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The Third Wave of the Drone Industry: Construction, 3DR’s Site Scan, and Where We’re Headed Next

BY Zacc Dukowitz
2 June 2017

Not too long ago we wrote about 3D Robotic’s impressive series D funding round, in which they raised $53 million for their construction-focused platform Site Scan and made an incredible comeback from what looked like a pretty dire situation.

In that piece we talked about how 3DR’s new funding alone demonstrates how strong the construction sector has become for drones and drone data platforms. Lately we’ve also seen construction/AEC (Architecture, Engineering, and Construction) plays by some of the biggest companies in the industry—DJI with their Matrice 200, Parrot with their new prosumer line, and Yuneec with their H920 Plus (to name just a few).

To put it concisely, construction is a booming sector in the drone industry.

3dr site scan

Recently Chris Anderson, the founder of 3DR and former editor-in-chief of Wired Magazine, sent out an email to all the members of his DIY Drones community that we’re going to cover here because he does such a good job of laying out how the industry has evolved, and why it is that we’ve arrived where we are today, with consumer drone sales somewhat flatlining while construction is taking off. (When we say flatlining, we’re talking about the major layoffs made in the last six months by companies like Parrot, Autel, GoPro, and Yuneec.)

The first paragraph of Anderson’s email does a great job of summing up how far we’ve come as an industry in the last decade. We’ll let him take it away:

“I founded the DIY Drones community ten years ago, in April 2007, and it’s hard to believe how far our world has come since then. When we started, the idea of making your own autonomous drone sounded like science fiction; now millions of people have one. Back then, we were hacking Arduinos and the aerospace industry dismissed us as delusional hobbyists; now the software and hardware project that started here are among the world’s most sophisticated, including the thriving ArduPilot and Dronecode software projects that are used by top research institutes and organizations, from NASA to Intel and Qualcomm.”

– Chris Anderson, CEO of 3D Robotics

Construction, The Third Wave of the Drone Industry

We’ve certainly come a long way as an industry.

As the image below illustrates, and as Anderson lays out in the paragraph quoted above, the industry went through a first wave of DIY, where the focus was on the tech, and which presented a fairly limited niche due to the knowledge required to get involved; a second wave where the focus and growth were on drones as toys for consumers, and which expanded the market to include people who weren’t as tech savvy; and now we’ve entered a third wave, where drones are tools used for serious commercial applications by professional pilots in construction and related sectors.

This image from a recent article Anderson published in the Harvard Business Review, which was the cover story for the issue, illustrates the evolution:


Image source

In short, the technology available today is so sophisticated that drones have become a highly professional, highly specialized class of tool for a variety of commercial applications.

Agriculture is another growing commercial sector, and a place where some fascinating new applications have been cropping up (get it?).

Take, for instance, the fact that aerial thermography can now help you identify the specific types of crop in a field by using each plant’s thermal behavior as an individual signature for the plant type, which helps researchers fast track data collection for hybridization experiments. (Thermography has actually extended the range of classifiers for plants, if you can believe it.)

Efforts likes these require sophisticated platforms to process the data collected via sUAS, and those platforms—such as 3DR’s Site Scan for construction, or Gamaya’s AI software for agriculture—are where some of the most amazing technological advances are happening in the drone industry (and in tech in general, in our opinion).

About Site Scan Manager

3DR’s new web app Site Scan Manager is a great example of how sophisticated commercial drone platforms have become.

Site Scan Manager providers users with real time insights into the progress being made on a construction site by letting them view jobs over time and measuring stockpile volumes (among other features).


Perimeter scan is a new flight mode for the Site Scan Field iOS app, which enables you to capture façades and vertical structures, and makes it easy to collect more accurate data in the field, going from topographic survey to detailed, 3D as-built models.


3DR’s customers—established firms like PCL Construction, Kimley-Horn, and McKim & Creed—are using Site Scan to design new bridges, survey inaccessible terrain, build artificial lagoons, and measure stockpiles, and a whole lot more.

Now the only question is: what’s the fourth wave going to be?

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