Drones in construction – 6 ways drones are driving construction innovation

Drone technology has evolved in recent years and has been adopted by many industries. These tiny, unmanned aerial vehicles are now reaching places too dangerous or difficult for human workers to access, gathering data and even delivering packages. Drones now have widespread use in military settings but have spread into multiple sectors including agriculture, forestry and construction.

Drone footage of the inside of a house under construction surrounded by building equipment taken at sunrise in spring 2019

Where construction teams are working on mega-scale sites, drones are there improving surveillance, site monitoring, quality, safety and a lot more. Drones in construction environments are already changing the way we report data and make decisions. This step-change in construction innovation is driving big on-site improvements and this is just the beginning.

1. Site surveys

Site surveys are critical for monitoring the progression and quality of construction projects. Walking the site to take laser measurements produces accurate results but it is time-consuming and it can be difficult to reach certain areas during some construction phases. On busy sites, additional personnel can increase safety risks, especially if they are accessing scaffolding and areas where heavy equipment is in use. Users can operate drone technology remotely, automatically recording data and images while flying under roofs and accessing hard-to-reach areas.

2. Marketing

For marketing teams, drones used in construction provide an invaluable tool. They can capture video from a unique viewpoint; nothing quite beats the sweeping vista seen from the air and the level of detail achieved by drone footage. Site images and construction progression can be captured and feedback to clients. Finished projects can be recorded on film for real estate use. For example, Elon Musk recently took the use of drones in construction one step further on the site of the new Tesla Gigafactory in Texas, USA. He permitted Tesla fans to fly drones over the site and record their own footage of the site progression. The footage has been a hit on social media, thus helping to enhance the Tesla brand.

3. Virtual reality tracking

Construction projects are complex and include multiple stakeholders, many of which sit outside of construction in connected industries. Architects, designers, facilities management, investors and building owners need to understand the real-time progression of the construction project but this isn’t easy. Often these stakeholders will work from offices many miles from the site, perhaps even in another country. Regular site visits simply aren’t feasible for busy professionals in congested construction areas.  Virtual walk-throughs provide the next best thing to being on-site. Stakeholders can receive pre-recorded footage and view the project’s progression. Alternatively, footage can be broadcast in real-time for immediate discussion and action. With the latest development in virtual reality technology, stakeholders can now enjoy a real-time, 3D tour of the site, providing an additional depth of understanding of the building progression.

4. Safety checks

Construction businesses are starting to use drones to complete safety checks remotely. Viewed from the air, you can spot safety issues and take remedial action quickly. You can also see and record security issues or vandalism in real-time. Unlike static cameras, drones can be manipulated to survey a site from all angles and move within building to gather additional data.

With the emergence of advanced artificial intelligence (AI), data can be collected and used to create alerts to prompt immediate action. In time, drones may be able to sense gas leaks, spot breaches of health and safety rules or detect damage, through optical and infrared cameras or air quality sensors.

5. Construction inspections

Drones can be used to carry out maintenance inspections remotely. They can cover large areas in a short space of time, capturing images in several locations and automatically recording data. This is particularly relevant for areas that might be unsafe for human workers to enter, perhaps at the source of a health and safety incident or in areas that are not easily accessible, such as roof spaces. Additionally, users can view high-quality images in real-time and capture them for documentation. They can then allocate the repair to a maintenance engineer. Advanced thermal imaging cameras are becoming more commonplace on drones used in construction. Cold or heat spots in the building can indicate issues with insulation or abnormal activity on the site. Used with optical images and other sensor layers, a complete site picture can be built.

6. Communication

Drones have a vital role to play in collaboration. Stakeholders can now view a site in real-time thousands of miles away from the location. When making important multi-stakeholder decisions, video access through drones provides enhanced communication without any team member needing to set foot on the construction site.

Different drones for different data

Drone footage of the inside of a house under construction surrounded by building equipment taken at sunrise in spring 2019

Before investing in drone technology, you need to be clear on the data that you hope to extract. There are many different types of drones available on the market and each carries various sensors to achieve different goals.

  • Photo and video equipment are still the main focus for drone technology, with construction teams taking images for site monitoring and inspection.
  • To create thermal maps and lidar, use thermal sensors. You can also use infrared cameras to build more complex pictures of a site.
  • Geo-location and metric sensors like global positioning systems (GPS) are often used in surveillance and virtual reality drones.
  • For health and safety checks, use air quality sensors.

Autodesk classifies drones into three main types based on four specific criteria:

Fixed-wing: These drones take off from runways, have a long battery life and can carry relatively large amounts of equipment. This makes them ideal for land surveying.

VTOL: These drones, which can be quadcopters or other formations, take off vertically. They have a short battery life and can only carry very light equipment. As a result, they are ideal for site inspections.

VTOL-tethered: Use tethered drones when you don’t need the equipment to move once it’s in the air. They have relatively long battery lives – some can also charge or refuel via their tether. They can carry limited equipment and are ideal for security surveillance.

It is always important to consider the size and weight of the equipment that the drone needs to carry and the payload that it can accommodate. Battery power is also a big factor in selecting a drone, as large construction sites may require a drone to fly for several hours before recharge.

Making drone data count

Using drones in construction settings carries many benefits in terms of surveying a site and reporting on the site status. However, this information isn’t valuable unless it drives action.

PlanRadar provides the perfect place to record drone data and images and turn these into actionable tasks. PlanRadar takes drone data and images and records them in real-time directly to the building blueprint. A construction supervisor can flag any items requiring remedial action. They can then create and allocate a ticket to a contractor. The supervisor can also add images and documents to the task and set deadlines. Once the task is complete, the contract can capture another image and send a push notification back to the supervisor. Chat boxes also allow team members to alert contractors to particular tasks or flag urgent issues.

These tickets and completed tasks form part of comprehensive reports which show construction progression. Images then help to form the as-built documentation passed to facilities management upon building completion.

Use PlanRadar to create actions from your drone data and unleash the full potential of this innovative technology. Try PlanRadar free for 30 days.