PrecisionHawk today announced it has purchased Chicago-based Uplift Data Partners, which provides inspection services for construction, building information management (BIM), and real-estate companies. This marks the fifth acquisition for PrecisionHawk in 2018, and it allows the company to provide support for the growing number of companies in the construction space using drones to analyze data projects, among other applications. Terms of the deal were undisclosed.
Uplift’s network of commercially trained drone pilots will join PrecisionHawk’s Droners.io network of more than 15,000 drone pilots, the companies said in a statement. Suzanne El-Moursi, CEO of Uplift, will join PrecisionHawk’s executive leadership team and manage the construction line of business.
“As we’ve started to see real pickup in the construction and BIM facilities space, we wanted to be able to make sure we can very quickly go after this emerging opportunity we’re seeing,” said Michael Chasen, CEO of PrecisionHawk. “Who’s the best player out there? It’s Uplift Data Partners, so we said, ‘This is another combination that just makes sense.’”
Uplift was formed in 2015 as a fully integrated subsidiary of Clayco, one of the largest architecture, engineering, design-build and construction firms, PrecisionHawk said. The deal also means that Clayco will exclusively source its construction projects to PrecisionHawk, and serve on the PrecisionHawk board of advisors.
This year has been very busy for the Raleigh, N.C.-based PrecisionHawk. Earlier this year, the company acquired Droners.io and Airvid, and in September, it bought HAZON Inc. and InspecTools, which provide inspection services for the energy industry.
“We have a team of people who are experts in drones, and what we’ve looked to do in these acquisitions is bring on people who also had a very strong vertical focus,” Chasen said. “So now we have a who’s who in agriculture, energy, renewable energy, construction, and insurance.”
PrecisionHawk expands drones beyond aerial imagery
Chasen added that scaling up the company is more about having a depth of understanding rather than just entering a particular market.
“For example, in the energy space, a lot of times, we just started off flying drones and getting aerial imagery of transmission lines or distribution lines,” he said. “Now we’ve started taking that and we can do different analytics, measurements, and even machine learning to identify problems over time.”
“Having people with that deep bench of knowledge, we’re able to create algorithms and machine learning, so our business in that space has evolved from basic aerial images to doing a lot of the analysis, and we’re starting to see that in the construction space as well,” said Chasen. “The reason we’re excited about Uplift in particular was not just because it adds a whole bunch of reputable names in construction projects, but that we can then take our expertise and algorithms and machine learning and apply that to create even more advanced tools for people who want to use drones in the construction space.”
As more companies realize the benefits of data analytics and machine learning to their drone projects, the growth in the industry will continue, he said.
“To me, the biggest advance in the drone market has been the application of analytics and machine learning to the data it’s collecting,” Chasen said. “We call ourselves a drone company, but at the end of the day, we’re a big data and analytics company. We’re just using drones as a unique way to collect that data.”
An industry poised for growth
Many experts say the commercial drone industry is set to grow at an incredible rate. In July, analyst firm IDC predicted that worldwide drone spending will reach $9.3 billion this year, and it will grow at a compound annual growth rate of 32.1% over the next five years. More than half of all spending will be enterprise drone solutions, IDC said, with the largest amount of spending ($925 million and $808 million) in the utilities and construction industries, respectively.
PrecisionHawk continues to work on programs with the FAA through its UAS Integration Pilot Program. It has developed recommendations for companies looking to fly drones beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS).
Chasen said the FAA has been very supportive of letting companies experiment with new applications and initiatives around commercial drone flights.
“In particular, once they approve true beyond visual line of sight flying, I think it will be a game-changer for the industry,” he said.
However, Chasen noted that regulations are not the main hindrance for commercial drone growth, but rather the relative newness of the technology.
“The consumer drone industry is a multi-billion-dollar market; the military drone industry is a multi-billion-dollar market, but the commercial drone industry only became legal in August 2016,” he said. “So of course, people are just now figuring out how to use drone technology.”
Once the FAA released the Part 107 regulations, companies began running pilot programs and putting their plans in place, Chasen added.
“I think you’re going to see 2019 being the year of the drone,” he said. “You have all these companies that take these pilot projects that they’ve been running, and deploying them en masse. We’re seeing that right now.”