Survey Drones: Rethinking the Construction Industry

Rose Morrison -
survey drones for construction
Illustration: © IoT For All

The construction industry is on the verge of a technological transformation. While the industry is often slow to adopt new tech, IoT devices and other cutting-edge technologies gain traction among construction firms. Survey drones are at the forefront of this tech adoption trend.

When thinking about tech-forward industries, construction is likely not the first sector to come to mind. There’s a reason for that, too, as the industry has remained comparatively low-tech for much of its history. This trend is starting to reverse as new technologies offer more substantial benefits, and the sector’s need for disruption becomes more evident.

Construction is notoriously slow and expensive. According to an oft-cited McKinsey study, large projects typically go 80% over budget and take 20% longer to complete than scheduled. Technology like survey drones can change that.

Survey Drones in Pre-Construction

Today, we’re finding that drones are finding their way into the construction industry in many different ways. Survey drones offer improvements in every phase of construction projects, starting with planning and design. Before a firm can start building anything, they need to survey the potential worksite. Traditionally, workers would have to walk through the site and take measurements and recordings manually, but this is inefficient.

Drones provide a much faster option for surveying worksites. Today’s drones can stay airborne for as long as 90 minutes and cover far more ground in that time than a pedestrian could in hours. As they fly over the property in question, they can collect various data types for construction teams to use.

Most drones you’ve come across likely capture photos or video, but they can do more. More advanced cameras and sensors can take geospatial measurements and temperature readings and create 3D digital models. These provide construction crews with an in-depth, accurate understanding of the worksite, informing any necessary design or workflow changes.

Architects can use survey drones before even designing a building. The multiple angles and range of data that drones provide can help them create the safest and most accessible design. Alternatively, this information could reveal that a potential site isn’t fit for a given project so that teams can look for a new location.

Survey Drones in the Construction Phase

These technologies continue to provide value to construction companies once they start work on the project. Construction sites can be dangerous, and the industry has one of the highest worker injury rates of any profession. Drones can help prevent these accidents.

Workers can use drones to inspect parts of the work site for hazards before potentially putting themselves in danger. The near-limitless range of motion these aerial technologies have lets employees see things from every angle, spotting things they could miss in person.

By checking for hazards from a safe distance, construction crews prevent accidents, which can be costly and cause delays.

Survey drones can also help a project’s various stakeholders monitor its progress. Site managers can compare drone footage to plans and blueprints to ensure there are no errors. Since rework can account for 30% of all construction work, preventing mistakes can save a considerable amount of time.

Construction projects involve many stakeholders who may have to validate work before moving to the next step. Drones are a fast, accurate way of providing them with worksite updates so they can do so with little delay. Overall project completion times will shrink as a result.

Clients typically want regular updates about their projects, including pictures. Traditionally, construction companies would have to hire a helicopter to take aerial photos or video, which can be expensive. Drones let teams provide the same updates at a much lower cost.

Survey Drones in Post-Construction Phases

When construction teams finish with the building phase, drones continue to help project stakeholders. Once construction wraps up, responsibility for the property passes on to the owner or manager. This transition requires a lot of documentation and double-checking, which drones can help make smoother.

Detailed images and videos from drones during the construction phase can show property owners that the project unfolded as it was supposed to. Videos and photos provide a more concrete truth source than written claims, giving the owner more satisfaction. This trust will help speed the transition, too, letting clients take over their properties sooner.

Once in control of the property, owners and managers can use drones for ongoing maintenance. It can be challenging to inspect some parts of a building, and some, like those in high places, may be dangerous to check in person. Drones give easy, safe access to any building point, letting property owners get a complete picture of maintenance needs.

If owners decide they want to add to their buildings, they can use drones to survey the area first. The data from these surveys can reveal if they can expand and how best to do so. Using drones for these inspections instead of doing it manually will save lots of time and money.

Drones and Remote Monitoring

Another user case to keep in mind when considering where drone use may fit in the construction industry’s future may lie in IoT-enabled remote monitoring. Remote monitoring offers organizations the ability to gain real-time data from critical business processes through inexpensive IoT devices. Remote monitoring can provide real-time insight and analytics drawn from critical machine or tool processes that support the underlying business. In leveraging remote monitoring, organizations can gain key insight that might indicate a tool is exhibiting stress, performing improperly, or performing its required task. 

This concept of remote monitoring paired with drone use seems to be symbiotic in a sense. By coupling remote monitoring of IoT devices paired with drone surveying, one could build a system where IoT-connected devices provide key real-time data related to business processes, and drone surveying can support that data gathering through supplementing that information with data gained from the drone.

Drone Adoption

The advantages of survey drones in construction are hard to ignore. Companies in the sector are well aware of this, too, and adoption statistics reflect it. Despite the industry’s general hesitance to embrace technological disruption, drone adoption in construction is relatively high.

A 2018 survey found that 35% of companies that use drones are in the construction and engineering industry. That’s more than any other sector. As more companies implement these technologies, adoption will only increase, too.

The construction drone market was worth $4.8 billion in 2019. Experts predict that figure to rise to $11.9 billion by 2027. Drone use in the construction industry is soaring, far more than most other new technologies. Technological transformation is slowly taking place in the sector, and drones lead the charge.

Drone Use Considerations

Despite their massive potential, survey drones come with a few considerations for construction companies. Most notably, legal regulations can limit their implementation. All drones have to be FAA-registered, and they can’t fly over people other than the pilot and those under a covered structure.

FAA registration can slow down the process of introducing a drone into your operations. Not being able to fly it over people also limits where and how teams can use it on the worksite. Drone laws are still relatively new, too, so construction companies have to stay up-to-date on any changing regulations.

Most construction workers probably aren’t drone experts, so it can take training to use them to their full potential. Alternatively, crews can hire freelance drone pilots, but this may raise costs, albeit not nearly as much as a helicopter.

In light of these roadblocks, construction companies should approach drone adoption slowly. Teams should use drones in just a few projects to understand how to capitalize on them before expanding their investments. As they get used to working with these technologies, they can start to buy more and use them more frequently.

Transforming Construction with Survey Drones

Despite being a relatively new technology, survey drones have already made a considerable impact on construction. As technology improves and adoption increases, the benefits of these machines will multiply. This infamously behind-schedule and over-budget sector will transform into something more efficient and affordable.

While the construction industry isn’t famous for innovation, survey drones are starting a new era. Construction sites are becoming increasingly tech-centric, with drones being a leading example. Before long, these machines could forever change the industry.

Rose Morrison - Managing Editor, Renovated

Guest Writer
Guest Writer
Guest writers are IoT experts and enthusiasts interested in sharing their insights with the IoT industry through IoT For All.
Guest writers are IoT experts and enthusiasts interested in sharing their insights with the IoT industry through IoT For All.