It started simple enough: a wireless camera mounted on the hook block of a tower crane, allowing the operator in the cab to see the rigger on the ground and the area around the hook. But just a few years later, Netarus’ HoistCam is part of a method to generate point-cloud images of jobsites from the highest perch around.

“We had these cameras up on the hook, and one customer said they were generating 20 gigabytes of images a day. It was filling up the hard drive,” recalls Chris Machut, chief technology officer with Netarus. “We said ‘OK, what can we do with this imagery?’ ”

The result is, cloud-based photo-analysis software that stitches together the thousands of HoistCam-recorded images into 3D point clouds and digital surface maps of the area around the crane. These can be attached to as-built reports or exported into CAD and BIM. will enter beta at CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2017 for HoistCam customers, after more than a year in development.

Drones have been the industry’s chosen solution for getting bird’s-eye views of project sites. While drones have to contend with finding flight paths and sight lines around busy jobsites, HoistCam is already there, up on the crane, Machut points out. “We found that our system could be better than a drone—it doesn’t need a pilot, it doesn’t fall out of the sky, it doesn’t need to meet new regulations,” he adds. Drones can provide imagery only during regular flights, but HoistCam is always on, says Machut.

The first HoistCam launched at Conexpo 2014. Initially a tool to improve safety around crane rigging, the camera’s images were soon in demand elsewhere, on and off the site. “We launched HoistCam Director two years ago. It’s a remote viewing and recording program,” explains Machut. “If you’re a supervisor or owner of a site, you can see the whole view, much more than a camera across the street.” Currently, HoistCam Director can handle up to four camera feeds, with off-site backups.

Netarus soon had to expand into cloud-base storage to meet customer demand. With that mass of imagery data just sitting on the servers, Netarus engineers started daydreaming about all the things they could do with it, says Machut. The result was

The system takes the imagery HoistCam Director stores in the cloud and applies photo-analysis algorithms from off-the-shelf software to generate 3D point clouds and other deliverables. But despite having access to this vault of data, HoistCam does not want to own it, says Machut. “We don’t want to be the big data repository,” he says. “We have access, we analyze it, and we send it along.” Getting the best images from a crane that is in motion has been a challenge for HoistCam engineers, but Machut says it has resulted in better image-analysis algorithms. “Some image-analysis vendors require certain lighting, resolution, contrast levels—a lot of things hard to meet with a drone,” he says. “But we observe how our crane operators move cranes every day, and now we have algorithms that can work with their motions.”

HoistCam and will be at the Tech Experience pavilion at Conexpo 2017, held in Las Vegas on March 7-11.