Drones In Construction: How & Why Are They Used?
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Drones in construction: applications, technology and information

In this guide:

Benefits of using drones in construction

There are several key benefits of using drones in construction. In this section we’ll take a look at the main areas:

Safety/ Risk

Construction managers should be looking to reduce risk at their job sites. The standard way is to take a walk around the area and quickly check the areas for safety issues – this can be a slow process, which leaves room for missed issues/problems.

Drones can reduce risks at a fraction of the time and in real-time. Streams/photographs and videos can be used to show all construction workers what is happening on the site. Unstable structures, dangerous equipment placements and hazardous situations can quickly be spotted and rectified.

Speed and efficiency

One of UAVs greatest strengths is their speed. They can give their operators an overview of the area in a matter of minutes. Building inspections, land surveys, safety inspections and reporting can be completed in a single session. This process can increase your job site’s productivity ten-fold, making it an efficient and cost effective process.

Drones can be tethered via flexible wire to a power supply which can increase flight times, making them even more efficient.

Cost savings

With increased usage of drones comes increased productivity. The more productive your workforce, the more cost effective they become. Drones can speed up several process (mentioned above) which will speed up the overall operation. For example, if conducting a building survey, you will require access to the roof, which is not always accessible or safe. A drone can quickly fly up to the necessary locations and provide high-definition footage/photography required, rather than using expensive cherry-pickers or cranes.

With a little bit of ingenuity, drones can provide many cost saving options.

Competitive advantage

If UAVs can speed up projects, reduces safety risks and offer cost savings – you’ll have the advantage over your competitors. A lot of construction jobs are required to be completed as quickly as possible – if you can do this quickly and safely than your competitors, you’ll be at a great advantage.

Security

Drones can also be used as security devices. Standard construction sites only use static surveillance cameras. A drone can survey the entire area in a single flight, meaning security teams can monitor the site without putting themselves in danger.

How to use drones used in construction?

There are dozens of applications that drones can be used for both before, during and after construction. Many of these applications can be done at the same time meaning they can speed up the process whilst also minimising risks. Here are some applications the UAVs/drones can provide to the construction industry:

Land surveys

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) are perfect for land surveys prior to construction. They can reduce the required manpower by tenfold by quickly providing the necessary data from a vantage point. They also reduce the amount of human error by providing accurate surveys based on technical data. One of the most common usages of UAVs during land surveys are aerial images/footage capture. This process can be done in a matter of minutes, yet still provide teams with high-definition content to which can be used later for research and planning.

Building inspections

These can be used prior or during construction, and is useful for restoration/extension projects. Drones can quickly and easily inspect areas of improvement/safety concerns. Project managers can implement similar applications of land surveys: They can take aerial images/footage, 3D scans and live feeds to ensure optimum planning. Their ability to quickly collect and report large amounts of data means construction teams can work faster, and be more cost effective.

Site inspections and progress imagery

Site inspections offers a huge amount of potential for project managers. Drones can monitor safety standards, progress and employees in a matter of minutes.

During a quick site inspection, project managers can look for:

  • Employee productivity
  • Missing equipment
  • Material amounts
  • Progress
  • Ensuring safety protocols are met

Monitoring on-site activity

On-site activity covers anything from employee productivity to building progress. Drones give project managers a bird’s eye view on the site to ensure everything is going smoothly. Construction managers can ensure their staff is remaining productive, check on progress and equipment usage – all within a matter of minutes.

Safety inspections

Accidents and emergencies can put projects and businesses into jeopardy. All project managers should be looking at on-site safety as one of their top priorities.

Drones can reduce risk by entering areas deemed too dangerous for humans, as well as monitoring workplace conditions for any risks in real-time. , managers will be quick to notice precarious building zones, dangerous equipment placement or employees posing a danger to themselves or others.

Safety inspections can be carried on renovations/extension projects too. Sending in a drone to potentially hazardous areas prior to working on the building can indicate any dangerous areas. This mean preparations can be made to reduce any safety risks.

Progress tracking and reporting

Clients are unlikely to be able to drop in to the building site on a regular basis, but that doesn’t mean you can’t provide them with regular updates. Drones can showcase construction progress from multiple unique angles, which clients wouldn’t see even if they turned up to the site. This progress reporting

Drone technology employed in construction

UAVs can be loaded with several kinds of payloads. Payloads are the additional ‘extras’ that can be attached to the drone such as cameras. In this section we will look at the types of technology that can be used to innovate the construction industry.

Thermal imaging

Thermal imaging uses an Infrared camera to detect the heat given off by an object to produce an image. Heat detected by an infrared camera can be precisely measured, meaning you are able to quickly evaluate the severity of the heat.

Thermal imaging is perfect for roof surveys. These surveys can be expensive as they are often dangerous and time consuming. If a roof is considered hazardous, inspectors will not be able to access the roof via stairs. Instead they will need scale buildings in cherry pickers to check for weak spots. Drones can determine whether this process is necessary and reduce risk by performing a pre-emptive check with a thermal imaging camera. They can view any temperature issues immediately, which will determine whether further investigation is necessary.

Thermal imaging can also be used to detect electrical problems such as overloaded circuits, electricity distribution and loose connection. These issues will cause the wiring/connection to begin to overheat, which infrared will show immediately.

Photography and video

Photography and video are the most common uses for drones. High-definition video/photography are available for most drones – additional extras such as zooms etc. can be purchased as well. Video and photography that was previously reserved for expensive helicopter shoots can now be done quickly and effectively with drones.

Photography and video can be used for:

  • Job site surveys
  • Client progress updates
  • Job site monitoring
  • Building/infrastructure inspection
  • Security checks

LiDAR

LiDAR stands for light detection and ranging. It is a remote sensing technology that uses laser pulses to collect measurements. It illuminates the target with pulsed laser light and measures the reflected pulses with a built-in sensor. These measurements can then be used to accurately create 3D models and maps of buildings/environments.

LiDAR technology is increasingly being used for surveying. A single operator can survey the area collecting three dimensional measurements of lands, buildings, road networks and railways. These scans can help identify structural deformation in buildings and slope instabilities for building planning.

These measurements can then be turned into digital terrain models (DTM) and elevation models (DEM).

Drone software

Choosing the right software to be incorporated with your drone in a must for any project manager in the construction industry. Each piece of software offers a different set of tools for your needs. See below for the top 3 pieces of software for drones in construction.

Planning and reporting: Propeller platform

Propeller Platform is a cloud software designed for drone mapping, surveying and inspection. This software can create detailed 3D models of land/buildings which can be inspected in detail and accessed via your standard internet connection.

Designed specifically for worksites, Propeller platform can use your drone data for accurate planning, monitoring, reporting and estimating.

Click here to find out more about Propeller Platform

Drone management: DJI Flighthub

DJI Flighthub offers a centralised view of your drone usage. This is perfect for companies that utilise multiple drones on one or several jobsites.

DJI Flighthub offers:

  • Real-Time view – video feeds from up to four drones
  • Map view – provides live, map-based drone data for easy co-ordination
  • Geofencing systems – to ensure you are adhering to local flight safety regulations
  • Resource management – Provide an overview of drone fleets and teams
  • Access through any standard web browser

Click here to find out more about DJI Flighthub

2D maps and 3D models: Pix4Dmappe

Pix4dmapper is one of the leading aerial photogrammetry pieces of software. Pix4dmapper turns your images into highly precise, georeferenced 2D maps and 3D Models. These maps and models are quick to create, fully customisable and compatible with standard design software.

Click here to find out more about Pix4dmapper

Information for construction management/managers

Regulations and law

With the growing popularity of drones, regulations and laws have been introduced to ensure proper usage and safety procedures are followed.

Regulations

Below is a list of the major regulations you need to adhere to ensure lawful use of drones:

  • All operators must hold a permission (PfCO) issued by the Civil Aviation Authority
  • The commercial operator must carry aviation public liability insurance in compliance with EC Regulation 785/2004
  • Drones can be a maximum 500m horizontal distance and within line of sight of the operator
  • Small unmanned aircrafts may be used in congested areas but must not be near 50m of any person/building or vehicle outside of construction zone
  • Maximum height a SUA can fly is 400ft above the surface
  • Operators that hold a PfCO, need to be 50m from vessels, vehicles, structures and persons not under their control. This is reduced to 30m during take of and landing from persons not under the control of the remote pilot.

Health and safety

Construction management that fly drones must ensure that they:

  • Check qualifications, permissions (PFCO) and experiences of drone operators
  • Ensure insurance is correct and in-date
  • Provide induction session for operator and their team
  • Conduct risk assessments pay particular attentions to aerial obstructions and hazards
  • Approve flight plans and ensure any risks are minimised
  • Inform any personnel affected by the flight plan including flight time, path and any other relevant information
  • Obtain signed confirmation from the drone operator that the conditions of the work site are safe
  • Ensure privacy is respected to residential areas/businesses near building site

Law changes

In spring 2018, the government released a new set of regulations for drones. Some of these are included in the above section, but it is worth noting the most the recent changes.

  • Drone pilots will need to use apps to ensure flights are safe and legal. (find some recommended apps here)
  • Drones of any size cannot fly within the flight restriction zones or runway protection zones without permission of air traffic control.

Case study: Innovair

Innovair provide a holistic, accurate and responsive inspection & survey service which captures and analyses data in hard-to-reach areas; ensuring customers are confident in managing risk and achieving the highest operational efficiency through state-of-the-art, tried and tested techniques.

They utilise the DJI Matrice 210 for survey work. UAV Photogrammetry data with land-based ground control points provides a GSD (ground sample distance) of about 1.8cm/pixel.

“We utilise the M210 in a variety of sectors and it’s great for mid-scale land survey projects such as quarries or construction sites,” says Andrew Johnston, Director of Inspection at Innovair. “It is a flexible, durable and powerful platform. The M210 is quite simply the workhorse of the aerial survey market. The battery life is extremely impressive, and it’s great that you can not only customise the sensors, but you can also build your own frame to suit your needs.”

For more information about this case study – visit our full article by clicking here.

The future of drones in construction – what’s on the horizon?

Drones are continuing to improve the speed, efficiency and quality of building sites. The construction sector is one of the biggest adopters of drones in recent years. Some of the biggest firms in construction are utilising drones such as Kier, Costain, Balfour Beatty and more.

So in what does future hold for drones?

Automated construction sites

Drones are becoming embedded in modern construction – mostly used for surveillance, monitoring and planning. In the future, drones could be tasked with product deliveries, placements and even construction itself. It might seem farfetched but with the improvement in AI, fully automated construction sites may only be round the corner.

AI security teams

Advancements in AI has meant that computers are getting smarter. They are able to recognise physical objects in the real world and even read humans human emotions. They are quickly being incorporated into many aspects of our daily lives, so it’s not surprise they are being combined with drones.

Drones are also advancing – they’re getting smaller, faster, and offer longer flight times between charges. If you combine this technology and AI you could get a completely automated security team. These security drones can capture live footage and detect any movement within the job site and contact the authorities. They can learn to recharge themselves too, offering a complete 24hr surveillance service.  

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