Christian Sanz isn’t shy about the impact his drone company could have on the construction industry. “We can take in $2 billion from just the construction industry alone,” he says. “One job site could cost a company a few billion dollars. If you can shave a few days off their costs, it’s huge.” Sanz is CEO of San Francisco startup Skycatch, which sells autonomous robots and data analytics tools to companies in the mining, energy, logging, and agriculture industries. He is unequivocal in his belief that the construction industry has the most to gain in the near term from the aerial data-collection abilities that companies like his provide. Some of the world’s biggest construction and engineering firms—AECOM, Bechtel, DPR, France’s Bouygues—have experimented with drones on the job site, using aerial imagery for surveying, logistical planning, and monitoring activity. By piping the data directly to the cloud in real time, drones allow engineers to collaborate remotely on planning and execution. Analytics tools help them monitor supply stockpiles, better deploy materials and manpower, and regularly track site progress. On major projects, that can shave off weeks (and millions of dollars). It’s just scratching the surface of what drones can do. “We’re working with machine-makers to develop technology that gives aerial data back to other machines,” Sanz says. “Automating other machines using drone data? That’s the thing that’s going to blow people’s minds.”
This story is from the January 2015 issue of Fortune.
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