Skycatch Is Modifying 1,000 DJI Drones for Construction Surveying Purposes in Japan

The startup bought Matrice drones from DJI, modified them with machine vision software, and sold them to construction firms for aerial surveying.

byMarco Margaritoff| UPDATED Jun 11, 2019 3:13 AM
Skycatch Is Modifying 1,000 DJI Drones for Construction Surveying Purposes in Japan

DJI, the biggest non-military unmanned aerial vehicle manufacturer in the world, just completed its largest commercial drone shipment. This order is headed to U.S. start-up Skycatch. It has been modifying DJI Matrice 100 drones with an in-house machine vision software that in this particular case, will help Japanese construction company Komatsu aerially survey and monitor construction sites. 

According to The Verge, Skycatch calls this resulting product the ‘Skycatch Explore1,’ which is basically a semi-autonomous quadcopter based on the aforementioned Matrice 100, and is specifically altered to serve as an effective tool for construction companies. The system as a whole, comprised of DJI hardware and Skycatch software, can effectively generate maps with five-centimeter accuracy. This can aerially help in more accurate assessments of various stockpile materials, such as how much metal or cement is left. As The Verge reports, Komatsu will also utilize the data to complement its robot construction vehicles (which have yet to be completed). 

The Skycatch drones have reportedly already been deployed at over 10,000 construction sites in Japan, and over 10,000 sites in various other countries. Skycatch isn’t just using drones to help construct general office buildings or nondescript warehouses, it’s employed this sophisticated surveying method at Disney’s theme parks, Facebook’s data center sites, and an unidentified company in Cupertino. “You can imagine who I’m talking about,” Skycatch CEO Christian Sanz cryptically told The Verge. “We’ve been flying there every day, multiple times a day…We’re now helping out with the landscaping work.” Sanz is referring to the new Apple Park Campus. Though recently completed, it had yet to finish the surrounding landscaping work.

The machine vision software at work., Skycatch Inc.

Regarding the machine vision software developed by Skycatch, it can successfully identify the materials commonly found at construction sites, as well as vehicles and people. Fortunately for clients eager to infuse their own software into this system, Skycatch allows for data to be added and used to develop new algorithms. In addition, these modified drones come with the "Edge1," a base station that can process the aerially collected data without an internet connection. “It’s basically a cloud computer in a box,” Sanz explained

Let’s have a look at this system in action.

According to The Verge, Skycatch has been making these drones since mid-2017. The 1,000 drone shipment by DJI, however, seems to indicate a steep increase in activity for this particular industry. “This is an industry that’s been moving at a slow pace, and this order is a huge signal that things are speeding up,” said Sanz. “Automation in construction is no longer something to look out for, four or five years in the future. When you go to a job site you should expect to see robots on the ground.”