Innovation is slowly, but surely gaining a hold in the construction industry, and drones are quickly becoming one of the most popular technologies in this sector. Also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), drones have the ability to capture data on a construction site much faster than traditional tools and methods. As this technology becomes more sophisticated, drones are taking over complex tasks, from surveying and mapping to surveillance.
The drone services market is poised to skyrocket in the next few years
MarketsandMarkets’ reports that the drone services market is expected to grow from $4.4 billion in 2019 to $63.6 billion by 2025. Though the use of drones is increasing in pretty much every sector, construction is among the most eager adopters of this tech. In fact, according to DroneDeploy, “Drone uses on construction sites rose by 239 percent from 2017 to 2018.” What’s more, a company offering drone services, ProDroneWorx, conducted a survey that shows that the number of construction companies in the UK and Ireland that rely on drone tech has increased compared to previous years. The survey reveals that 52 per cent of respondents are now using drones, compared to 33 per cent that reported the same in 2017.
And it’s no wonder, since drones bring many benefits to the construction industry. As Ian Tansey, the managing director at ProDroneWorx, says, “In a world of very tight margins of about 2% in construction, and an increasingly competitive landscape, the use of digital/reality capture data gives firms a significant competitive advantage over their peers through improved data quality, reduced costs, increased productivity gains and the mitigation of risk”.
Layton Construction uses DJI drones on highly complex projects
One of the companies that decided to implement drones to enhance its operations is the US-based commercial contractor Layton Construction. The company specialises in building all kinds of facilities, including medical centres, labs, and recreation centres. All of these projects are highly complex, and even a minor error can cause delays and lead to financial loss. But this isn’t the case for projects conducted with drones. Layton Construction is currently building a residential college facility on the Vanderbilt University campus in Nashville, Tennessee. Drones deployed on-site are Mavic 2 Pro and Mavic 2 Zoom, provided by the well-known drone manufacturer DJI. Both drones are lightweight and foldable, which means it’s easy to transport them between sites.
Thanks to high-tech cameras, the drones can capture high-resolution shots, which are then sent to drone mapping software called DroneDeploy. The software, featuring advanced data processing and analytics, is accessible through the cloud. This allows construction professionals to easily create models based on aerial maps. 3D models are particularly important when it comes to communicating with investors and clients. For example, Layton Construction can share them with project stakeholders to help them visualise a building before it’s actually built.
Drone tech helps companies save time, reduce costs, and keep their workers safe from danger
Thanks to drones, contractors know precisely what’s on-site, and what will be required for future construction. In the past, however, things were different. For site surveying, companies usually relied on the rough estimates presented by engineers. But the information was outdated, even when it relied on geo-mapping provided by satellites. Since the majority of projects were based on guesswork, contractors would sometimes find that the site is more complex than they initially thought, and that it requires more material, for instance. To prevent this from happening, the construction company Siegmund Excavation & Construction harnesses the power of drones.
The company develops up to eight bridges per year, and the majority of those projects wouldn’t be completed on time without drones. Before deploying drones, Siegmund Excavation & Construction relied on human labour to survey land marked for construction, which took days and was highly dangerous. Today, the firm uses drones to carry out aerial surveys without exposing anyone to danger. As Gibson Kuenzi, the company’s project manager, explains, surveying a pile of crushed rock with drones takes no more than 15 minutes, while it takes multiple people a few days to get the job done with traditional methods.
Inspections carried out by drones are essential for aging infrastructure
Clearly, drones show potential to make construction easier, safer, and more cost-effective. This is especially the case with infrastructure inspections. In early 2019, researchers from the Lulea University of Technology in Sweden demonstrated how autonomous drones could be utilised for inspecting aging infrastructure such as dams, wind turbines, and buildings. The demonstration involved using a system that consists of multiple drones. Thanks to “localization, path planning and mapping technology”, the drones were able to fly around in a small space without crashing into one another. After the drones collected the data and converted it into 3D images, the investigators were able to examine the structure without risking their lives. Compared to current methods, drone inspections are much faster and safer.
But the researchers from the Lulea University of Technology aren’t the only ones who believe that drones are the perfect inspection tools for aging infrastructure. In 2018, the tech company Intel joined forces with the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. The goal is to use Intel’s drone technology to inspect bridges in those regions. As Anil Nanduri, the vice president and general manager of the Intel drone team, explains, “The process of bridge inspections is a highly manual process and can be dangerous. What we did with the drone technology is supplement that process to save cost, time, and improve accuracy and reliable data.”
The future of drones in construction is bright
Since drones provide easy access to large and potentially dangerous sites, the use of this tech in construction has skyrocketed. And there’s no sign that the trend will slow down in the future. As the price of drones becomes more affordable, construction companies of all sizes will be more than happy to adopt this technology and enhance the safety and efficiency of their worksites.