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Drones in Construction: Are They Necessary?

While technological advances over the years have improved the process of construction, the industry is still known to be rather inefficient. Large projects typically take 20% longer than expected to complete and go up to 80% over budget, and many businesses are seeking ways to improve these numbers. One proposal has been the use of drones to record activities, cut costs, and increase efficiency and accuracy. But is it worth adding an additional cost? Some say they are an innovation as important as concrete formwork ties, while others say they’re not necessary.

How Drones Are Used in Construction

The main reason drones are deployed on a construction site is for surveying and inspection. Using downward facing sensors, drones are able to capture a large amount of aerial data in a short period of time, making them ideal for this purpose. The ground, its features, and any buildings are photographed multiple times from a variety of angles, and each image can be tagged with coordinates. This allows data to be used as an asset in inspections, especially for hard-to-reach areas.

While this can be helpful on smaller projects, large infrastructure projects can benefit the most from this technology. Roads, railways, bridges, dams, airports, and other large projects can optimize operations with drone data.

Benefits of Drones in Construction

The ability to get precise visual data at a site in a fast, cost-efficient manner is the main benefit of using drones, especially when compared with other methods like a manned aircraft. This makes it easier to meet deadlines, offering on-demand data, usually within a matter of hours. The images are also reliably high quality, facilitating decisions that are based on real-time information and as accurate as possible. Many workers like to use these images as a visual aid in conversations to help other stakeholders understand what has been done and what work remains.

Because this time-intensive process has been shortened and automated, the associated labor costs of surveying land are also substantially lowered. This, paired with more accurate data that can help settle disputes easily, makes drones a tool to save both time and money on a project.

Without the use of drones, someone has to be physically at a site to get information about progress. This often involves multiple people traveling to the site, disrupting active work and causing additional work for safety precautions. Drones allow these stakeholders to gain access to information from a remote location, lowering costs, increasing efficiency, and keeping everyone on the site safer.

Potential Downsides to Drones

While drones can have a very positive impact on a construction project, they do require a number of investments and skills that make them difficult for some people to implement. These drones require trained staff to operate, manage, and maintain them- this may even include specialties like piloting or geospatial knowledge in order to accurately obtain and interpret data. Other, more user-friendly drones may be available depending on the complexity of data needed.

Some countries also have regulations surrounding drones, particularly in urban areas or certain airspaces. Flying over a rural highway has little risk to people or property, but dense areas come with a risk of injury and accident that should be considered. Regulations also shift over time, so your company will need to have mechanisms in place to keep up with the changing landscape.

The Best Approach

As for whether drones are necessary- most construction jobs have been done without drones and could continue to be completed this way. However, drones offer undeniable benefits in many scenarios. One approach is to start small, with a single drone or an expert subcontractor who can apply the process to one project. From there, you can understand the output of the drone and if it improves your project’s efficiency.

If the insight from the drone brings value, you can then consider internalizing the process and bringing drones in-house. Many people prefer this approach to protect their data and integrate the process into their workflow, though many subcontractors will manage the drone process on your behalf.

Ultimately, drones are a technological advance that could greatly improve many aspects of construction projects that make them difficult or slow, if your organization is willing to adjust to the new technology.