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By Mark S. Kuhar

24 Whitaker 400It’s a bird, it’s a plane . . . no, actually it is a drone. And they are becoming more and more common for use in aggregates operations. Just ask Whitaker Contracting.

The Gunterville, Ala.-based company – which also includes Madison Materials – utilizes a drone to measure stockpiles at its three quarry operations in Guntersville, Blountsville and Summit, Ala., as well as at other plants and projects under the company’s umbrella.

The company leased its drone from Kespry, a company that designs and builds commercial-grade drone systems that allow a business to capture, view and analyze aerial imagery and survey data using automated and proprietary drone technology.

Kespry drones are saving aggregates operations time and money by automating the measurement of aggregate stockpiles and construction materials, according to the company. Aggregates operations can automatically get the perimeter, cut and fill volumes, for all their aggregate stockpiles as frequently as needed.

According to John Davenport, project manager for Whitaker Contracting, the Kespry drone has been a lifesaver for the company.

“I didn’t know a thing about these things before we tested the Kespry drone,” Davenport said. “It was very impressive and surpassed all of our expectations.”

The company was previously using surveying equipment to measure stockpiles, which took a lot of time, taking into consideration the physical burden of hauling the equipment around, setting up and manually measuring stockpiles.

“The drone took all of that away,” Davenport said. “The physical impact has been removed. We don’t have to worry about falling off of stockpiles anymore.”

What used to be a three-week operation is now accomplished within a couple of days.

Keeping it Simple

Operating the drone is a simple task, according to Davenport. “It has to be simple if I am going to use it,” he quipped.

The Kespry drone is very interactive. It functions off of an iPad using a special Kespry app, and a K-Box, which is the unit’s ground-control and battery-charging station.

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“You just put the drone on the ground, turn the K-Box on, the iPad reads the information from the K-Box and the drone’s GPS kicks in,” Davenport said. “All you do is use your finger to trace the perimeter of where you want the drone to fly. The drone figures the flight path and prompts you through a series of syncs that assure it is a safe flight. This thing is smart-squared!”

When the drone is programmed successfully, its propellers start up and it takes off to fly pre-set flight parameters. The unit flies between 200 and 250-ft. high. When everything has been recorded in the flight path, the drone returns and lands in the same place.

The drone is programmed to fly FAA guidelines. It can go no higher than 400 ft., fly only in daylight, has to remain three to five miles from any airport and can only fly over land.
The unit features a battery that allows it to fly for 20-25 minutes.

“It is pretty cool to watch,” Davenport said. “Its guidance system is incredible. In my opinion, the drone paid for itself the first time I used it.”

Operational Advantages

According to Kespry, since the drones are fully automated, no pilot training or joystick is required to fly the drone. It takes less than 20 minutes to fly a 40-acre quarry with 30-50 large stockpiles.

After a flight, the Kespry drone system uploads the imagery to the Kespry cloud, which automatically processes photo, topographic and volumetric data into interactive maps and models that quarry personnel can access using any web browser. It takes one to six hours of server-processing time before the aerial model is ready.

Kespry cloud reporting can automatically display the perimeter, area, volume, and cut and fill sizes for each identified stockpile. It takes less than one minute to identify and automatically measure each stockpile.

The bottom line? It takes only a few hours to measure 30-50 stockpiles at one site, and only a couple of days for multiple quarries with hundreds of stockpiles. What used to take days now takes hours.

Recent stockpile features include being able to measure volumes of odd-shaped piles against walls, and automatically calculating weight from stockpile material density. The Kespry drone aerial images also provide 2D and 3D models that assist with mine operations and mine planning.

According to Davenport, they are looking at additional uses for the drone. “We are using the drone, for instance, to evaluate highwall conditions, to see if anything needs to be scaled,” he said. “On our construction jobs, we can use the drone for periodic flyovers to evaluate progress on the project. Our goal is to find other uses for this incredible technology.”

Kespry: Just a Drone Call Away
The Drone
  • High-quality custom-built quad-copter drone.
  • Automated self-controlled flight–no joysticks or pilot training required.
  • Drone automatically takes off and returns to same location.
  • Field-swappable battery for low downtime between flights.
  • Built-in 24 megapixel camera links to on-board processor and network communications.
The App
  • Point-and-touch selection of drone flyover area.
  • Automatic creation of optimal flight path.
  • Pre-flight checks confirm drone readiness for safe operation.
  • Apple iPad and free mobile app included with system.
Cloud Reporting
  • Secure wireless data upload, aerial image processing and storage in the Kespry Cloud.
  • Aerial images, maps, contours, elevations and full 3D models.
  • Automatically measure distances, perimeters and volumes of identified objects, stockpiles, etc.
  • Stockpile measurement expanded to include cut and fill volumes, material density and weights.
  • Easy share images and models via Kespry Cloud with teams.