Construction has a $3 trillion waste problem. Can drones – and digital twin technology – solve it?


Anyone who has done a kitchen renovation knows that construction is difficult. It’s slow, progress is painful, getting all the trades to come at the right time is like aligning the stars, and there’s huge waste in the process.

Exyn Technologies thinks it can reduce part of it via drones. And the company has just landed a major client: Obayashi, the largest Japanese construction company.

But these drones won’t lift a hammer or install a window. Instead, they will fly over the entire construction site continuously and autonomously, mapping the 3D space and uploading the visual data to BIM platforms – building information modeling systems – to making sure everything stays on track. Essentially, they create a living, breathing digital twin of the ever-changing job site in near real time.

They won’t do it for your next bathroom remodel, of course.

This is for the $1.5 billion stadium, or the $1 billion tower, or the construction of a $250 million hotel.

“McKinsey actually did a study where they quantify the global construction industry as an $8 trillion industry,” CEO Nader Elm told me recently on the Tech First Podcast. “And they also quantified that $3 trillion of that is actually due to inefficiency and waste.”

Much of that waste comes down to bad information, Elm says.

The trade does things at the wrong time. A wall is installed before wiring is laid, or a window is installed before interior fittings are loaded through the opening. Even with the best goodwill in the world, information slowly passes from the trades to the subcontractors, from the contractors to the supervisors working for the general contractor.

This means that large construction companies frequently map their projects, usually walking through a massive project and taking photos. It is a manual process that takes a lot of time.

Exyn’s solution is to essentially deploy the same autonomous drone they use for GPS-less mine mapping. But large construction sites are tough places for autonomous drones.

“You can’t rely on a still or static environment,” says COO Ben Williams. “Things are changing, it’s dynamic. Even if you have nothing planned to move, someone drops a forklift, truck, bag, or whatever, and so because of that, you need a capable system. to respond in real time to changes in its environment.

Drones hoping to operate here must continue to operate even if they encounter obstacles, including new ones daily, and even if they lose GPS signal in a basement or parking lot. Solve this and you may be able to save yourself a huge amount of work.

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Digital twin technology, or the digitization of a representation of the physical environment, is the goal.

“Before that, if you wanted to go see the state of a construction site, you had to go and walk around the construction site [with] a camera,” says Williams.

Then you either have a few hundred (or thousands) of digital images to review, or you hand-load them into some sort of photogrammetry software. In some cases, if you wanted to do this, you had to make sure your lighting was good, you might have had to use a tripod every 15-20 feet, and you might have had other requirements from your software.

“The basic idea here is that you’re massively streamlining this process,” Williams says. “The same thing that would take you all day to capture from traditional methods could take you an hour or less with a stand-alone system, and so you increase both the accuracy, the speed with which you can operate, and you’re able to digitally run these kinds of data analyzes that you weren’t even able to do before.”

In other words, you have automated data collection, you have automated data entry, and you can perform automated day-to-day comparisons to see progress and if there is anything that concerns you, you should take a look. This, Williams says, saves construction companies time and money by reducing work and remedial work.

There’s a massive push to build robots that can help with some of the most dangerous and difficult jobs in construction – while helping to solve the labor and skills shortage in construction. Some of them are self-contained, while others require a human in the loop. Most of them move materials, like Construction Robotics Mule, or use 3D printing techniques, like Branch Technology.

Exyn’s drone doesn’t move any I-beams or pump concrete, but it promises to help with the increasingly digital nature of construction. The solution is not cheap, however. Although Exyn does not release pricing information publicly, it certainly won’t fit on my credit card.

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