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Pictures of the Future
The Magazine for Research and Innovation

Digital Assistants

Need Construction Site Surveillance? Hire a Drone!

Octocopters have eight propellers, weigh less than five kilogramms, and can offer a bird's eye view of progress on a site.

In Aspern, a district on the outskirts of Vienna, Austria, civilian drones monitor construction activity. The site is a living research project for technological innovations.

It's one of the biggest and most innovative urban development projects in Europe. The Aspern Vienna Urban Lakeside project is a completely new district on a 240-hectare site on the northeastern outskirts of the Austrian capital. The district is expected to set new standards for energy efficiency and environmental balance.

Using Drones to Monitor Construction

A joint venture between the city of Vienna, the city' utility company (Wien Energie), the city's network provider (Wiener Netze), and Siemens is using Aspern as a world-class research project for technological innovations. To this end, Siemens has literally taken to the air with state-of-the-art 3-D digitization technology.

“For nearly three years now, we've been working with civilian drones within the framework of the CONSTRUCT — Construction Site Monitoring research project,” says Claudia Windisch, Head of the Video analytics research group at Siemens Corporate Technology. “The drones, which film and analyze conditions at construction sites, are octocopters — small eight-propeller aircraft that weigh less than five kilograms.” The digital aerial technology for monitoring construction progress is being tested in Aspern Vienna and other locations.

“We use GPS to define the routes to be flown,” Windisch explains. “Operators constantly maintain visual contact with the drones so that they can intervene if there's a problem. However, operators sometimes have to take control of the drones, such as when we record images of a facade.” The heavily overlapping aerial images of buildings are used to generate a three-dimensional model of the scene.

Pinpointing Problematic Areas

Researchers are working on a system that supports drone operators during flights by producing and continually updating a 3-D model and color-coding problematic areas. Additional image recordings are required here to achieve the degree of overlapping that is needed to generate an accurate model. “These days, most building planning is done in 3-D, so it makes sense to compare real and planning data in 3-D as well,” Windisch explains. “If you consider the time axis, you could even say we're working in 4-D. Our technology enables us to identify construction progress and any deviations from a plan. However, because onsite construction managers only have access to two-dimensional plans at the moment, we decided in Aspern Vienna to use 3-D models to generate 2-D depictions of actual situations. You can superimpose conventional 2-D CAD plans on the 2-D images and then compare them.”

“For nearly three years now, we've been working with civilian drones within the framework of the Construction Site Monitoring research project.”

A World of Potential Applications

In the future, the process will be optimized to enable automatic comparisons and the graphic depiction in virtual 3-D models of deviations between planned and actual results. Deviations here could include missing windows or incorrectly aligned walls, for example. “The methods we've developed can detect deviations between planned and actual results simply and quickly,” says Windisch. “The deviations can then be displayed in large-scale depictions — and all of this can be done without having to send inspectors to potentially dangerous and difficult-to-access areas, such as unfinished roofs.”

“Our technology enables us to identify construction progress and any deviations from a plan.“

However, construction sites represent only one of many potential applications for the technology. Windisch's team, for example, has already conducted numerous drone flights through factory halls whose actual condition often deviates from original construction plans due to renovation and modernization measures.

Nils Ehrenberg
Picture credits: from top: 2.picture dpa/Picture-Alliance