Drones for use in the construction industry have boomed since their adoption by civil and commercial groups in 2016. And we expect to see that trend continue in the coming years. According to Goldman Sachs, drones in construction present the largest opportunity for new jobs - nearly doubling the opportunity for the next closest industry -- agriculture.
Source: Goldman Sachs
And it’s easy to see why. Drones have become a valuable asset to construction and engineering firms looking to increase employee safety, streamline operations, and connect remote teams virtually to job progress.
In this article, we explore the various ways drones are used for construction monitoring and how they can provide value to your business.
How Drones are Used for Construction Monitoring
1. Pre-Construction Planning
Drones have become a key element in pre-construction planning. Many of our civil engineering and construction companies still use Google maps to get initial insights on-site data. But Google map data can be months or even years out of date.
This is where drones provide a critical site-planning advantage.
Drones allow you to map complex, unsafe, or poorly documented areas in just minutes. Use your drone camera to obtain high-resolution imagery of specific areas. These images can be distributed to investors or key stakeholders to understand the scope of the work involved. Integrating with a drone mapping software can help your team create Contour Maps to understand the site’s current topography. Or, fly your drone on a prefixed grid to create Digital Surface Models of your entire site. Orthomosiac mapping can increase the accuracy and realism of your construction plans by using your own orthomosaic imagery as the backdrop
Then, leverage a cloud platform to ensure everyone has secure access to the critical planning data they need -- from anywhere in the world.
2. Equipment Location, Inventory, and Safety
Drones provide the unique advantage of enabling construction equipment and asset inventory at regular intervals. Flyovers and mapping can ensure your stakeholders have a handle on how and where construction equipment is being used. Use drones to quickly identify the location of your equipment on-site for safety monitoring.
3. Employee Safety and Inspections
As regulations for employee safety and wellbeing increase, drones can streamline site inspection processes for safety, saving hours - or even days - compared to on-foot inspections. A drone flyover can provide regular imaging for site inspection documentation, which can be stored for legal purposes. Alternatively, drones can provide on-demand inspections for employee concerns - like after a big storm or a site accident.
Imaging from drones has also streamlined documentation processes for insurance needs, providing the data needed for underwriting, loss control, and more.
Similarly, drones can inspect potentially unsafe or unstable structures - such as a rooftop or aging structure - removing the need to have an employee physically scale a structure. Not only does this help keep your employees safe, but it can help reduce overall risk for your insurance adjusters.
4. Connecting Remote Employees to the Job Site
The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically impacted many businesses’ willingness or ability to approve employee travel directly to the job site. Now, many construction companies are relying on drone imagery to help remote stakeholders stay on top of job progress without having to leave their home or office. Whether it’s regular mapping, time-lapsing, or quick checks on building progress, drones and drone software can collect and send critical information in just minutes through the cloud.
Enabling remote access to drone imagery not only prevents personnel from traveling or exposing themselves to risk but reduces the bottom line cost of the project. With drones, your stakeholders don’t even have to be in the same country to get on-site updates.
5. Investment and Legal Documentation
Similarly, drones can ensure investors have insight into job progress at regular intervals. In pre-planning, 3D-modeling allows designers to showcase plans overlaid on the actual job site. Providing high resolution imagery during the construction phase and videos can help showcase efficiency, accuracy, and job quality. With accurate imagery, investors can identify discrepancies in plans down to the centimeter and verify the accuracy of contractor reports.
Not to mention, there are legal benefits of having regular job documentation in the event of a disagreement that leads to court for settlement.
6. Structural Review and Surveying
With a pilot on-site, you can send a drone to inspect tall or potentially unsafe areas and structures. Sending employees to climb or scale structures is not only time consuming but it puts your company at risk. Drones can also provide quick-checks on new site developments eliminating the time required to travel across large sites by foot or vehicle.
7. Best Practices for Drones in Surveying
In order to create rigorous and defensible quantitative measurement results with your drone, controlling for accuracy is required. When using drones for surveying purposes, many construction companies adhere to the following best practices.
- Use Ground Control Points* and ensure that your positions are recorded using survey-grade positioning equipment, like RTK, and accuracy
- Have strong control over your drone and camera calibration parameters
- Spend the time to evaluate data product quality reports to ensure that the data products meet your particular set of accuracy requirements
- For qualitative assessments - including progress monitoring, visual object identification, and more - it is generally okay to rely on your drone's own positional accuracy and less on stringent accuracy controls
*Note: Measure’s near-term product roadmap enables Ground Control Point integration with cloud processing
8. Live Streaming
Now more than ever companies are relying on digital connection and remote access. Drones provide the unique ability to live stream progress via the cloud. Provide aerial updates, close-ups, grid mapping, and more to a live audience and address immediate questions and concerns to your stakeholders.
Now, you can answer, “Can we see the latest development?” with a single drone pilot on the ground.
9. Marketing Advantages
Aside from the high-resolution imagery and videos collected from drones, unique effects like timelapsing, before-and-afters, and more can give your reporting a competitive edge and be used as valuable marketing and sales collateral for future projects.
10. Data Collection and Storage
Combining the power of your drone imagery with a comprehensive drone management software can ensure you have full control over mission planning, flight duration, the number of flights, and all of the data collected from your flights in one place. With the ability to request airspace, collect data securely on US-based servers, and send data via the cloud, construction companies can now have control over the entire drone program with just one application.
Find out more about Measure’s drone management software here.
Pitfalls of Drones for Construction Monitoring
While the FAA continues to simplify the process of navigating drone regulations, there are still various rules to keep track of. Not to mention that those rules vary depending on your location. As you develop your drone program, make sure you have a plan in place to ensure you’re taking proper safety and legal precautions.
We put together a guide to help you navigate some of the construction-specific considerations here.
The Future of Drone Construction Monitoring
As drone and imaging technology continues to evolve, we expect to see an uptick in drone involvement in construction monitoring. The time, dollar, and safety advantages that drones already provide to construction companies globally is immense.
However, not every company is ready to implement a drone program. At Measure, we advocate for working smarter - not harder.
For example, some of the companies we consult with could accomplish much of the advantages above with strategic camera placement on-site.
Could drones provide the right solution for your company’s construction monitoring needs? Contact us today to talk with a drone expert who can help you decide what’s best for you.
Looking for more information on starting a drone program for your construction or engineering company? We compiled a FAQ guide to help you get started.