Like any other technology, drones are improving more each day. New and upgraded models come with more precise controls, additional features, enhanced security, and more. Commercial and industrial parties are certainly taking notice as plans to buy in grow. The U.S. commercial drone market is expected to quadruple in size by 2024.
That includes the construction and development industry, where drones are poised to revolutionize many processes, from inspections and appraisals to more practical efforts, such as maintenance or resource delivery.
Drones come in all shapes and sizes. Aerial drones, often referred to as UAVs, or unmanned aerial vehicles, are common, but they’re not the only kind. There are also land drones, sea drones, and various combinations.
With a minimal understanding of the technology, it can be difficult to quantify how drones would help your average construction site. They’re actually quite capable, but they offer one major benefit to construction teams above all. When used effectively, they boost the safety of job sites. Here are several reasons why.
Construction is an attractive field to be in, but job sites can carry risks and health hazards. Some job sites might become dangerous with time or during certain periods. For instance, when heavy machinery moves around or heavy lifting is going on, nearby workers may need to be evacuated temporarily.
Unfortunately, there are also many situations where workers are necessary, regardless of the risks or imposed danger. Drones can help in this regard because it’s possible to pilot drones remotely—whether land, sea, or air-based—dangerous tasks can be handled by a machine instead. Today’s drones are incredibly capable, and they can be used to lift or carry items, capture photos or observe, engage with objects, and much more.
In fact, many drones can be outfitted with modules or add-ons which significantly enhance their functionality.
E-commerce giant Amazon is currently toying with the idea of using drones for product and parcel delivery. They’ve already begun trialing the services in select areas of the country. But what does this have to do with construction?
The same applications can be used on project sites to move resources, whether you’re talking about equipment and tools or raw materials. Imagine a worker, tethered high up on a skybound structure, thousands of feet away from the ground. Getting new equipment and resources up that high can be extremely difficult and dangerous, at least the traditional way. Using a drone is much safer, more expedient, and certainly more cost-effective.
You can easily strap a large net or satchel to the bottom of a drone to carry bulkier items. Multiple drones can be used in tandem if and when resources are too heavy for a single unit. They can even be used to suspend those resources in the air and within range of the worker if there is no surface to rest them on. If you wanted, you could even deliver them a pizza or lunch!
Most importantly, it’s a remarkable way to transport materials, equipment, and all manner of resources to your workers when they need it most.
While land and sea drones have limitations, air drones have a lot more freedom, especially on a modern job site. This can be a huge boon when working with tall or sweeping properties.
For tall structures, drones have a near-limitless reach and can climb extremely high, provided they don’t extend beyond signal range. Even then, most commercial drones have an incredibly long range anyway, thanks to powerful technologies. Moreover, when they go out of range, the drones won’t crash — they’ll return to a ground-level safely.
For sweeping properties, drones can cover a lot of ground in seconds. If something needs to be inspected closer, they can zip in, handle the necessary reconnaissance, and then move on.
In both scenarios, the controller—who could be an administrator, project manager, inspector, or even a general worker—remains off-site and out of harm’s way. You and your team(s) don’t have to climb half-assembled infrastructure to take a peek.
BIM—or “building information modeling” through computer-aided design — is another opportunity made better with drones and related technologies. Drones can aid in the development of more realistic and informed models. Visual representations like 3D models, LIDAR point clouds, 2D orthomosiac maps, and multispectral maps are all possible with the help of drones or UAVs.
You can map out a job site with much more detail, allowing you to superimpose project models both in static visualizations and in real-time—using something like augmented reality. Imagine being able to see precisely what a finished structure is going to look like over the backdrop of the real and live project site.
Almost all drones are outfitted with high-definition cameras, capable of recording video and capturing photos. Those visuals are streamed wirelessly to a controller, be it a smartphone, tablet, or proprietary handheld. That means surveys, inspections, and safety assessments can all be conducted remotely, without ever stepping foot on the job site, and in real-time.
Real-time site monitoring, with remote access, undoubtedly changes the game. It speeds up inspections, allows professionals to get up close and personal—without incurring danger—makes the entire job-site safer, and reduces operating costs. Not to mention, it helps cut down on potential accidents and injuries, which is worth the admission ticket alone.
Real-time footage can also be delivered to project managers and administrators, allowing them to make more informed decisions without ballooning a project’s scope. You can be “on-site” and in-the-know without actually being on-site.
Unique Vantage Point
Not only do aerial drones get a bird’s-eye view, but also they get an augmented-eye view. They’re outfitted with infrared cameras, radar or LIDAR, laser range finders, and detailed imaging technologies. From afar, they can track, measure, and pinpoint various aspects of a job site that may or may not affect safety.
Those sensors might pick up moving objects, spot unlevel or unstable ground, dangerous equipment or materials teetering on edge, large spills, or structural failures. This information is relayed in real-time to the appropriate personnel, who can ensure everyone else remains safe and distanced.
You could effectively spot a hazard, alert colleagues, and save lives with the help of a drone and its surveillance hardware.
Drones: Changing Construction for the Better
Drones don’t just make remote access and monitoring possible. They also allow workers to distance themselves from job sites and hazardous situations. You can still conduct the various tasks you need to, on- and off-site, without putting yourself in harm’s way.
They can also inspect project sites in more detail, thanks to advanced technologies and high-resolution imaging hardware. This allows smarter planning, faster and more accurate inspections, regular safety audits, and a better overview of what’s happening during a given workday. You get a bird’s-eye view of the entire construction or operation site. It’s beneficial for tall structures and large properties that cover a lot of acres.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Drones will continue to improve, which means more functionality will come with time. That’s in addition to becoming more accessible and more affordable. We’re on the precipice of change, and it’s captivating.