Tuesday 22 March 2016

Uses of drones in construction

Despite the public’s concerns, Drones (also known as unmanned air vehicles or UAVs) are coming to the construction industry and experts concur that they soon will be a common tool on jobsites. These devices provide a way to obtain real-time data on job progress, may identify potential hazards or quality issues, and help acquire other useful information in a very expeditious and cost-effective manner. The larger the construction site the more helpful they are in monitoring the project.

Many of today’s drone systems are iPhone controlled, connected by Wi-Fi, and positioned using Global Positioning (GPS). Data captured by a drone’s camera can be exported in common software formats such as Autodesk, GIS systems, Wavefront, 3DS, Google Earth and PDF to create 3D digital models, autonomous GPS wave points, georeferenced surveys, digital elevation models, 4K high resolution model inspections and site plans and models. They can also be used to perform volume and planning calculations and thermal calculations.

Although companies may be interested in doing it in-house, they are finding that the requirements are more complex than they realized. Combined with the cost of equipment and liability insurance, the timeline to obtain permits, etc., it can be very expensive to insure and have a fully trained team. However, some Drones can be programmed to fly a consistent path at a consistent height to ensure a consistent data set, without the human error that often creeps into data collection. Though unmanned, drones qualify as aircraft, so they are subject to complex airspace regulations enforced by the Local Aviation Authorities and other government agencies.

Within the construction industry, there are a number of different applications that can benefit from the collection of aerial images and data. In a peer-reviewed paper first presented at the 2015 AACE International Annual Meeting in Las Vegas, ConstructionPro Network’s publisher Paul Levin provides an in-depth look at drone evolution, how they work and more than 30 current usage functions in both construction and project control support. Their uses include:

  • Survey and measurement (laser scanning [LIDAR]),
  • Thermal imaging/infrared [FLIR] and other data-capture technology),
  • Project controls (documenting daily/weekly progress via aerial photography),
  • QA/QC and maintenance inspection (visual inspection of bridges, curtain walls, bottom of excavations and hard-to-access and/or otherwise unsafe locations),
  • Safety inspections,
  • Production planning,
  • Logistics (handling and delivery of tools, parts and materials, particularly on horizontal construction),
  • Emergency response assistance and security, and
  • Documentation for resolution of claims and change orders. 

Two additional drivers of the use of drones include safety and economics. Anything that eliminates the need to put a person on a ladder or in other dangerous situations reduces risks (insurance companies are very fond of that). Therefore, safety is an important element of drone use. “A huge benefit in the construction industry is that drones can remove danger from the human element – not having to send employees into unsafe environments for data collection or inspections.

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