Jay Perkins, director of research and development for Tulsa-based B+T Group, admits that drones are cool and gadgety, not to mention trendy.
B+T, however, wanted a way to conduct cell tower examinations from the ground up.
“Drones can do photogrammetry, don’t get me wrong,” Perkins said during a recent interview at the company’s headquarters. “But we can turn it into an actual drawing that the client needs. That’s kind of the value added.”
B+T Group’s Site 360 technology is using photogrammetry — extracting three-dimensional information from a two-dimensional picture — and proprietary software it developed in 2015 to create detailed, centimeter-accurate comprehensive tower and compound audit information.
The move has allowed the company to streamline operations and elevate its stature in an industry built on height.
While taking inventory in the field, employees use an “off-the-shelf” camera and walk around the premises, elevating the camera with a modified selfie stick to simulate a drone, Perkins said. Workers in the field take an average of 550 to 600 photos of a cell tower and its compound, he said.
“Basically, it saves money because the guy out in the field is only out there from 10 to 15 minutes as opposed to one to two hours,” Perkins said. “We also have our proprietary software that they use to upload the data to a data center that immediately starts processing the pictures.
“It may take the computer four or five hours to process it. But it’s at a data center. It’s like $3 an hour. You’ve taken the cost and put it on the computer,” he said. “It’s doing a lot of hard work but at minimal cost. And it runs 24-7, seven days a week.”
Co-founded in 2000 by CEO Chad Tuttle and Dinesh Bhat, B+T has matured from a two-man structural engineering firm into a full-service wireless engineering, construction and technical services firm, comprising tower modifications, structural analysis, architectural and engineering services, site acquisition, distributed antenna systems/small cell services and tower construction. About 200 people work at the company.
Tuttle said Site 360 has opened doors for the firm.
“On a pure nerd side of it, it’s like finding a new toy and finding how many new things it can do every day and a business application for it,” he said.
B+T Group recently used Site 360 to perform space planning for a large Houston company, which later asked the Tulsa company to do civil and electrical engineering projects for it, Tuttle said.
“We would have never gotten those jobs before,” he said. “They wouldn’t hire an engineering firm out of Tulsa to come down to Houston to do those jobs. That’s exciting for me.
“Photogrammetry has existed for a hundred years. But computers now are just getting powerful enough to process all this information in a reasonable amount of time,” he said.
“The real trick that we’ve been able to do is … you can take all those photos. But the end of the day, you have to deliver a product that’s useful to the client and that they are willing to pay for.”