For Mining, Construction Firms, Flying Robots Keep Projects on Track

Companies in the extractive industries—including Rio Tinto—and in building construction are using aerial imaging to keep projects running smoothly and safely. We spoke with drone services provider SkyCatch about the top use cases end users are chasing.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor

While all of these construction and mining use cases rely on passive sensing—that is, imagery converted into models using photogrammetry—SkyCatch attaches different types of sensors for customers in the energy or agriculture business. Thermal cameras are used to survey solar panel installations, in order to determine if specific panels are not at target temperatures. For energy or agricultural applications, the drones generally carry multispectral cameras designed for specific types of imaging.

SkyCatch declines to reveal the costs of its full-service offering—which includes the autonomous ground control unit, as well as software and analysis services—but says it leases its hardware and sells software seats.

To tap into smaller companies that lack the means to purchase the full-service product, SkyCatch also recently launched an offering known as WORKMODE whereby it will dispatch a drone pilot (a human one, not the ground control robot), along with a drone and the required sensing attachments to a company (or an individual, such as a landowner performing a major building renovation) that needs to map an area just once or a handful of times.

SkyCatch is far from the only company looking to tap into commercial drone applications. Canadian firm Aeryon, as well as a cluster of other California startups in the Bay Area, including 3D Robotics, Airware, and DroneDeploy, are all targeting various business use cases.

Regulatory Framework-in-process
The legality of commercial uses of drones is a bit murky at present. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is still in the process of regulating what types of commercial entities will be able to use which types of drones, as well as where and how. Other countries are also parsing their rules around drone use. While technologists tend to dismiss government regulations, drone companies are eager for the FAA to set their final rules regarding usage, since the fear of the unknown might be causing some potential customers to sit on the sidelines, watching and waiting.

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