While drones used for anything apart from military and recreational purposes were virtually nonexistent just a few years ago, aerial images from construction sites have become increasingly commonplace since the first Section 333 Exemptions were handed out last September.
Since then, hundreds of businesses from all industries have petitioned the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for the right to commercially utilize drones -- chief among them construction firms.
This culminated last April, when the global engineering and construction behemoth Bechtel Construction began deploying drones on many of its American jobsites. Working with San Francisco-based startup Skycatch, Bechtel strove to increase worker safety and expedite the management of real-time data.
Many other firms have similarly begun utilizing drones in their day-to-day operations, recognizing the strong need for innovation. The construction industry has traditionally relied on walk-bys or helicopters for site planning and coordination, which has proved inefficient, expensive, and even dangerous. Indeed, from 2005-2009, 17 planes were downed while conducting aerial surveys -- resulting in 19 deaths.
With drones however, high-quality data can be collected at a fraction of the cost and potentially without any loss of life allowing construction managers to remotely monitor progress from the office. Fly-bys can be done relatively cheaply on a regular basis, generating a wealth of information that can be used to identify issues early on or archived for progress tracking. Due to greater maneuverability, drones can be operated in spaces previously considered too difficult or dangerous. And, as jobsites are generally uncrowded and drones are light and unmanned, technical failure could mean very little property damage or human harm.
Currently, drones can be equipped with a wide variety of equipment including high-resolution cameras, thermal sensors, and multi-arrays. These tools can be used to generate everything from visualizations of energy loss to identification of structural weaknesses from corrosion. As developers like DJI and 3D Robotics continue to add functionality and maneuverability to their models, construction will only lean more and more on drones. Perhaps one day, we’ll be hard-pressed to remember a past when we operated without them at all.