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John Deere Floats Drones as the Next Big Tool for Construction Workers

March 8, 2017, 1:00 AM UTC
John Deere
John Deere partners with drone startup Kespry.
John Deere

John Deere sees a future where construction workers use drones to help with their jobs.

The equipment manufacturing giant said Tuesday it’s partnering with drone technology startup Kespry, a deal that will involve John Deere’s sales teams selling drones and related services to the construction industry.

Kespry currently leases to construction and insurance companies drones that can take pictures of work sites and transfer the photos to Amazon Web Services (AMZN), where the custom software processes the imagery. In September, insurance titan Allstate said Kespry was one of the drone startups it used to inspect homes for storm damage in Texas.

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As part of the deal, John Deere’s network of more than 400 American and Canadian dealers will “introduce customers” to Kespry’s various drone services, while the startup handles customer support and flight training, said Andrew Kahler, a product marketing manager with John Deere.

One of the ways drones can help construction workers is by flying over their construction sites while taking pictures. These pictures can help construction workers keep tabs on their productivity, track their materials, and monitor how their projects come together, Kahler explained.

Construction companies are still able to take photos of their construction sites using rovers or by having workers climb up high edifices to take pictures themselves. But compared to drones, these methods are slower, Kahler said.

Kespry vice president of marketing David Shearer said that its company’s workers will also help potential customers understand and deal with new FAA rules governing the use of drones for business purposes. Last year, the FAA passed new rules that let companies more easily fly drones, as long as they have a licensed drone operator, don’t fly drones over 400 feet above the ground, and keep their drone operations limited to the day.

Prior to the FAA’s rules, Shearer said the drone industry was a bit of the “Wild West,” but the passing of commercial regulations “has legitimized drone technology.”

Several other startups also offer drone and aerial data gathering services similar to Kespry, including Skycatch, DroneDeploy, and 3D Robotics.

The Construction Industry Is in Love with Drones

The partnership is John Deere’s first such deal with a drone company that targets the construction industry, said Kahler. The equipment company also has a partnership with drone company Sentera in a similar deal that targets the agriculture industry.