The Benefits of Aerial Drone Photography in Construction

Published June 3, 2016 by Whirlwind Team

construction site aerial drone photography

Drones are (if you will pardon the pun) flying off the shelves. Hobbyists dearly love them, and they are fun to play with. However, it didn't take long before someone thought of attaching a camera.

Aerial drone photography is rapidly, and less expensively, taking the place of other forms of aerial photography while offering more benefits to your construction business. From planning to completion, the ability to visually document and monitor activities on the jobsite can streamline the building process and improve safety.

First, the rules of the road…er, sky

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is in the process of developing regulations for drone traffic.  The first rule is that you must have FAA permission to fly drones for commercial purposes, which is defined as “anything that benefits your business or could potentially benefit your business, whether or not you are receiving income from it.”

Since you will be using drones to plan your projects, monitor progress, and create marketing materials, you will be meeting that definition.

Other rules include:

  • Obtain a grant of exemption from the FAA in accordance with Section 333 of the FAA code
  • Verify that those operating drones for commercial purposes possess a recreational or sports class pilot's license.
  • No flying within five miles of an airport without contacting the control tower before the flight
  • Register aircraft weighing more than 0.55 pounds with the FAA
  • Maintain visual sight between the operator and the drone
  • Drones must remain below 400 feet

Other restrictions come into play if your construction project is in a populated area; privacy concerns require drone operators to avoid taking images or viewing those not involved in the project. The drone generally may not leave the airspace above your site; boundaries must be enforced. In fact, there are technologies that keep drones from leaving marked areas, no matter what the operator tries to do.

Keep up with changes through faa.gov/uas.

Plan construction

Before ground is broken and after it is cleared, you can get a detailed aerial view of the proposed construction site to use for logistics and production planning. Other uses include land surveys, thermal imaging, and laser scanning. Drone photos can also be used to create 3D models within a BIM application or for other uses.

A succession of aerial images could be turned into a time-lapse video or GIF for your team to study or to put up on your website. Both remote sites and sites in city centers can benefit from aerial drone photography.

Owners often want to know what the view will be from the top of a proposed structure; drones can capture these views as well.

According to the Drones in Construction Survey Report (2015), 45% of 206 respondents had already used drones for logistics and production planning, and 26% were using aerial drone photography for land surveying and thermal imaging. They found they could create very accurate surveys from the air, saving work on the ground. 

Document progress

Aerial photography can give a unique perspective of a project. The photos have excellent depth and provide much better quality at a lower price than other aerial photography. The turn-around time, already shortened by the introduction of digital photography, is also shorter.

With the sharp photos and rapid access, you can get near real-time information on progress. These photos are also easily shared with remote owners or other stakeholders as well as other team members. According to the same drone survey mentioned before, 76% of respondents stated they already used drones for this purpose.

These same images can be used later in your marketing materials.

Spot potential issues

Often on a jobsite, there are areas that are difficult to inspect physically. Occasionally, accidents occur in places where it is nearly impossible to view from the ground. Drone photography can provide a less hazardous way to visualize potential hazards and to bring views of jobsite accidents. The detailed photos available from drones can pinpoint potential problem areas where advance planning could mitigate safety and logistics problems.

Along with photography, drones could potentially carry equipment, medical aid, or food and water to workers trapped in a remote area, sustaining them until rescue is possible.

Capture marketing images

Pictures sell. Your marketing will improve dramatically if you can add aerial photos to your website, brochures, and social media accounts. You can show completed projects or a GIF of the construction process. You could even use still images and video to show curious customers and readers how certain construction processes work.

Owners also dearly love to see and share images of their projects while they are in progress and, especially, after completion. You might consider adding these types of collateral to your closing paperwork to extend your reach to others who would be interested in your services.

You would be joining the two-thirds of respondents who already use drone photography in their marketing materials. If you decide to join them, make sure you have a drone capable of taking high-quality construction images without the fisheye effect so prominent in low-cost drone cameras.

Humans are visual creatures. You have likely experienced for yourself the difference between reading a description and seeing the same information presented visually. Data is better understood in the form of a chart and construction projects are easier to plan and complete with the help of overhead images.

If you don’t have the ability to use a drone commercially yourself, there are several businesses providing aerial drone support to construction companies just like yours. Be sure to ask for proof of insurance and FAA compliance before allowing someone to use a drone on your site.

As the technology advances and becomes more common, you will have more options in both drones and in specialized operators who provide drone services. Take cost, quality, and value into consideration when you decide to add this capability to your business. Make sure the drone operator possesses the proper licensure, educate yourself about additional insurance coverage you may require, and decide before purchasing a drone or hiring services how you will calculate the ROI and value.

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