Drones, once a hobby for a few enthusiasts, are now prominently featured across many professional fields. Today, delivery and cargo drones transport goods across increasing distances, military drones spy on enemy combatants, and ag-drones engage in precision farming. More than any other industry, however, drones are being put to use on construction worksites.
Typically operated by project managers, technology managers, and superintendents, construction drones have many functions, as they can be used in every phase of the project lifecycle. Equipped with GPS technology, as well as cameras and sensors that can capture images, video, thermal readings, and infrared data, drones can help improve project conceptualization, planning, measurement, building, management, reporting, monitoring, inspection, safety, security, and even marketing. Drones are revolutionizing construction at a breakneck pace, including these eight ways:
1. Preconstruction Surveying & Mapping: Drones can survey and map large geographic areas, quickly helping building planners get a sense of a site's topography. With high-resolution drone imaging, construction teams can develop 3D models to help them identify constructability challenges ahead of time, make accurate estimates, and sufficiently prepare for the job. Drone mapping and modeling can also be conducted throughout a project, and architects, engineers, and others can use the data in conjunction with leading construction software programs.
2. On-Site Measurements: On a smaller scale, drones can be used to make measurements on a worksite, including stockpiles of materials, such as piles of fill dirt, sand, or gravel. Increasingly, builders are using drones in coordination with ground control points (GCPs), which are ground markers equipped with GPS to calculate exact global positioning. This approach to making site maps achieves up to 99 percent accuracy when measuring distance, area, and volume.
3. Progress Reports: Drone's ability to observe and record almost anything on a worksite makes them a valuable tool for keeping all relevant parties up-to-date with accurate information about the project's progress. Clients appreciate a high level of access and visibility that helps them feel assured of quality control, and everyone can stay updated, on the same page, and able to identify anything that looks incorrect.
4. Workforce Monitoring: Project managers have also turned to drones for worker supervision. Many companies record the day-to-day activities at their business, but mounted cameras don't always work on a construction site where structures, equipment, and materials are frequently moved and could impair visibility. Drones may soon allow for the mobility necessary for supervisors to adequately oversee the workforce, which is especially helpful if there are specific concerns that a particular person or group is not adhering to protocol. OSHA has not yet released official protocols for drone inspections.
5. Structural & Equipment Inspections: The maneuverability of drones, which can quickly fly around project structures, makes them useful for evaluating stability and repair needs. High-resolution images can provide fine visual details, measurements can determine if a structure is straight or leaning (and by how many degrees), and thermal sensors can identify heat leaks, cold spots, and electrical malfunctions. Similarly, a drone may quickly analyze a broken piece of machinery and send equipment data to the technician to begin their diagnosis before the equipment even reaches them.
6. Safety Improvements: Increasingly, drones are being used to make measurements and perform maintenance on structures like towers, roofs, and scaffolding that can be dangerous for workers to reach. Regular worksite monitoring with drones can also help managers be on the look-out for on-site safety concerns, such as employees not following safety regulations or structures and equipment that may be loose or unstable. Construction companies that use drone inspections as preventative safety measures may be eligible for risk-mitigation insurance discounts, depending on the provider.
7. Securing Equipment & Worksites: The construction industry loses $1 billion every year due to equipment theft, and 83 percent of equipment owners have been the victim of theft. A worksite flyover is a fast way for supervisors to ensure that machinery is secure. Likewise, drones can be the eye-in-the-sky that can survey the site and check for unauthorized trespassers. Even the presence of patrolling drones may serve as an effective deterrent against thieves. As of now, drones cannot autonomously fly nighttime patrols on their own as they’re currently limited by battery life, an inability to judge if they are sensing authorized or unauthorized personnel, and federal regulations about flying drones at night apply in certain areas.
8. Marketing & Promotion: Drones are a great way to promote your business. Expert aerial photography can help you show-off finished projects with captivating shots that enhance your company’s portfolio. Drone images, as well as scale models and 3D rendering using data from drone surveys, can help prospective clients visualize your abilities. Plus, that your construction firm uses drones can attract customers who are interested in all the benefits we’ve described above, including receiving those dynamic progress reports, and want to contract a cutting-edge company that uses the latest technology.
Ethan Smith is a Content Curator for Trader Interactive, serving the commercial brands Commercial Truck Trader, Commercial Web Services, and Equipment Trader.