You’ve probably heard or seen a drone flying around your neighborhood. But, did you know that these buzzy flying robots are capable of much more than just aerial videography and annoying your neighbors? In recent years drones have become useful in many different fields- including construction. Drones have the ability to collect data, survey, and streamline even the most complex construction projects- and they’re only going to get more useful. Read on to learn about what drones have to offer for construction, some challenges they present, and the future of their use in the industry. 

What are Drones?

Drones, also called unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), are essentially flying robots designed to capture images and data from above. You can either control your drones remotely with a pilot on the ground, or you can have them fly autonomously. Typically, drones capture images and videos, but you can also outfit them with features like GPS, mapping tools, and even night vision and thermal imaging.

How are Drones used for Construction?

Because they offer an overhead view of the worksite, UAVs can be invaluable for optimizing a construction project. In fact, drones can be useful throughout the entire construction process, from planning and design, to data collection and safety inspections. Here are just some of the ways construction drones are being used right now:

Planning and Design

Construction drones can be incredibly useful during the planning and design phases of a construction project. Drones have the ability to map vast quantities of land, capture images that can be used to generate 3D imaging, and create topographical maps of the construction site. Teams can use drone technology to precisely decide the feasibility of the project, the placement of different aspects of it, and spot potential hazards and delays.

Keeping Track of Equipment

Sometimes keeping track of equipment on a large jobsite can be a headache. You could sift through pages and pages of excel spreadsheets, or you can let a drone find the missing gear for you. Drones have the ability to do a flyover where they can record where pieces of equipment are, equipment that is out of place, as well as monitor what equipment should still be in use, and what equipment is overdue. 

Site Analysis

Perhaps the most useful aspect of construction drones is their ability to provide site analysis data on a continuing basis. Drones are able to quickly analyze the jobsite and provide data to multiple teams at once. And according to construction drone experts, in just one surveying flight, drones can produce accurate measurements of distances, surfaces, elevations, volumes, and provide GPS points represented in either two or three dimensions.” This data can help your company, process, monitor, and organize data across multiple teams. The high degree of accuracy and speed of data collection for construction drones can help save time and money on even the most complex construction projects. 

Remote Monitoring and Progress Reporting for Clients

Construction drones make remote monitoring easy and can provide impressive visual progress reports for clients. Clients who aren’t able to physically be on the jobsite or who want to get an aerial view of how the project is progressing will find the drone’s progress reporting extremely valuable. Plus, managers, construction teams, and workers can all benefit from a visual analysis of the project’s progress. You can simultanously share data, aerial footage of the site, and 3D models with stakeholders and construction teams. 

Security

According to the National Equipment Register, some $300 million worth of construction equipment is stolen from job sites each year, and less than 25% of it is ever recovered. Luckily, with drones, construction companies can quickly and easily check that equipment is in the right place by doing a flyover inspection. Additionally, drones equipped with security cameras can do real-time flyover surveillance. That way, if something goes wrong, construction teams might be able to stop the theft, identify the perpetrators, or even recover stolen assets. 

Safety

Construction is a dangerous job, in fact, 1 in 5 deaths among US workers occur in the construction industry. One of the most important functions of construction drones is their ability to improve safety. One way it can do this is by making remote surveying a possibility. Traditional surveying on a construction site can be risky. Workers might have to enter difficult-to-reach locations that have the potential to cause significant bodily harm or death if something goes wrong. 

For example, drones can replace the need for workers to perform inspections on high-up places that pose the risk of a fall. This is vital in an industry where 34% of worker deaths resulted from a fall. Now, workers can monitor and inspect the job-site without leaving the safety of their offices. 

What are the Challenges to Using Drones in Construction?

Like any technology used in an industry as dynamic as construction, drones come with their own challenges. 

Manual Errors

Flying your construction drones manually can introduce data errors that can cause big problems in the long run. Much of this has to do with image capturing. In an automated flight, drones are able to capture high quality images that are then converted into data. Try as we might, human beings can’t quite capture images with the same quality. So, experts suggest always flying your drones in automatic mode. 

Self-Processing

Similarly, when it comes time to process data, drone experts recommend utilizing automatic data processing to avoid errors. This is because self-processed data can open up your data to costly user-mistakes that can you can otherwise avoid with automation. 

Data Silos

Because construction drones capture a ton of data, they run the risk of creating data silos. Luckily, this can be easily remedied by running your data through a cloud-based solution where everyone in your organization can quickly and easily access incoming data. 

Airspace Regulations

Before you invest in drones for your construction project, it would be wise to ensure that it’s actually legal to operate them in your area. One of the biggest problems with flying drones is that in many places, airspace is heavily regulated.

In the UK, you must have a pilot license by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) for drones that are over .55 pounds. This license can be time consuming as drone operators must pass a theory test and gain a flying ID. In the United States, drones are regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which has put forth several limitations. For example, you cannot operate drones at altitudes greater than 400 feet, and operators must “maintain a visual line of sight with the drone at all times.” And in some areas like the near vicinity of an airport, flying a drone can be illegal all together.

Interior Inspection Limitations

While drones can capture an amazing amount of information about your job site, most drones are not capable of flying through doors and windows. This means that inspections using drones will probably (for now,) be limited to outdoor aerial shots. 

Weather and Dust

Another obvious, but often overlooked problem with drones is that operating them is dependent on the weather. Drones don’t fare well in high winds and heavy rain. Unless your drone is extremely high-tech, it will likely require relatively calm weather to generate the most accurate data. Additionally, construction sites that are very dusty or foggy can cause problems for the drones. If your site is frequently very dusty, windy, rainy, or foggy, drone monitoring may not be the best method for you. 

Types of Construction Drones

There are two different types of drones typically used on construction sites, fixed-wing drones and rotary drones. Which drone you choose largely depends on how you plan on using it. 

Fixed-Wing

Fixed-wing drones are essentially like little airplanes. Like their name suggests, their wings are unable to move. This means that they are unable to move backwards and side-to-side – only forward. This can be problematic if you plan on maneuvering your drone through obstacles or tight spaces. However, their airplane-like shape also makes them fast, aero-dynamic, and able to reach higher altitudes. If you plan on using drones to map or scan large areas, a fixed-wing drone may be right for you. 

Rotary

If fixed-wing drones are little airplanes, rotary drones are more like little helicopters. These drones use a rotary system that lets them hover in place and thus maneuver around obstacles and reach difficult locations. You can also use rotary drones to scan and map areas just like a fixed-wing drone, but typically over shorter distances at lower altitudes. If you are planning to use your drone to map small areas with difficult to reach locations, you may want to consider investing in a rotary drone. 

Drones in Future Construction Projects

Drones are becoming more and more popular on construction sites. While they are currently mainly being used for surveying, in the future they could have many uses beyond data. Construction drones could lift and transport heavy material; operate autonomous vehicles from above using AI; and even put out fires or perform rescues in the event of an emergency.

Still, even without these advancements, drones are able to improve data collection, make the jobsite safer and more efficient, and cut costs, time and labor. If drone technology is able to meet future demands and navigate challenges like airspace regulation and weather, they could become essential fixtures on every jobsite – and a boon for yours. 

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