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Drones. You’ve heard about them and seen them everywhere. Whether flying around a room or capturing unique aerial footage, drones offer vast possibilities and applications — even in the world of construction.

In the past few years, drones have become one of the most compelling construction trends. The industry has experienced a 239% growth in drone use year over year, higher than any other commercial sector. Their aerial vantage point and data collecting abilities make them a viable tool, offering benefits that range from on-site safety to remote monitoring.

In particular, the benefits of drone technology have revolutionized the entire project lifecycle. Drone photos, videos, and imagery are manipulated to scope out projects, track building progress, and provide real-time updates.

As the industry grows and construction projects become more complex, drones in construction will continue to skyrocket. Read on to learn more about how these futuristic devices are transforming the industry.

How Are Drones Used in Construction?

With their real-time data recording and unique aerial advantage, drones can improve efficiency, cut costs, and streamline workflow. Here are some of the ways drones are used in construction.

1. Topographic Mapping and Land Surveys

Consulting topographic maps is essential when planning complex, large-scale construction projects. They can reveal costly blunders in designs ill-suited for a terrain. Although topographic maps are helpful, they are expensive and take a lot of time to produce. Because of this, maps are not always updated during the start of a job.

Due to their ability to map vast quantities of land, drones can exponentially cut down on the time to visualize a site’s topography. This would ensure not only that the project stays on schedule and according to budget, but also ensure accuracy before a project is initiated. Sending this information can help determine feasibility and assist with design.

Furthermore, the high-resolution images produced by drones can be manipulated into 3D models, allowing one to pinpoint challenges during pre-construction and spot mistakes in the scope, saving time and money in the long run.

2. Equipment Tracking and Automating

It’s a problem every project manager has faced — a slip in memory of where equipment is located at each job site. There are usually a ton of lengthy spreadsheets involved that can quickly turn into an Excel nightmare (unless you have rental management technology).

With a drone, that same manager can do a fly over and quickly assess if the equipment is where it needs to be. They can also quickly recognize if a piece of equipment is still on-site that should be terminated, preventing expensive accidental extension charges.

Another issue that frequently arises is when equipment malfunctions. The recording functionality of drones could be used to remotely access what issues are taking place and provide visual representations that aid in communicating the issues. The recorded data could easily be sent to repair technicians at equipment rental companies for quicker and more accurate diagnostics even before they make it to the work site.

In the future, drones will be able to direct and guide autonomous vehicles, which is sure to revolutionize the industry on a new scale.

3. Remote Monitoring and Progress Reports

Another valuable feature of drones in construction is the visibility it can give to clients. Drones can produce impressive aerial views and give clients a grasp of the project’s progression, especially when the clients are not able to be physically present on a site. This helps them feel assured that their spend is being utilized efficiently.

In addition to client communications, drones can improve internal collaboration in your team. During a flyover, a drone can send information to your software. Design teams, engineers, construction managers, workers, and owners can access the data at the same, follow the project, and catch any mistakes that may have occurred. Drones can also create a valuable trail of documents in case of situations that require them.

4. Security Surveillance

If you’ve ever had a piece of equipment stolen from a site, you’re aware of how devastating it can be. Having a boom lift or excavator stolen can leave you out tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. According to Capterra, over $300 million worth of construction is stolen from job sites every year, with less than 25% of it recovered. Equipment security is thus a very important component of managing a job.

A drone operator can conduct a flyover and quickly see if a piece of equipment is in a secure enough location. The surveillance camera could also be utilized to see if there are unauthorized individuals on the site. This will prevent damage or theft long before it occurs.

5. Personnel Safety

Worker safety is one of the top priorities of many construction companies. In particular, falls account for 39% of worker fatalities. When taking manual measurements, workers often have to climb to unsteady heights and navigate around hazardous conditions. Drones can replace workers in these situations and mitigate the risk construction workers face on the field.

Construction managers can also use drone video cameras to monitor the job site for safety concerns, making sure workers are properly balanced and that no structures and equipment are loose or unstable that could injure workers.

6. Structure Inspection and Photography

Replacing heavy machinery and bulky scaffolding, drones can provide a crucial inspection. They can be flown around structures to check stability and fine details, and take high-resolution imagery for analysis. Thermal sensors can detect heat leaks, cold spots, and any electrical issues. This level of quality assurance helps with client relationships in the long run.

Drones can also be used for planned maintenance of larger-scale structures like bridges, towers, roofs, and scaffolding. A task that would take an entire team of surveyors to do would only take a few hours with a drone operator.

Types of Construction Drones

While there are many types of drones, commercial drones are the standard used in construction. Some models are fixed-wing while other models have rotating blades. The main differences between them are their design and usage.

With their airplane-like design, fixed-wing drones can glide on a set path and reach higher altitudes, making them efficient for mapping topography and surveying greater distances. However, fixed drones are only able to fly forward. For closer aerial inspections and photography, rotary drones are the better option since they are easy to control and their rotor design allows them to hover and remain stable.

Key Features

Equipped with cameras, GPS units, thermal sensors, and infrared sensors, drones can capture key data on the building site.  The information they collect can be sent to a computer via drone software, allowing users to analyze, interpret, and that data. These features allow construction projects to be more efficient, building projects to be better managed, and inspections to be more thorough.

by: Liam Stannard

October 9, 2018