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Why Are Construction Sites Using Drones?

Published July 22, 2015 by Whirlwind Team

Drones make the headlines left and right; most often in regards to the military or the FAA's challenge in creating legal guidelines for recreational and commercial drone flights. However, these days, drones are showing up in the news due to the work they perform for the construction industry.

Drones in Construction: Could Your AEC Company Benefit?

Drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are becoming a popular addition to the construction workforce, especially for companies building large-scale, high-dollar projects. A recent article in Construction Executive states, "drones show potential to aid jobsite safety and efficiency." And, a similar article on siemens.com is titled, "Need Construction Site Surveillance? Hire a drone."  We can see it now, once the legalities have been worked out, construction sites will have large signs saying, "Warning: This jobsite is monitored by drones with cameras."

Firstly, we should state that the legalities regarding commercial drone use is complicated at the moment. Until very recently, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) maintained that commercial drone use was illegal without special permission. With pressure from the federal and state governments, the FAA is reluctantly changing its stance. You can Click Here to read the most recent updates on the FAA's rules and regulations for small, commercial UAV activity. 

In order to get around the FAA's rules - and to keep things more affordable - most commercial entities using drones that are small enough to be considered in the "hobby class". They are modest in size, weighing less than 4.4 lbs, and they are equipped with cameras or LIDAR. In order to increase stability, these drones have multiple propellers and perform vertical lift offs. As long as their flight path is withing a 400-foot radius, they are considered "hobby class" and there is no need for an FAA permit.

Drones use GPS technology and they can be controlled manually, using a remote control with a joystick, via computer software from your desktop or laptop computer and - not surprisingly in our mobile era - they can be controlled via smart gadget apps as well. The combination of GPS, accelerometers, gyroscopes and position-sensors, as well as the drones' main processors - allows them to be sent on specific, pre-programmed flight paths. When armed with cameras that yield both video and still photography, drones can be very effective surveillance tools.

In most cases, construction companies contract out for drone work, however they can certainly become an in-house operation as well with the right training and resources. Here are some of the ways drones are being used by construction companies on a daily basis. Perhaps your will be next...

Monitor jobsite progress. Drones can be used to remotely monitor jobsite progress to make sure things are on track and to create immediate, real-time changes or adjustments as needed. The footage can be sent in real time to clients, investors and lead persons on the job and architects and engineers can gain immediate access to the jobsite on screen, rather than having to make the trip out.

Catch major and minor deviations. Computer technology can compare what's on plans to what's happening in real life. Images from the drones can be fed through specific software to compare it with the plans. This type of surveillance can show you if walls are misaligned or if a window is missing or installed in the wrong place, for example.

Increasing jobsite safety. Your drone surveillance can show you whether or not your workers are using best practices - regardless of whether management or an OSHA safety inspector is onsite. You can correct these behaviors immediately and workers will be more apt to use best practices when they know they are being watched. The drones can also access dangerous or hard-to-reach areas, such as an unfinished roof, allowing inspectors or specialists to assess a particular challenge or issue, and make recommendations for changes, or improvements without putting themselves at risk.

Reduce the amount of high-risk work performed by humans. Currently, only smaller hobby-type crafts - mostly good for video and photo only - are allowed to be used in any type of construction site monitoring capacity. However, as legislation continues to address the needs and wants of the public, larger drones - even with permits - will become the norm. These drones will have nanobot technology, allowing high-risk work to be done by the drone, rather than humans, further enhancing jobsite safety conditions.

Reduce construction theft. We half-joked at the beginning of the article that construction sites may soon post signage announcing they are surveilled by drones. However, this type of surveillance could drastically reduce construction theft. In addition to preventing in-house theft, occasional fly-bys of vacant sites can deter vandalism, theft or loiterers from placing your jobsite on their rotation.

What are your thoughts about drones and the construction industry? Whirlwind would like to read them.

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