Modus Robotics

ModusModus’ drone and related technology save clients time and money.

By Alan Dorich, Senior Editor at Knighthouse Publishing

If there’s anything that contractors are looking for today, it’s convenience. Unlike drone or software companies, Modus Robotics offers the “total package.”  It offers the equipment, software, standardization and training, and continual customer support to make it easy for companies to adopt drone mapping technology to dramatically reduce field geospatial and inspection collection efforts. The data from Modus products allows engineers and managers high fidelity, timely information for enhanced decision making, CEO Daniel Hubert says. 

Based in Del Mar, Calif., the company offers services where it integrates survey grade laser mapping drones with easy to use workflows to help its clients collect geospatial data and make important decisions for their projects. Hubert started Modus Robotics after gaining extensive experience in the U.S. military, which included serving as an intelligence officer, Topgun tactical flight instructor and a naval drone integration program manager.Modus info box

In 2009, “I was given a hard assignment where I was asked to command a half dozen UAV units for Special Forces over in the Middle East,” he recalls. “We were launching drones from the same airports with flying manned aircraft and then flying hundreds of miles away to do our mission. Something we still can’t do here in the U.S.”

With the help of the drones, Hubert and his team were able to give information to provisional construction groups about the location of local infrastructure and how successful construction projects were for the local populations. “Our products were providing the information to change the way construction was planned and remotely tracked in Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s where we started to conceive that this is something we should bring back to the United States to the commercial sector,” he explains. 

Although the Federal Aviation Administration did not immediately approve the uses for drones Hubert planned, he took a job as a General Atomics’ MQ-9 Reaper drone program manager, waited for the right time and started the company in 2015.

In 2016, Modus stood up its Modus Analytical Intelligence branch under Hubert’s longtime colleague, Dennis Davidson. Modus AI is comprised of NGA college veteran remote sensing geospatial analysts and instructors with experience in mapping using Imagery, LiDAR, Aerial Radar, Ground Penetrating Radar and Sonar. They are chartered to consult with businesses on emerging technology training and data analysis workflows.  

Today, Modus Robotics serves a customer base that includes the construction, engineering, environmental and GIS-related industries. 

Beneath Vegetation

Modus goes beyond mere drones, as it also offers photograph-based and vegetation penetrating laser mapping sensors that collect information for its clients. ”There are many engineers starting to adopt camera drones to augment their field work,” Hubert says.   

“They quickly realize camera-based surveying only works on hard surfaces (dirt and pavement),” he states. “Most of the earth is covered by vegetation ranging from short grass, shrubs to jungle, and photography can only measure the tops, causing several hundredths-of-foot error.

“This is why we specialize in drone light detection and ranging (LiDAR) based mapping,” Hubert continues. “This uses lasers to very accurately measure the vegetation and the bare earth beneath.  Depending on the LiDAR and integrated GPS embedded inertial solution, these sensors can produce very dense data tables with absolute positional error range from 10 to 60 millimeters.” 

Modus AI’s team of data analysts and trainers can help clients understand the emerging technology. “For many companies just getting into the industry, the sheer amount of choices to be made can be overwhelming. Choosing a drone, IMU, LiDAR sensor and processing software are all decisions that need to be made and most companies are inundated by the number of decision points. These choices ultimately should be tied to the user’s business case,” Director of Training Dennis Davidson says. “Our cradle-to-grave services will help the client decide on the right tool for the right job.”

For example, Hubert says, Modus Robotics has the ability to show its surveyor clients how to fly a drone over a space and use sensors to optimize the collection of all their ground control points for that area. “But then from there, we show them how to process information to get to that base product: a calibrated point cloud,” he says.  “This doesn’t replace a surveyor; it enhances their maps, since there is no interpolation between points.”

The calibrated point cloud, he notes, a table of millions precise pinpoint three-dimensional measurements of an area as well as tight tolerances for where it is located on the Earth’s surface. “Every little bit of information is referenced to the Earth with a high level of precision,” he says.

With this, Modus Robotics can develop 3-D topography maps, CAD drawings or GIS information layers. For example, when the company worked with cell tower engineering companies, it was able to map the land and create exact 3-D models of the cell tower. “We can do it in minutes and without all the conventional safety equipment,” Hubert says.

The sensors also can help clients see things hidden from the naked eye. Modus Robotics sensors have been used in Guatemala that have used the tool to uncover Mayan pyramids that no one had discovered before.

“With these sensors, we can penetrate vegetation,” Hubert says, noting that the tools also can see underneath trees. “This impressive technology is what differentiates it from regular camera drones.”

Strong Savings 

Modus Robotics’ technology helps its clients avoid the costs of renting planes or helicopters to develop topography maps and take photos of areas. While these may allow a user to cover a lot of area, “It’s expensive and not convenient,” Hubert says. 

Instead, Modus Robotics’ equipment can easily fit in the back of a truck. “Depending on the application, these technologies can speed up field work by six to 10 times traditional methods. You can cover several hundred acres in a matter of hours,” he says.

Its products also help its surveyor clients reduce field time.  This cost savings is allowing them to win more bids. Often, Hubert says, surveyors will go out, walk the land and make discreet measurements using poles. Mobile scanning technologies dramatically reduce “walking time.”

“For 20 acres, traditionally you need to do several survey lines, and everything in between is an estimate,” he says, noting that this process can take days or even weeks. But the company’s sensors can capture millions of points of the whole terrain in a matter of minutes.

Office Workflow

“In addition to shortening field collection time, survey grade high fidelity digital products speed up your back-office processes because you have virtual reality record,” Hubert says, noting that its clients can keep turning to that record over and over again, instead of going through the trouble of revisiting the site. 

Usually, if a field worker missed something, “They would have to go back out to the site,” Hubert explains, noting that this would be very costly for the client. “Here, you have to go back to your computer and look it up again. You’re reducing rework and really getting into virtual reality. That’s the power of that technology.” 

Modus Robotics also saves its clients the trouble of having to navigate rough terrain. “If you’re going up a mountainside, that takes a lot of time to walk it and exposes you to a lot of physical hazards,” Hubert says.

“By using a drone, a company can survey terrain and areas not normally accessible by traditional methods,” he says, noting that it also reduces its clients’ liability by preventing them from putting employees in unsafe environments.

Thanks to Modus Robotics, “Companies are seeing advantages where their workman’s comps are going down,” Hubert says. “They’re not seeing those injuries like a sprained ankle or falling off a pile.”

Recently, a Washington state client needed to map very steep terrain as it followed power lines, “The sheep wouldn’t even go up and down these hills,” he recalls. “With the drone-mounted LiDAR and cameras, they were able to map the terrain, vegetation, and the utility assets to a tenth of a foot in less than a day, and no one was put in a hazardous condition.”

Hubert adds that Modus Robotics will soon help a customer in Wisconsin map out river flood plains. “Between environmentally sensitive areas and dense brush it is prohibitive to access by foot,” he says.  “However, a drone can remotely access, collect the valuable measurements, and not disturb the ecology.  This is allowing pipeline companies the increased visibility to engineer solutions that align with the environment, land owners and the needs of the company.” 

Building Awareness

Modus Robotics has had success getting customers to adopt its technology, but it still encounters some skeptics. “We have been told by a lot of companies, ‘we have got a drone,’ referring to a toy from Best Buy,” Hubert says. “We’re selling survey grade equipment and the know how to integrate into a business.”

The company found that in 2016 most construction firms with a drone almost never used them except for marketing promotion.  Today, the market is starting to realize it can use cameras to create maps.   

Modus Robotics has property development companies starting to look at using LiDAR maps to create large 3-D printed representations of proposed projects.  They are also using its colorized point clouds to create fly-throughs, a virtual reality tour, for stakeholders and investors. 

The company also sees a huge advantage to digital design. Using reality capture, engineers can “see” design problems before the project is funded. Part of this is taking the “as-is” models its products provide, and layering CAD models on it. Because drone scanning is reasonably convenient, project managers now can routinely scan to chart progress, determine stockpiles and anticipate errors on their projects before they become issues. 

“At the end of the day, what we’re really doing is promoting early identification of errors and preventing rework,” Hubert says. “That’s what this is really about.”

These can even help a client determine if they are building an expansion in the wrong place. “These are things we’re trying to solve for people,” he says. 

“We’re trying to build that awareness in their design before they actually spend the money,” he adds.

Hubert is proud of Modus Robotics and how it has been able to save its clients money. “These engineers are going out there are producing products that would take them weeks in days,” he says.

Not only have the company’s products been able to save its clients’ time and money, “They are providing much better visibility,” Hubert says. “We’re advancing what companies can do, and in the long run, that’s going to have such an impact on construction and engineering services and environmental services.”

Going forward, Modus Robotics will continue in the role as a survey grade mobile sensing company. “We’ll continue to sell these types of products,” Hubert says, noting that the company also wants to partner with firms to accelerate their business intelligence. 

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