Inspecting high-rise buildings with drones
Chicago, or the Windy City, is home to over 1,000 high-rise buildings. Some of these high-rises are brand new; others were built in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Each skyscraper has its own style and character. For many of these structures, construction and maintenance pose a real challenge. How can you see the side of a building in detail when it could be hundreds of feet above you? Enter: digital twins.
Digital twins are virtual recreations of real objects. They are used in telecom to digitize telecommunication assets for inspections, or in construction to plan and track new buildings with Building Information Modeling (BIM). Digital twins have many benefits for areas of inspection such as facades and bridges, where a detailed 3D model can provide better access to the asset. Digital twins of high-rise buildings and construction sites provide data that can be used for inspection, maintenance, and documentation. When paired with drone inspection software, a digital twin can be achieved faster than a manual inspection with better safety and cost savings.
Specialized infrastructure inspection with drones
Helios Visions is a technology company specializing in infrastructure inspections via drone for companies throughout the USA. Their headquarters are in Chicago, where they are a member of the CompTIA Drone Advisory Council and FAA UAS-certified drone pilots. Helios Visions’ typical projects include infrastructure inspections with drones of buildings, facades, construction sites, and bridges. They were contracted to inspect a historic high-rise building in Chicago with drones. They collected their data and processed the drone imagery with PIX4Dinspect.
|Project||The Union Carbide and Carbon Building|
|Project details||503 feet tall (153 meters), 37 stories|
|Hardware||DJI M300 with P1|
|Processing time||8 hours|
Inspecting the Union Carbide Building with drones
The Union Carbide and Carbon Building, designed by the renowned Burnham Brothers firm, was completed in 1929 in an art-deco architectural style. Standing 503 feet tall (153 meters), it stands at 37 stories. It was declared a landmark in the 1990s and saw some restorative work in 2004, totaling $106 million dollars. It’s an iconic part of Chicago architecture, with a facade including granite and terra cotta elements.
The new owners of the building decided it needed a condition assessment to check for any maintenance needs. This building assessment would include checking the facade for any damage or potential upkeep requirements. These inspections are important for ensuring high-rise buildings are safe - if an element becomes loose, or falls, it could pose a danger to people nearby.
Helios Visions sent a drone inspection team to the building to gather data for a building assessment. They used a DJI M300 drone with a P1 camera, which collects high-resolution georeferenced imagery. The drone flight had to cover the entirety of the building and ensure enough overlap between images so the drone software could process an accurate 3D model. The whole building was inspected with drones in just one day. After data collection, the Helios Visions team uploaded the imagery to PIX4Dinspect.
Creating a digital twin of a building with drones
PIX4Dinspect is an online platform tailored for creating intelligent digital twins. The software has built-in AI that will automatically detect features, such as the dimensions of an antenna on a telecom tower, to streamline inspection processes. Multiple projects can be hosted on it at a time, making it a scalable inspection solution.
Helios Visions processed the entire tower with PIX4Dinspect in 8 hours. Their digital twin showed all of the facades of the building and can be used for detailed analysis. This includes careful inspection of the status of the building’s facades, annotations of maintenance requirements, and measurements of elements. Helios Visions shared their digital twin with their engineering client, who highlighted areas where potential maintenance or repair work could be required. This immediately provided the building ownership with a valuable deliverable. The digital twin can also be used in the long term as a baseline to monitor the building’s conditions. Helios Visions compiled their digital twin and knowledge and shared them with a structural engineering company to complete a report for the client.
The future of building inspections with drones
After the digital twin was generated by PIX4Dinspect, the engineering company used the data to do the initial inspection of the building for the conditions assessment. The digital twin is hosted online and thus was easy to share between the engineers and the client. The engineers commented on the ease of measuring the length and areas of elements on the model. The straightforward user interface for this inspection software made collaboration easier for everyone.
PIX4Dinspect enabled our organization to quickly process our drone data into a digital twin of the historic building we were tasked with inspecting enabling us to better serve our client both for this project and in the future as we can refer to this digital twin as a baseline for future facade inspection and building maintenance, said Ted Parisot, co-founder, and COO/CMO of Helios Visions.
Once the annotations and measurements had been completed by the structural engineers, Helios Visions compiled a report for the client along with access to the digital twin. The client will use the PIX4Dinspect model for records and documentation, as well as plans for any changes to the building. With the annotations, detail, and accuracy all combined in the digital twin, the client now has a complete idea of the status of the entirety of the building - all thanks to a drone facade inspection!