Drones Making a Stronger Impact in Construction
In a 2015 newsletter we noted that the future use of drones in the construction industry had the potential to be bright.
While the actual use of drones was somewhat undefined at that time, numerous benefits were anticipated, such cost efficiency (versus the use of helicopters); enhanced safety by reducing the demand for a human presence in dangerous locations; and more timely data collection.
Despite emerging risks, such as misuse for breaching personal privacy or concerns for safety due to potential interference with commercial aviation, the prediction that drones would become a more standard component of day-to-day operations in construction has turned-out to be accurate.
More importantly, the use of drones has benefited the construction industry in many ways as well, including:
- Easier land surveys. Drones reduce the labor and time involved in producing accurate surveys, as they can eliminate much of the human error involved in the process and have the ability to capture necessary data in much less time than traditional methods would take.
- Simpler more accurate bidding. If properly equipped, a drone can provide data on contours, elevations, and dirt without requiring two-or-three days for conducting a topographical analysis using manpower and traditional methods.
- Safer, faster, and simpler site and structure inspections. Rather than sending a person to a job site, a drone can provide areal views and video in less time and without distraction. Maintaining a real-time awareness of a job’s progress can also help improve the accuracy of scheduling and forecasting.
In addition, a drone can be employed to get a first-hand view of how solid a structure is, how aesthetically pleasing it is coming up, as well as if and where it might be moving out of the plan. Commercial buildings must also be inspected regularly for wear and tear, and the traditional methods by which buildings are inspected can involve precarious climbing and the use of scaffolding or a harness. The use of drones can not only simplify this process, but also enable it to be done in less time and with less risk.
- Managing safety and insurance costs. In some cases, insurance companies will provide a rate discount to construction firms that use drones to patrol job sites to find and fix potential problems. The regular inspections can also help to ensure compliance with safety regulations.
- Monitoring multiple job sites. A contractor can be in more than one place at a time by using a drone to make daily inspections, thus ensuring things are running smoothly and on schedule.
- Keeping clients informed. In many cases a project investor, owner or client likes to keep abreast of what’s happening at the job site. But it can be inconvenient for them to visit some building sites, and in some cases their visits can impact the pace of work. Instead, drones are a helpful and more convenient way to provide updates to clients or investors.
- Marketing and promotion. Many contractors are now adding drone photography and videos to their sales tool boxes. This strategy can be used to inform or convince communities and task forces of the viability of a project, and also as visual testimonials of how construction crews adhere to safety regulations and operate day-to-day.
- Security surveillance. Drones can provide a round-the-clock real-time monitoring system to help reduce theft or vandalism.
While the FAA has appropriately set strict standards on the use of drones, most models used by construction companies fall in under the 4.4-pound weight threshold and are operated within the 400-foot travel radius required to be considered “hobby class.” Drones that meet those criteria are not subject to stringent regulations.
Given the multiple advantages, many believe it is only a matter of time before drones become mainstream tools for construction projects. As regulations continue to change and construction site managers get on board with new uses and applications, seeing drones buzz around construction sites will likely be commonplace.