Be prepared to see more drones, or more accurately called, quadcopters. Or, as the FAA calls them, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). How are these UAVs impacting the construction industry, specifically the job sites? Currently one of the most common uses is monitoring the progress of the project. This shows clients physical evidence of the work being done without traveling to the jobsite. That progress can be compared with the schedule developed for the project to see if adjustments need to be made – it can also show the reason behind possible delays. Able to reach a height of 400 meters (and more), drones provide a greater visibility of the jobsite.
Drone photo of our project at 3 Journal Square Plaza
While the bird’s eye view is helpful, it’s not the only use of the drone. Drones can go into areas that people can’t – while it requires an experienced pilot, drones can travel down an old, unused elevator shaft to show the operator unseen hazards. It will help to monitor the site quickly, show where safety issues may occur, and where they are currently occurring. The visibility access that drones provide could help detect the instability of a pillar, show workers precariously balanced trying to complete a task, or if the excavation is not deep enough.
Right now, the more common use for drones is surveying and developing 3D models. With new apps now available 3D models can be stitched together in real time – when the drone is deployed, it moves back and forth across the designated area in a lawnmower-like pattern. The images from the drone are automatically sent to the app on the mobile device and stitched together as it flies. When the drone lands, most of the model is already complete. It has already processed in minutes what used to take hours. The operator can then measure 2D and 3D objects from his device while on site. Since these maps can be developed so quickly, surveying can be conducted on a regular basis through an efficient process.
It can be difficult to identify buildings that need renovation – enter drones. Drones can be used before work has even begun on jobsites to determine if renovations are necessary. Data collected from drones can be integrated with image processing software to visualize energy loss across entire neighborhoods. Thermal maps developed from the software can determine which buildings could become more energy efficient through renovation.
Drones aren’t doing any physical work on jobsites, but they can be a hazard if flown too closely to people. It’s for that reason that they must remain small, and remain under the control of a skilled operator. As an answer to this, some groups are working on developing drones that can be pushed away to redirect them without having an operator monitor how close they fly to individuals.
While the exact future of drones on our jobsites is undetermined, they are just taking flight.