Leading players in the heavy machinery sector are betting on the use of drones as a productivity enhancement tool for construction sites.

Heavy machinery giant Caterpillar expects aerial surveillance technology in tandem with data analytics to drive dramatic gains in efficiency and productivity on construction sites.

The company recently entered a partnership with drone analytics startup Redbird to investigate the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV’s) for the collection of visual data in relation to site operations.

The partnership will explore the use of drones for the real-time tracking of inventories, project schedules and machine diagnostics from an aerial perspective, with one of its first projects focusing on the use of UAV’s to achieve haul road optimisation on mining projects.

Caterpilllar believes that Redbird’s signature red and black copters can enhance the management of vehicle fleets by gathering a trove of real-time visual data on machines while they’re active in the field, and converting this imagery into information on their precise location, progress speed, fuel consumption and idle time.

A Redbird drone is capable of conducting a complete surveillance of a 30 acre construction site within 20 minutes, and incorporating the aerial imagery it gathers into pre-existing data management platforms like Caterpillar’s VisionLink.

In addition to real-time monitoring of machinery in the field, site managers can also use drones to establish geofences for controlling the movements of vehicles by incorporating aerial data into mapping systems.

Caterpillar indicated repeatedly last year that data collection and analytics would be an integral part of the company’s long term fortunes, as well as acquiring a stake in data analytics firm Uptake.

“Drones are entering a new phase, with data analytics at the heart of this evolution,” said Emmanuel de Masire, co-founder and CEO of Redbird. “Our solutions have been developed with leading construction companies and quarry operators for the past two years, helping them extract the real value out of drone data.”

Caterpillar’s collaboration with Redbird will initially be restricted to Europe, Africa and the Middle East, with the company hoping to draw valuable lessons from the partnership on how drones can bring benefit to construction operations.

Other construction machinery companies are also betting on drones as the key to improving construction site productivity in future. Caterpillar’s chief rival in the construction machinery space, Komatsu, has teamed up with drone manufacturer Skycatch to use UAV’s for the full automation of dozers and excavators.