by Scott Howe
Here’s how you measure a successful construction project: It must be done on time, come in at or under budget, and meet the requirements of the client and the community.
To achieve that success, construction professionals need experienced staff, reliable equipment, solid plans, safe worksites, and competent management. Increasingly, they also need UAV technology.
The use of drones in the construction industry has been growing at an annual rate of 239%, according to a recent survey. The report explains that construction firms are deploying drones to reduce equipment loss, provide on-site security, and perform tasks in hard-to-access places with the goal of improving worker safety. In addition, the study states that drones are being used to collect data on construction projects, monitor the depreciation of equipment, and facilitate transportation of equipment and personnel.
“The rapid advancements in drone technology have continued to amaze me over the past few years,” said John Delp, Chief Pilot for the North American Division of AECOM, an engineering and infrastructure consulting firm. “The airframe and camera sensors continue to get better and better, with higher resolutions, multiple camera options, and more features available. From simple marketing photos to orthographic imagery to stockpile analysis, the drones can provide of wealth of knowledge for a construction project.”
Delp also stated that “survey-grade LiDAR, ultra-high-res cameras, and easier-to-obtain airspace authorization have all made the use of drones immeasurably better than they were just a few years ago.”
Given these developments, Delp stated that many construction leaders have been eager to adopt UAV technology. “Once upper management sees the benefits and realizes the cost savings that can be gained from using drones, it really makes the decision of implementing the technology a no-brainer,” he said.
There are countless examples of how construction outfits have been deploying drones to cut costs, save time, and boost safety. “I’ve talked to many members of the construction industry, and I’ve heard just the amazing examples of how companies have been able to set up their own internal drone practices and reduce costs significantly,” said Susan Eccles, an attorney with Adams and Reese LLP.
“For example, I know of one company that had to conduct frequent crane inspections,” she reported. “For the inspections, they had to first move the cranes and then lay them down, and that put them at risk for damaging work on the project and injuring personnel.”
In time, the company turned to drones. “The drones flew around the cranes and conducted the inspections. It was fast and safe, and it saved the company several hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Eccles said.
Despite the clear advantages of incorporating drones into construction work, there are several challenges that must be overcome. Delp believes that technological advancements must continue, particularly concerning battery power.
“The one area of drones that hasn’t kept pace is battery technology, which has, in my opinion, stalled from being developed any further,” Delp asserted. “The only way of flying longer with a battery-operated drone is to fly a bigger battery, which requires a bigger drone.”
For Eccles, adherence to regulatory and safety measures are primary concerns.
“I work with insurance carriers as well as general contractors, and I try to make them aware of what the rules are currently, as well as where we see this going in the future,” she explained. “Many companies want to use drones, but either they are not aware of the FAA regulations, or they are not complying with them.”
Adherence to rules is critical, Eccles said, because “there are multiple risks in flying a drone. For example, a drone can fall and hurt workers, which is an OSHA issue. There are also concerns around the use of unlicensed pilots. So, I think part of the future of drones in construction will involve educating the owners and contractors as to what rules are and what they need to do.”
Fortunately, there are signs that the industry is moving in the right direction. “Some insurance companies are starting to identify the use of drones in investigating construction defect claims, as well as on the front end with potential underwriting,” she reported. “Drone programs aren’t required right now, but, in the future, construction companies could be required to have a drone policy or program. That will help ensure that drones can be safely integrated into the construction field.”