It’s hard to go to a construction tradeshow or read an analyst report without hearing about a new drone company or how drones are going to eventually impact construction. Today, advanced drone hardware is available at low prices, and U.S. regulation has enabled commercial drone use to be easy for companies and service providers to adopt. Most importantly, companies have built custom software solutions to suit the exact needs of construction companies.
The time for drones in construction isn’t yet to come—pilot programs have launched and results are being seen right now. But where is the true value? It’s not about the drone at all; it’s about the data that drone hardware provides and how that data can enable team communication in the office and in the field.
Up-To-Date Progress Tracking
The best use of drones isn’t in a marketing video or a quick inspection of a rooftop. Drones are allowing teams in the field and in the office to work off of a single set of exterior data that can showcase a site’s progress, help verify milestones, make decisions, track assets, calculate volumetrics, develop safety practices and more.
Drones can capture overhead views in 2-D and 3-D that show the real picture of the progress on a jobsite, giving the industry true reality capture on projects. Putting this data capture on a consistent schedule monthly, weekly or even daily allows for a universal view of project exteriors.
Keep Projects on Track
So what is the impact of drone data to a construction team? Executives get the visibility they need to spot problems and control risks that can lead to expensive delays and budget changes. Project managers get the information they need to report on progress for projects involving various independent parties. Teams can provide subcontractors and trades with accurate, up-to-date information and minimize delays and disputes, thanks to a permanent archive of aerial data as an audit and forensics database.
Weekly meetings get streamlined by hours per week by using a single set of data, and teams that used to have to travel to multiple sites can check in on the job from their mobile device with an aerial overview.
For technical teams that want to communicate using BIM models, aerial data can be accurately placed into as-built models, allowing clashes to be spotted before there is a problem. This overlaid data, available in accuracies down to the inch, helps prevents potential site conflicts and track exact progress to plan.
Aerial data enables communication around safety as well. All sites can benefit from aerial video and photography to plan workflows and to develop safety and site logistics plans that identify high-traffic areas, crane clearances and areas where material will move in and out.
With aerial video or a high-resolution aerial map, safety and compliance training can work off of one piece of high-impact collateral that shows the site from above. Inspectors and project safety managers can be provided with detailed images regularly, allowing them to be informed about where barricades are and aren’t, as well as current riggings and materials placements. Aerial images also prevent the need for potentially dangerous inspections on top of piles or partially completed structures, which can easily be replaced with a view from above.
Drones are being used in all of the above ways on jobsites across the United States, and will only increase in adoption as time and money are saved on site. However, the most exciting period in drone usage in construction is yet to come. With artificial intelligence and machine learning technology becoming more and more mainstream, every piece of data that gets captured now helps train computers to identify equipment types and assets to track. Eventually, teams won’t even review the data, just the results telling them how their builds are progressing compared to plan. This is where early adoption becomes a big advantage.
As we move forward into the new era of digitally enhanced data aggregation, the integration and maximization of digitization technology and aerial data will be a highly competitive field, with early adopters winning business and maximizing profitability. The more data that goes into systems now, the more efficient the gains from machine learning over time.
The future of communication on site will be drastically enabled by technology, and aerial data can have impact on sites today and in the future.