SKYDIO is the leading U.S. drone manufacturer and world leader in autonomous flight and was recognized as Company of the Year by Frost & Sullivan, a leader in global research and consulting solutions. This award recognizes companies that demonstrate excellence in visionary innovation performance as well as customer impact. The construction industry is one of the companies that Skydio’s AI-driven autonomous aircraft is deeply impacting — disrupting — by opening up new cases and enabling construction businesses to scale.
Skydio is founded on the premise that autonomy is the key ingredient to unlock drones’ full potential. By transforming drones into intelligent devices that can dynamically understand and adjust to the environment in which they are operated, Skydio is able to provide radically simpler flights and make missions once considered impossible possible.
As drone pilots are working on construction sites across the country, they are discovering the power of autonomy. It is such autonomy that they find helping them in completing a broader range of tasks more efficiently and safely than with the traditional manual drones.
Because pilots have to try to circumvent obstacles by flying higher above ground,
due to the constant risk of crashes associated with manual operations, this makes work less efficient and, therefore, the quality of the data captured is partly sacrificed. In contract, Skydio’s AI-driven collision avoidance and autonomy functionality makes existing jobs faster and more effective and efficient, thereby empowering pilots to provide higher-quality 3D maps at lower-altitude with imagery that has higher resolution.
One of the largest employee-owned construction companies in the country, Sundt, specializes in several construction projects including transportation, commercial building, industrial, and renewable energy. The company is finding they can shorten the length of time between the initial use case and the scaled adoption of drones, which is a common challenge for most drone programs because of the perception that drones are adult toys.
Dean Miller, Virtual Construction Engineer at Sundt, explained:
“Everybody on project teams have a huge workload. They’re looking for technologies that are going to take responsibilities away and reduce their workload immediately. However, drones require a lot of work upfront, for instance, you have to get your Part 107 with the FAA and you need training. This means it takes time for drone programs to start showing results. But as more people adopt drone technology and see results, we are seeing growth in use cases and users. After years of demonstrating the benefits of drones to our project teams, we are now seeing an exponential adoption of drones into our business.”*
Miller has found that once those programs are adopted and operating, virtually every stage of the process can benefit from drone use from business development and research to project management and documentation. Obviously, it is much easier to win a job, manage and track each stage of a project, and maintain accurate in-depth records of the final product when there is accurate data that is captured in real-time by a drone.
As businesses are beginning to realize the value of adopting drones in industry sectors like construction, it is still a challenge because most drones are flown manually, and piloting a drone safely requires skill, especially when flying around a construction site where there are continuous moving parts and machinery. This means that in order to make sure pilots have the skills necessary to safely maneuver in a construction site, extensive, and time-consuming training, is required.
This is one of the many reasons why companies like Skydio see autonomous flight as the only avenue for truly scaling operations. Companies like Sundt are already realizing how Skydio is improving their workflows and enabling operations to scale in significant ways. Commercial UAV News spoke with Miller and Delepine to learn more about how Skydio is changing the construction business.
One of the initial benefits of using Skydio drones in commercial applications is the speed at which pilots get up and running, shortening the time it takes to get scaled drone programs off the ground. Sundt has been able to significantly shorten the length of time to train their pilots.
Miller told Commercial UAV News:
“Training new pilots on a Skydio drone has reduced our training time by nearly half. This is huge. It normally takes me six to seven hours to train someone, now I can train someone in three.”*
By reducing that time by half, companies can adjust programs and expect to see results that much sooner. Miller reported time savings in other ways as well:
“If you’ve ever flown a DJI drone you know that they have their own no fly areas. Even if you have your approvals to fly by the FAA, you still have to get clearance through DJI, which can take time and can delay projects for hours or even days. Skydio trusts that the pilot has done the background work and has gotten that airspace authorization.
There’s usually a lot of startup and calibration required for most drones. When time is of the essence, whether it is on a job site or you’re predicting inclement weather, those minutes are absolutely crucial. The job site is always flowing and changing, being able to capture a moment in time is essential.”*
In addition to time savings, Skydio’s AI and Computer vision has also made a significant difference in where Sundt can fly now that AI & Computer Vision is available.
Most drones are reliant upon GPS and magnetometers for navigation. Construction sites often have materials that interfere with these navigation systems. Because Skydio’s navigation is based on AI and computer vision, it can fly near objects that would normally down or confuse manual drones that rely on GPS navigation and magnetometers. Powerful computer vision and AI also enables Skydio drones to get in closer than anyone flying manually would feel comfortable doing.
Guillaume Delepine, Product Marketing Manager at Skydio, explained:
“The first thing we had to do at Skydio was break the dependence on GPS and magnetometers. To do that we had to come up with a sophisticated vision system. The Skydio is running 12 deep networks at a time, which requires a powerful chip. This is why we use the NVIDIA Tegra TX2, which is a lot stronger than the chips being used by other drones in the market. This enables the drone to process a lot of data. From the hardware all the way up through the software, there is the base of autonomy that lets you fly in ways that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to. For example, Skydio can dodge obstacles that you can’t even see in the camera feed because it has been trained to draw rational conclusions about the space around it. For instance, if it sees part of a cable, it assumes that the cable extends into space and makes maneuvers to avoid it.”*
This opens up numerous applications, especially within dangerous environments, and where there is work with high-pressure, high-temperature systems. The ability to fly in close quarters in challenging spaces safely can save many lives. Miller explained:
“With Skydio, we can get into some very tight, claustrophobic, and dangerous areas where you wouldn’t want to put a human. At Sundt we inspect high-pressure, high-temperature systems. When you use a drone for these inspections, you’re not reducing an injury, you’re reducing a death. With human inspections, the construction industry has been able to reduce the injury rate over the years, but the death rate has stayed the same—when something explodes in these environments, there is no coming out of that. Because the Skydio can fly into these areas that would be impossible with other drones and capture that data for us, we can effectively reduce that death rate. A drone is around $1,000, but a human life is priceless.”*
Although it is the data that is collected that makes Skydio’s system a viable and valuable tool for companies like Sundt, it is the Skydio’s drones’ ability to maneuver tight and dangerous spaces that is an important feature of its system.
Miller explained how this works:
“The AI that’s built into the Skydio drone is incomparable to any other drone out there. The drone is basically a flying computer. Because you can get in close, you get better accuracy, which in turn enables you to create better maps. Because they’ve partnered with DroneDeploy, the processing times to create orthomosaic maps or 3D models are shorter than any other drone on the market. It really helps to expedite the process from flying the drone to providing deliverables to your project team, which is appreciated by a lot of our project managers.”*
Because the Skydio can get in closer to objects, this also means companies can save money by not having to invest in expensive high-end zoom cameras, while still getting the high accuracy and quality needed for deliverables.
A crucial factor that led Sundt to look into Skydio as an alternative drone manufacturer was because Skydio is an American drone company. This is why
Sundt has been able to seek high-paying government projects that would otherwise be rejected with Chinese-made drones, like DJI.
“Because Skydio is made in America, it is an enormous part of why we’re choosing to move forward with them. As we pursue federal jobs and federal projects, the Department of the United States has determined that Chinese-made drones are no longer a viable option. If we have any of these drones in our fleet, then we will not be chosen. Even if it costs $100,000 to get rid of all of our Chinese-manufactured drones, we should see that return with one federal project. Why wouldn’t we go with a U.S. manufactured option?”*
Miller also pointed out that having domestic customer support has made a significant impact on their business operations. Being in the same time zone has enabled the company to troubleshoot issues and come to timelier solutions than with foreign customer support.
Skydio’s drones have streamlined Sundt’s drone operations in a big way, saving them time and money, while opening up additional avenues for revenue. Because of this, they are planning on transitioning their entire fleet to Skydio drones this year. This speaks to just how much Skydio is set to change the paradigm within the construction industry.
The construction industry is one of the companies that Skydio’s AI-driven autonomous aircraft is deeply impacting — disrupting — by opening up new cases and enabling construction businesses to scale.
Because Skydio is founded on the premise that autonomy is the key ingredient to unlock drones’ full potential, it is transforming drones into intelligent devices that can dynamically understand and adjust to the environment in which they operate. Therefore, Skydio is able to provide radically simpler flights and make missions once considered impossible possible.Skydio’s drones have streamlined Sundt’s drone operations in a big way, saving them time and money, while opening up additional avenues for revenue. Because of this, they are planning on transitioning their entire fleet to Skydio drones this year, which indicates just how much Skydio is set to change the paradigm within the construction industry.