The Golden 1 Center, being built now in Sacramento, California (CREDIT: Image In Flight)

Drones and BIM combine to spot trouble on big building projects

18 March 2016 | By Rod Sweet 1 Comment

A University of Illinois team has developed a predictive analytics tool called “Flying Superintendent” to automate the monitoring of large construction projects.

The system uses images and videos taken by flying drones and combines them with four-dimensional Building Information Modeling (BIM) to identify actual and potential problems.

If a problem is spotted the system sends alerts to project staff’s smartphones and tablets, wherever they are.

“All personnel, on and off-site, can interact with our 3D visual production models to communicate and analyse work in progress throughout the life of the job”– Mani Golparvar-Fard, University of Illinois

The university is collaborating with Turner Construction Company to implement the technology on the NBA’s Sacramento Kings new downtown arena, the Golden 1 Center, being built now in Sacramento, California.

“The powerful thing about this is that it highlights issues with our schedule grouped by their location in 3D,” said Lincoln Wood, regional manager for virtual design and construction at Turner Construction.

“This streamlines the management of our weekly work planning efforts by allowing us to visualize and mitigate potential risks to our schedule before they happen,” Wood told the University of Illinois’s press office.

He added that the system highlights how a slowdown in one area could affect the entire project. Turner is so pleased with the collaboration that it gave it the Turner Innovation Award in its annual awards programme.

The University of Illinois team received a nearly $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation for the project, which kicked off in January 2015 and continues through the end of 2019.

“All personnel, on and off-site, can interact with our 3D visual production models to communicate and analyse work in progress throughout the life of the job,” said Mani Golparvar-Fard, assistant professor in civil and environmental engineering at the university, and the lead principal investigator on the group.

“Teams can conduct quality control by comparing as-built models with specifications, and improve safety by having a clear and immediate understanding of potential hazards,” he added.

“The analytics we conduct on these survey-grade 3D visual production models offer construction managers a transparent view into what’s happening on site each day, empowering them to improve reliability in short-term plans and eliminate problems before they happen.”

With the support of the university’s new entrepreneurial fellowship programme, Golparvar-Fard and the team are commercialising the solution and have set up a spinoff company housed in University of Illinois Research Park.

The team is now developing prototypes to autonomously collect images on construction sites using drones and ground robots without relying on GPS for navigation purposes.

The team is also exploring mechanisms to mount video cameras on building elements to detect and track construction resources and offer visual data analytics on construction safety and productivity.

Derek Hoiem, associate professor of computer science at the University of Illinois, and Tim Bretl, associate professor of aerospace engineering, are co-principal investigators on the project.

Turner Construction also gave credit to Janie Winning, its VDC scheduler, Jim Barrett, the firm’s national director of innovation, and Thomas Bartlett, chief executive of aerial filming company, Image In Flight.

The aerial photograph shows construction under way at the Golden 1 Center arena, the new home being built for NBA basketball team the Sacramento Kings (Courtesy of Image In Flight)