Drones, once a hobby for a few enthusiasts, are now prominently featured across a number of professional fields. Today, delivery and cargo drones transport goods across increasing distances1, military drones spy on enemy combatants, and ag-drones engage in precision farming2. More than any other industry, however, drones are being put to use on construction worksites, with drone use surging by 239% from 2017 to 20183. Infrastructure work now makes up 35.5% of professional drone-use, far ahead of the next two biggest drone-using industries, agriculture (25.5%) and transportation (10.2%)4.
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 lifecycle3. 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, which is why today we’re breaking down 8 Ways Drones are Changing Construction:
1. Preconstruction Surveying & Mapping: Drones have the ability to survey and map large geographic areas, quickly helping building planners get a sense of a site’s topography5. 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 the data can be used by architects, engineers, and others in conjunction with leading construction software programs, including AutoCAD, Bluebeam, Civil 3D, BIM 360, Procore, and others3.
2. On-Site Measurements: On a smaller scale, drones can additionally be used to make various measurements on a worksite, including measuring 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 measurements has skyrocketed in recent years as it achieves up to 99% accuracy when measuring distance, area, and volume3.
3. Progress Reports: Drones’ 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 from owners to managers to laborers are able to stay updated, on the same page, and able to identify anything that looks wrong or out of place5.
4. Workforce Monitoring: Many project managers have also turned to drones for the general supervision of their workers. Many places of employment 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 around and could impair visibility. Drones may soon allow for the mobility necessary for supervisors to fully oversee the workforce, which is especially helpful if there are specific concerns that a particular person or group is not adhering to protocol6. OSHA has not yet released official protocols for drone inspections, but stay tuned to the Equipment Trader blog, where we’ll be sure to keep you updated.
5. Structural & Equipment Inspections: The maneuverability of drones, which can easily fly around project structures, makes them useful for examining and evaluating stability and repair needs. High-resolution images can provide finer 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 be able to quickly analyze a broken-down piece of machinery and send equipment data to the technician to begin their diagnosis before the equipment even reaches them5.
6. Safety Improvements: Increasingly, drones are additionally being used to make measurements and to even perform simple maintenance on structures like towers, roofs, and scaffolding that can be more dangerous for human 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 unstable5. As an added bonus to protecting workers, construction companies that use drone inspections and patrols as preventative and responsive safety measures may be eligible for risk-mitigation insurance discounts, depending on the provider6.
7. Securing Equipment & Worksites: The construction industry loses $1 billion every year due to equipment theft, and 83% of equipment owners have been the victim of theft7. A flyover of the worksite is a fast and easy way for supervisors to ensure that machinery is secure and located where it is supposed to be. Likewise, drones are able to be the eye-in-the-sky that can surveil the site and check for unauthorized trespassers5. 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 – 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 in certain areas – but the day is soon coming that self-flying drone will be able to surveil and secure the worksite.
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 and elevate your company’s portfolio and marketing materials. Drone images, as well as scale models and 3D rendering using data from drone surveys and mapping, can also help prospective clients visualize what you can offer them6. And finally, simply the fact 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.
Using drones alongside the typical asphalt pavers and backhoe loaders can help construction firms cut costs, save time, minimize risks, ensure accuracy, improve communication, and work more efficiently. Many companies are excited about the impressive advantages offered by construction drones, but we want to know what you think: Do you use construction drones? Would you ever consider using a drone on the worksite? Let us know in the comments below.
About the Author
Ethan is a Content Curator for Trader Interactive, serving the commercial brands Commercial Truck Trader, Commercial Web Services, and Equipment Trader. Ethan believes in using accessible language to elevate conversations about industry topics relevant to commercial dealers and their buyers.