How Drones Are Changing the Way We Build

11/20/2018

The billion-dollar drone industry offers a range of benefits for construction projects yet navigating the ever-evolving regulations and new technologies are a constant challenge. Since their early adoption on construction sites in 2012, today’s drones are proving their worth more than ever from the early stages of project planning through warranty.

How Drones are Used in Construction 

No longer just for photography, drones have a range of uses at every project stage, including: 

Bidding: As early as the bidding process, drones can be used to show site topography and help stakeholders put together bids that reflect the value of the site and the true scope of work. 

Progress Documentation: Once a bid has been awarded, drone photography and video footage can show the scope of work, serving an important role for progress documentation. 

Right-of-Way: When right-of-way is an issue in a build, drone footage provides clear evidence of encroachment and other right of way issues. 

High Resolution Mapping: High-resolution mapping and logistics show change over time, which can bring a project to life for key stakeholders and ensure that subcontractors, contractors, and inspectors are on the same page. 

3D Modeling of Sites for Planning and Inspection: 3D modeling increases the accuracy of grading analysis, which allows for better planning and decision making. 

Visible and Infrared Inspection of Building Roofs and Envelopes: Infrared video footage shows air leaks in the building's envelope or roofing system, which can assist with renovations of existing structures.

Marketing: Flyover videos get potential buyers excited about the project and can boost sales. 

How Drone Use Has Changed Over Time 

In 2014, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released regulations for drone operations. Notably, these regulations established a one drone, one operator limit and set a certification requirement for drone operators.

The FAA regulations also established visibility and safety regulations regarding weather conditions and time of day (for instance, flying after sunset requires anti-collision lighting). Drones cannot fly over people unless they're participating in the project. 

It may sound counterintuitive but the regulations have actually helped drone adoption by addressing fears of drone accidents or misuse. Once the FAA established regulations to protect liability and limit risk, construction crews became more likely to consider drones.

How Drone Operators Can Help

One of the chief barriers to drone adoption in construction is cost and expertise. The typical construction crew doesn't know how to operate a drone, nor can a typical contractor afford drone equipment and insurance.

Drone companies that specialize in construction site imaging help construction companies leverage drone data on an as-needed basis. These companies can operate the drones, compile the data, and distribute data in shareable formats, which benefits construction companies and potential investors alike. 

How Drones are Benefiting Construction Sites

Looking ahead, drone services will integrate naturally into the construction workflow. As construction companies look to enhance visualization services for customers, virtual design and 3D point clouds will become the industry gold standard.

Drones offer a new level of transparency that helps project managers communicate with superintendents, project owners, and other stakeholders. Drones increase the quality and quantity of site imaging, resulting in a much more accurate look at the site from multiple angles. With drones, it's easier than ever to keep stakeholders in the loop. This leads to satisfied customers who make referrals. 

Drones also help construction companies avoid costly missteps. Consider a common scenario: A subcontractor isn't building their portion of the job to specification, or there's an issue with the existing roofline that went undetected in earlier inspections. Regular drone flights bring these issues to the forefront earlier so crews can resolve them for less time and money. 

While the client-side benefits are obvious, drones also benefit construction crews, by increasing efficiency. 3D point clouds provide highly accurate representations of a build site before, during, and after construction. Better decision-making means increased productivity, reduced waste, and a greater ROI on every build. 

As CEO of Arch Aerial, an enterprise drone solution provider, Ryan Baker says, "The construction industry has been quick to adopt enterprise drone services, and we’ve seen adoption swell in the past 18 months in particular. General contractors want to implement drone data on their projects but they’re typically looking for a service partner who can help them make the transition. Whether it’s drone progress documentation services or high-resolution 3D point cloud services, it’s not a matter of if they’ll be adopted, but when."