at a map or a 3D model.”

Given the proliferation of drones and the value they can unlock, more companies than ever are open to initially receiving this data in places other than the cafeteria. Nonetheless, the story underscores the importance of what it means for the people on a given project to really understand where and how drone technology can make a difference, especially in construction.

For people so focused on the day-to-day logistics, there's very little room to entertain anything else. These companies are moving fast, and they already have a way of doing things. Anything new is a distraction, so fighting for that attention and discovery of a new way to do things can be challenging for companies like Skycatch. However, the value high precision drone technology delivers is real, and it’s something that goes beyond individual organizations and processes.


Changing Expectations in Construction

The changes that Komatsu wanted to create were centered on the autonomous features and functionalities that drone data could enable, which were in turn utilized to optimize construction processes for their customers from planning through completion. Skycatch’s High Precision Package was developed as an enterprise-level turnkey solution for highly accurate data at scale for this exact purpose, and automation has been a key feature of that package. To get the most out of these kinds of applications, the approach to such operations is especially important to consider.

Autonomous drones and the data they capture and provide for other autonomous operations still need to have humans involved in a critical manner. No matter how developed these algorithms become, humans still need to interact with the data and make decisions. Humans will always be in the loop, and that combination is what’s proving to be a major differentiator for numerous general contractors in construction, but is also set to open up countless other opportunities in other industries.

“Today, Komatsu deploys thousands of units with our technology in order to completely automate operations for their bulldozers, excavators, and other types of heavy equipment,” Sanz told Commercial UAV News. “Our HPP solution is helping them meet their business objectives, but it’s also serving to define what it means to digitize the entire world and digitize as many of the job sites out there as possible. We have a very focused target for building their enterprise solution, and it starts with supporting companies that are building programs on their solutions. That allows us to not focus on building the flying platform, but to instead focus on all the other use cases.”

Those use cases involve automation in a direct and indirect way as well as what it will mean to create a drone program for construction enterprises. It means creating more complex solutions that can range from being able to inspect a wind turbine while it's running to doing vertical inspections of high rises.

All of these developments should address particular challenges in those industries as well as the specific inefficiencies in construction that have seen projects take 20 percent longer to finish than scheduled and are up to 80 percent over budget. They’re developments that stem from a spirit of collaboration that will be showcased in a powerful way at an upcoming event where Sanz is set to deliver a keynote address.


Resolving the biggest competitor in the industry at DJI AirWorks

During his keynote address at DJI AirWorks 2017, Sanz focused on the importance of collaboration and unity for an industry in the early stages of its development, as well as how AI was going to impact what it meant to approach a given task or project. He mentioned that the new data that drones can collect meant that it’s more important than ever for organizations to consider how this information can integrate into their workflows in the present and the future.

This year, he plans to shift that concept further into the future, and push attendees to consider what drones are going to look like 5-10 years from now as organizations continue to develop their applications, solutions and business models. Being able to do so stems from the concept of collaboration that Sanz sees as the essential value of the event.

“Something I talked about last year and plan to continue to emphasize is that we have to assume that our biggest competitor is not each other,” Sanz said. “It's really the time of adoption. The biggest competitor in the industry is how quickly the market and companies are adopting our technology. It's about how quickly we teach and we show value to companies so that the industry can truly grow at a much faster pace. We've been lucky to connect with some pioneers that in other contexts we might consider as competitors, because when you meet people face to face in a place like this, it gives you the ability to chat and talk about where you both want to go, and how you can help each other get there.”

Those discussions range from the people who are building applications to companies who are buying the technology to organizations that are integrating them. All of those efforts are about growing the market as a whole, in order to get end users to really see the ROI and expand a little bit faster. That spirit of collaboration and growth is behind a big announcement Skycatch is set to reveal onstage.

All of it depends on enterprise organizations seeing and understanding the value of drone technology, and it’s not always possible for a company like Skycatch to make daily site maps available in a cafeteria in order to convince them of the value. So what’s at stake for enterprise organizations that aren’t considering how this technology might be able to make an impact on their operations?

“If you compare us to the Internet-era, we're in 1993 right now,” Sanz concluded. “The market is very young, but it's going to be massive, and this might just be the time to go in and not repeat the same mistake some company had made. The market is maturing slowly, but it's a lot more mature than it was five years ago, and growing at a fast pace. So this is really a time to look at solutions.”


Learn more about the special announcement that Skycatch CEO Christian Sanz will announce during his keynote as well as his participation during the Construction Track workshop, training session and panel discussions at the upcoming DJI AirWorks event in Dallas, Texas on October 30th – November 1st