To many in the construction industry the concept of using a drone as a regular part of the preconstruction / delivery lifecycle is still a little foreign. This is understandable considering how new the technology still is in the grand scheme of things. Drone technology has accelerated immensely over the past 5 years and we are now seeing how it's dramatically saving construction companies much valuable time and money, not withstanding alleviating health and safety hazards too. But what exactly do drones do other than taking photographs and video footage? How can they be utilised in the construction industry? And what future path are drones taking us down in construction?
What is a Drone?
Let's start with the basics. A drone is an unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV as they are commonly known. Usually relatively small in nature they are remotely operated by a pilot on the ground and collect data mainly via photographs and video footage. This data can be processed using mapping software which can create detailed datasets. Drones can be flown manually but can also fly pre-programmed flight plans which not only makes flights safer when planned properly but also alleviates room for error when gathering data.
Why are drones increasing in popularity in construction?
In short there are a few simple reasons why we are seeing more and more drones on construction sites. Primarily, drones save construction companies time and therefore money by performing numerous tasks faster and without the needed for teams of people. They also alleviate certain health and safety hazards by removing 'boots on the ground' in certain settings. Aside from their many technical uses, they can capture great aerial photographs and video footage for marketing purposes which comes in handy when you've got a large site footprint!
PWC's Skies Without Limits report revealed that drone technology is expected to uplift GDP by 2030 in the UK's construction and manufacturing industries by £8.6 billion which is pretty significant. Whilst this may lead to some jobs becoming redundant due to drone technology automation, over time the gains in productivity, cost saving and consumer demand generated by drones will ultimately create new jobs.
What services can drones provide to the construction industry?
So lets get down to the core of this blog, why would a construction company use a drone and how is drone innovation influencing the construction industry? There are several key reasons which I've broken down below:
With advances in drone technology over the past few years drones have the ability to collect accurate measurement data which can be exported in a variety of formats for use in AutoCAD, Revit, Dalux and Bluebeam as well as many other programmes. This can be used for topographical surveys as well as taking cut and fill / volumetric measurements and can add real value especially for initial surveys where access to all parts of a site may not be possible.
Using innovative mapping software, contour Using innovative mapping software, contour maps and 3D models can be produced allowing accurate measurements to be taken and orthomosaics to be created. This software can generate 2D maps and 3D models that can be exported in various formats and imported into CAD software.
Drones can quickly and efficiently produce monthly progress maps which makes it easier to exchange information between construction companies and their clients and can provide a regular record of progress as well as a visual audit trail. There are also technical advantages too. Using image processing software, CAD drawings can be overlaid on a 2D map to give accurate as-built results and keep track of any design deviations.
Of their many uses, something which is largely overlooked is the use of drones to monitor security and safety. Drone maps and footage can quickly detect issues such as hoarding breaches after extreme weather or compromised access points which could present the threat of trespass or theft. Specialist drones have the ability to carry thermal camera payloads which can also be used to identify overheating or even fires.
Inspecting traditionally hard to reach spots like roofs, spires, chimneys, towers, tunnels power lines and bridges is not only costly but also presents potential health and safety hazards. Not only are drones cheaper and more practical than traditional inspections methods they are also much safer and alleviate any potential hazards that working at height / underground can present to construction professionals. According to the HSE, 47% of deaths over the past 5 years were due to falls from height. They also significantly cut the time required to plan and execute a physical inspection.
Thermal Surveys & Inspections Something traditionally completed by handheld units which can take vast amounts of time to complete, specialist drones are able to carry thermal imaging payloads which allow the (fully trained) operator to quickly take thermal images and videos of buildings and sites and analyse the data using isotherm settings to identify specific temperatures and take hot and cold spot readings. This incredibly useful tool can not only spot potential issues that the naked eye may miss but can also provide building sustainability information in terms of heat loss and energy efficiency.
Of course the primary function of most drones is taking high resolution pictures and high definition video footage. Aerial footage can give a great perspective for sales and marketing purposes. Whether it's a current or completed project or even an event, drones are able to capture images that would otherwise be out of reach on a regular basis. Footage of large sites can be captured quickly and with the rise of FPV Drones (we've all seen those videos on LinkedIn of drones twisting and turning at seemingly impossible speeds through buildings!) this kind of footage can be used to showcase a construction company's work in impressive and immersive ways.
The Future for Drones in Construction....
As the technology continues to improve and the use of drones becomes more common place on construction sites drones are naturally going to become a relied upon part of most construction companies work flows over the coming years.
With the increase in use of digital data and BIM, drones are going to spur a digital refurbishment of the construction industry by allowing faster gathering and smoother information flows of data.
Innovation in drone technology and design is only going to lead to further automation for certain tasks. This will ultimately lead to more companies using this technology to minimise risk and enhance safety by using drones as opposed to people especially in search and rescue, the fire service and dangerous structures inspection teams. The Elios 2 is a great example of this, a drone that is revolutionising internal inspections in dangerous environments.
With the growth of the drone industry, and the development of drone technology, drone regulations have also followed suit. Following on from the Drone (Regulation) Bill 2017-2019 UAV operators have a number of requirements to meet including qualifications to gain and insurance to procure in order to fly legally. These regulations are developing and will continue to develop as the technology evolves however due to this constant evolution it's more important than ever for companies to remain on top of what they must fulfil in order to fly drones legally and safely.
So what are construction companies doing to take advantage of drone technology? Some are bringing the function in-house which involves investing in the right hardware, training of dedicated site staff and keeping up to date with the constantly evolving regulations and technology.
Many however are using the services of dedicated drone services companies, like us! With the increase in popularity of drone technology we've seen an increase in drone operators. Whilst there are many one man bands who will offer their services for a cheap price, it's important to make sure that the company you're employing has the correct qualifications and insurances as well as a track record in delivering for similar types of clients.
There are some real advantages to using a specialist drone services company like us. Not only have you not got to to worry about training a dedicated Site Manager or Engineer, taking them away from their day job, but you are also employing a company who will be using the latest drone technology and software therefore adding as much value as the latest technology allows. Whilst we are not Surveyors or Engineers we are qualified and fully insured drone operators and data processors so we can provide you with some very useful data and come up with solutions to integrate it with your current workflows working closely with your technical staff when required.
It's a great and thrilling industry to be a part of and we at TrueView are very excited about what the future holds for construction and of course the drone industry!
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