Here’s my interview with Rory San Miguel, CEO of Propeller Aerobotics, a UAV tech company. We’re discussing the use of drones in construction and the company’s recently announced collaboration with Trimble to deliver efficient UAV workflows.
You’re a co-founder of Propeller. How did your company come about?
I met Francis (Propeller co-founder) in 2013 at a drone delivery startup called Flirtey. There we worked closely on drone technology as engineers but ultimately felt like there were nearer term revenue opportunities for drones in the mapping/surveying space. We quickly spun out to start Propeller and have focussed on making drone data easy for construction, mining, quarries and landfills since then.
Francis Vierboom and Rory San Miguel, Propeller’s Founders
UAVs, or drones, are gaining popularity in construction. What do you think is driving this trend?
Technology is helping us measure performance in all areas of life: how many steps walked, average fuel consumption of your car, frequent flyer miles. The construction industry on the other hand has been slow to adapt to frequent and accurate performance measurement, largely because there are not sensible ways to digitize what is traditionally such manual, outdoor labour.
Drones unlock that oversight.
What have been, so far, the most beneficial uses of UAV technology in construction?
Accurately tracking earthworks and keeping people out of dangerous situations are by far the 2 biggest improvements drones have delivered to date.
What are the biggest problems or questions that a construction industry firm might have when they consider using drones?
There are sensible but challenging regulations that restrict the commercial usage of drones to those licenced to operate under the FAA 107 legislation. For companies looking to get started, these laws are hard to navigate and require significant investment by interested companies. Alternatively, businesses can hire a local licenced service provider to capture the same data and whilst that avoids the legal challenges businesses, the opportunity of drones is less appealing financially in this scenario.
How do your company’s products make the use of drones easier and efficient for a construction industry customer?
We make a hardware product called the AeroPoints which bring drone data down to <1inch level accuracy, critical for high value applications. Importantly, these can be operated by people with zero training so it really is off-the-shelf accuracy. Our software manages all the heavy processing and delivery of the data products – overall a very straight forward solution that means both accurate and easy insights for our customers.
On July 13, you announced formal collaboration with Trimble. What does it mean in practice?
Trimble have succeeded via hundreds of dealers globally. Our partnership means Trimble dealers around the world can sell our products to customers easily and in a way which is supported by Trimble HQ from both a support and integration perspective.
What can Propeller’s and Trimble’s customers expect to benefit from you joining forces?
Simple workflows that allow drone data to contribute to the established workflows in the space, and also allowing other site data to flow back into Propeller for a more complete site representation in the Propeller platform.
How do you see the future of UAVs in construction?
I expect in 3 years every construction site on earth will use drones for daily data capture, and site teams will benefit from the automation of many workflows today which rely on overly expensive, slow and dangerous techniques.
How can our readers find more information on your products and how can they contact you?
Please visit propelleraero.com or email us at