Komatsu America selects Propeller Aero's drone mapping software

By Patrick C. Miller | August 15, 2018

Construction equipment manufacturer Komatsu America Corp. has selected Denver-based Propeller Aero as a partner in its Smart Construction Initiative.

The program’s objective is to boost efficiency on construction job sites by using Propeller’s drone-powered mapping and analytics software. Through its distributor network, Komatsu offers a range of integrated hardware and software products to improve workflow for each construction phase.

Komatsu America is a U.S. subsidiary of Komatsu Ltd., the world's second largest manufacturer and supplier of earth-moving equipment, including construction, mining and compact construction equipment.

“A Komatsu Smart Construction jobsite, by definition, is technology enhanced and production optimized,” said Jason Anetsberger, senior product manager at Komatsu America. “Adding Propeller Aero as one of our key partners gives our North American distributors and customers alike exceptional capabilities to achieve this standard in the aerial mapping space.”

John Frost, Propeller’s vice president of business development, said the software’s ease of use—combined with its reliability and accuracy—are among the reasons Propeller’s technology provided a good fit for Komatsu America.

“We’re well-suited to meet the needs of modern construction operations,” he said. “We tailor our software to different industries and try not to be a generic platform. We have very complimentary products that work well with Komatsu’s intelligent machines. They improve projects and productivity by providing feedback from the drone to people on the ground through multiple data streams that our customers use.”

Propeller's technology platform supports multiple coordinate systems, including local site calibrations. This enables personnel to capture up-to-date survey data expressed in the specific geospatial coordinates already used on the jobsite. Local grid support ensures that drone-captured maps and models match up with plans and previous surveys.

Frost noted that Propeller’s software is “drone agnostic,” meaning that it can be used by almost any unmanned aircraft system (UAS) off the shelf. Depending on the type of project, he said using a drone with the company’s software can be up to 90 percent more efficient. Projects that typically take up to 72 hours to complete can sometimes be finished in less than a day.

“Most people we work with don’t have the time to understand how the data is created; they just want answers,” Frost explained. “We turn a drone into a very accurate tool for worksite measurements. Our customers have confidence in what’s being measured. They can see it and observe it.”

Propeller is working in one of the commercial areas in which Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) UAS regulations have little impact on operations. Altitude and line-of-sight restrictions aren’t a factor. “Overwhelmingly, the sites where we’re working are less than 100 acres,” Frost said. “We make sure everyone understands the FAA regulations and operates within them.”  

In addition, the combination of drones, sensors and software have matured to the point where they are truly useful tools in the construction and mining industries.

“A couple of years ago, there was a little bit of disconnect between expectations and realities,” Frost noted. “The software capabilities have really caught up to drone technology. We’re at the point now where we can see what a construction site is supposed to look like when it’s finished.”