Flight of the inspection drones: One start-up’s “loopy” concept to disrupt constructing inspections with tech – Drones Information
With a background in analytics and acoustic solutions, Mr. Shaun Koo, Co-Founder and Chief Technical Officer of H3 Zoom.AI, made a “crazy” leap into building inspection and management.
His vision was to disrupt the industry with drones. When he first conceived this idea in 2016, drones were not yet a mainstream device. “People didn’t know the potential of drones – what they are, what they can be used for. Singapore wasn’t ready for drone operations at the time, ”says Koo.
But almost as if “the stars were aligned”, H3 Zoom.AI used its telerobot solutions and AI services to establish itself as a major player in the field of the built environment within just four years.
This was partly thanks to Mr. Koo’s keen business acumen. He noted that the built environment sector, the cornerstone of Singapore’s metropolitan landscape, was “overdue for disruption to digital technology.”
For example, traditional building facade inspection involves workers tethered to ropes or gondola lifts, climbing high and remote areas to conduct inspections or take photos. This manual process is tedious at best, dangerous at worst, and prone to human error.
Mr Koo imagined equipping drones with cameras and flying around buildings to scan and take pictures of building facades from different angles. The images could be fed into an AI and machine learning platform to identify problem areas. This would make the inspection process both safer and faster.
H3 Zoom.AI began making this vision a reality by participating in JTC’s Open Innovation Call in 2016 under its parent company H3 Dynamics. In cooperation with JTC, the H3 Zoom.AI Façade Inspector solution, powered by artificial intelligence, was launched. Various pilot tests at the JTC summit in Pixel @ one-north, in the Tuas industrial area, in the city councils of Yuhua and Sembawang showed that the inspection time was reduced by 70%. For example, it reduced the JTC Summit’s inspection time from about 4 weeks to 4 days during its pilot run.
Because JTC has a number of properties that require regular inspections, H3 Zoom.AI has tested its drone solution for three JTC properties. The company then relocated its headquarters to JTC’s LaunchPad @ one-north, Singapore’s first drone property. H3 Zoom.AI was not only able to test and demonstrate its drone technologies in a vibrant urban setting, but also benefited from being connected to a vibrant ecosystem of startups that enabled collaboration. “Being in the north is the best decision ever made,” says Mr. Koo with a smile.
Working with JTC also paved the way for further partnerships with other government agencies such as the Housing & Development Board and the Singapore Land Authority, he adds.
Today, H3 Zoom.AI used drones to inspect over 200 buildings in Singapore, some of which are up to 245 meters high, including over 160 JTC industrial properties. It is also working on projects in Brazil and is in talks to expand into Indonesia, Australia, Hong Kong and Japan.
In addition to instinct and timing, the company’s success has also been based on solid research and industry knowledge, says Koo.
For example, they chose the built environment area because they found the barriers to entry were low enough for the company to get its product to market quickly. The company also developed quickly with the market. Initially, the company focused on manufacturing drones. However, after H3 Zoom.AI realized that drones were becoming increasingly accessible in the mass market and the difficulty of competing with the massive economies of scale offered by Chinese competitors, it instead focused on developing and advancing its artificial intelligence technology.
“Our competitive advantage is on the software side, especially in gaining insights from the data collected by these devices,” says Koo.
The real value in accumulating data and using machine learning is in reaching a predictive level at which the company can inform its customers about structural failures that could occur in their buildings in the future.
While some companies fear workers are becoming obsolete, H3 explains to Zoom.AI that its technology is not meant to replace workers, but rather to qualify them. Drones can support and protect the employees on site, while the complementary AI software saves employees from tedious tasks like checking images and creating reports.
Their efforts to educate businesses have paid off – over the past few months, H3 Zoom.AI has found that a growing number of organizations in the built environment are more receptive to digital technologies. Companies no longer understood the concept of drones and sent their employees to drone operating courses. Some are even building their own drone operations teams, he says.
Mr. Koo and his team are ready to add value to these companies with artificial intelligence and machine learning solutions. He affirms that this technology is set to revolutionize the way the construction industry works and tackle labor and land challenges in order to make processes safer and more efficient.
Even when aiming high, making sure the technology is applied in a practical way is critical, says Koo. “We should work in an environment where it’s not science fiction, it’s realistic. The technology should be something that industry can use.” If you can