AkitaBox, PrecisionHawk to Bring Drones to Building Management

AkitaBox, a developer of software allowing users to access and edit documents containing data on buildings and the machines inside of them, announced a collaboration Monday that could enable the startup’s customers to inspect building exteriors by flying unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones.

Madison, WI-based AkitaBox says it has partnered with Raleigh, NC-based PrecisionHawk, which sells drones and accompanying software to help users make sense of the data the flying machines collect.

AkitaBox’s customers, which include hospitals, schools, insurers, and real estate companies, now have access to PrecisionHawk’s drones and software, says Todd Hoffmaster, co-founder and CEO of AkitaBox.

Hoffmaster says that most—but not all—of his company’s 36 clients need to routinely examine roofs and other exterior parts of their buildings. Current users of AkitaBox’s software who decide they want to also incorporate PrecisionHawk’s drone tools would have to pay an extra fee, he says.

Many people first learned about drones after the U.S. and other countries began using them in military operations overseas. In recent years, however, businesses have been making the case that the machines can be flown to do everything from monitor crops and electric transmission lines, to inspect wind turbines, to capture footage for a film or television show.

And now, the facility management industry is getting in on the drone action.

“We can use the technology that PrecisionHawk provides to help clients [of AkitaBox] that have a need for external surveillance be more efficient,” Hoffmaster says.

Inspecting building exteriors with drones instead of people also improves safety, says Charlie Jurgens, who works in marketing at AkitaBox.

“In nasty conditions, you don’t have to have a guy go up onto the roof,” Jurgens says. “He can just reference data points that their drones have collected.”

After a drone has completed a flight, a building manager might then feed some of the data gathered into the digital records the organization uses AkitaBox’s software to maintain. The startup says its tools have collected nearly 200 million square feet of facility data. Customers can, for instance, indicate whether exhaust fans, boilers, pumps, and other pieces of equipment are in working order, and when they’re likely to need maintenance. Some equipment is located on the roof or in places that are out of sight and hard to access, Hoffmaster says.

While AkitaBox’s software collects building data, PrecisionHawk’s software manages the drone’s flight. A drone operator can map out the flight path of a drone before takeoff or pilot the machine in real time. Jurgens says that AkitaBox does not currently have a firm preference in regard to whether clients that opt for drones go the autonomous or live-control route.

Last August, the Federal Aviation Administration granted PrecisionHawk the first waiver allowing commercial flights with small, unmanned aerial vehicles—those that weigh under 55 pounds and do not exceed speeds of 100 mph—beyond the operator’s line of sight.

Jeff Freund, vice president of construction at PrecisionHawk, says his company believes there are “massive opportunities” for drones to simplify how facility managers do their jobs today.

“AkitaBox understands the facilities process and the gaps that drone data can fill,” Freund said in a prepared statement. “By integrating PrecisionHawk technology, they are providing their customers with another layer of information.”

Jeff Buchanan is the editor of Xconomy Wisconsin. Email: jbuchanan@xconomy.com Follow @_jeffbuchanan

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