Rise of The Drones – Skycatch’s Big Leap in Construction Planning Technology

Software companies such as Skycatch are using drone technology to disrupt the commercial real estate market, potentially replacing the jobs of onsite construction planners in the process.

The use of aerial shots for real estate properties used to be constrained to expensive helicopter flights with limited camera time in the air. However, the use of drone technology from companies such as Skycatch has disrupted the space, where real estate agents can now provide dramatic aerial shots of residential neighborhoods, and commercial real estate developers can capture, analyze, and create full integrated 3D property models. Effective August 29, 2016, the Federal Aviation Administration issued a Small Unmanned Aircraft Rule (14 C.F.R. Part 107) which provides parameters around the definition of civilian drone use on commercial real estate properties (i).

The value add from Skycatch’s drone technology is clear: using drones to fly over a real estate property is cheaper than helicopters because it does not require a pilots license or a gallon of gas (ii). It is also faster than hiring a surveyor to go out and walk the property, and cab provide elevation data, contour lines, and HD photography (iii). For as little as $49/mo, customers can get access to a basic set of features offered by Skycatch’s “Evolution” 3x Drone, which flies over properties with a specially fitted camera (iv). Due to the supportive regulatory environment paired with accessible technology, the use of drones for real estate property surveillance is expected to grow over time. With these benefits however come a few potential downsides which are also important to investigate as they would pose certain threats to companies like Skycatch in the future.


Skycatch’s “Evolution” 3X Drone (v)

As drone technology continues to permeate throughout the real estate space, companies like Skycatch will need to consider the following steps for business longevity:

First, while the FAA ruling currently allows for Small Unmanned Aircraft to be used for real estate property surveillance, this could change over time as the airspace becomes saturated with the technology. Airspace typically concerned the use of airplanes at 35,000 ft in the air or helicopters several thousands of feet above the ground. The airspace just above buildings, established businesses and residential areas is relatively unregulated, and ripe for disruption from companies such as Skycatch with a first mover advantage into the space. The current maximum drone weight is 55 lbs, however that size could be reduced if smaller drones are needed to provide more range and airspace (vi). Zoning and privacy concerns are the largest area of focus, since drones could potentially spy on neighboring properties.

Second, there will be resistance from those whose jobs are threatened by drone capabilities.  Onsite project managers for commercial projects may work fewer hours because drones can be dispatched to survey all of the properties at a faster rate. Even residential real estate agents could potentially be replaced by drones and drone operating teams, which can now provide high quality aerial walkthroughs of a home, requiring fewer in-person visits. Granted, the technology would still have small limitations such as the direct human contact for construction workers onsite or face-to-face meetings with a customer buying the house, however for the most part their jobs and expertise can be easily replaced by technology in the near future without being able to effectively transfer their skillset.

Third, drone technology can be subject to the elements, limiting its effectiveness. On days where wind conditions are unexpectedly high, the functionality of a 55 pound drone may be limited since it cannot hold steady to capture all of its data. It is here where the expertise of an onsite project manager may have an advantage since they can collect data and make a judgement about the land or property despite weather conditions.

Drone technology for real estate projects offered by companies such as Skycatch present an interesting opportunity for real estate project managers everywhere. As the quality of the drones increase and the price of access falls, there will no doubt be more coming online in the future.

Total word count: 641 words

(i) https://www.faa.gov/uas/media/RIN_2120-AJ60_Clean_Signed.pdf

(ii) http://www.realtor.org/law-and-ethics/faqs-for-small-unmanned-aircraft-rule

(iii) http://realestatetechnews.com/blog/drone-use-rises-in-the-construction-industry

(iv) https://www.skycatch.com/pricing

(v) https://www.skycatch.com/product/drone/evolution

(vi) https://www.faa.gov/uas/media/RIN_2120-AJ60_Clean_Signed.pdf



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Student comments on Rise of The Drones – Skycatch’s Big Leap in Construction Planning Technology

  1. Highly interesting article! I agree that drones offer a huge business opportunity in real estate photography. Beyond real estate there are numerous industries that will be disrupted by the easy and cheap access to aerial image capturing: Pipeline inspection, agriculture, furnace inspections, policing, border patrol and many more. Essentially the technology is ready and businesses are just waiting for the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) to catch up. There has been great progress with the FAA coming out with the Rule 107 which regulates commercial drone usage. This has given many drone startups regulatory certainty and paved the way for the future.

  2. J2G18, thanks a lot for shedding light on this immense application of drones. I find drones fascinating, and can’t think of enough uses for the technology.
    However, due to its vast applicability, I have a key concern – security. A drone is capable of surveying buildings, fields, residential areas, and even strategic locations. I’m scared that there can be very dire consequences of expanding this technology – if its misused by the anti-social elements.
    Along with the FAA progressing with the commercialization of drone use, I’m really interested to learn how future threats can be tackled and mitigated before (god-forbid) they are misused.

  3. J2G18, it was very interesting to hear of yet another additional application for drones. I do hear your concern about the effect that this technology could have on jobs held by human beings: new technologies are rapidly threatening the positions of millions of individuals across the globe. However, technical progress will open new activities and jobs that we hadn’t thought of. It is important, however, that companies help employees who held positions threatened by new technologies transition into positions that serve these technologies.

  4. J2G18, this is certainly an interesting article about the use of drones in an industry that I was not familiar with. The steps you noted at the end of your article are certainly areas of concern for me. I have noted my questions and thoughts below for your consideration.

    1) Does Skycatch have a strong relationship with the FAA? The ability for the company to succeed in the future will rely on the regulations the government imposes on drones. While you noted that some of regulations have favored the drone industry, a future could exist where citizens and governments lobby against the use of drones for the security or job elimination risks that you noted. While regulations must strive for fairness, it is inevitable to favor one population over the other. Therefore, the drone companies must seriously consider what future regulations will entail for all the stakeholders involved.

    2) Do the Skycatch drones require an individual to hold a flying permit? Regulations by the FAA could limit the market of available human capital to operate the drones in the future. For example, if the FAA required individuals who worked for Skycatch to receive training or specific licenses before they could fly drones. This could also increase the barriers to entry for other companies that are seeking to replicate Skycatch’s model.

    3) Can Skycatch create a market for the repair and maintenance of its real estate drones that can utilize existing labor? The idea of eliminating jobs is never an initiative that creates positive buzz for a company; on the contrary, many potential customers may veer away for this reason. It would be great to see Skycatch create jobs for those individuals it is replacing. I am also curious to know whether Skycatch can continue to utilize the expertise many of the current surveyors possess.

    Technology is certainly disrupting many industries, and Skycatch is on the forefront of creating a market that van be easily replicated if the right conditions exist. I will be excited to learn how the company approaches its future business plans.

  5. Thanks for writing this blog J2G18! Drones have certainly come in fast and furiously into the construction industry with it seemingly overnight putting helicopter operators for construction out of business. It is $2000+/hour for helicopter rental for HD filming and there is just no way for them to compete on any level vs. a $49/month drone. I’m already excited for next steps of how they can further use the large amounts of data (pictures, 3D landscapes/models) to get us a better understanding of our cities and construction. I do however agree with Koulik above though that although having more data is desirable, it can lead to security concerns.

    Separately, I believe another student wrote about PlanGrid (https://d3.harvard.edu/platform-rctom/submission/plangrid-digitizing-construction/), which is a company that is digitizing construction planning (think, replacing blueprints with iPads) – this seems like a perfect company to pair with to have a comprehensive digital construction package.

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