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Drones Fly Higher in Construction

Key Points
  • During a project, drones can collect faster and better data for improved efficiencies and lower costs.
  • Comparing designs with as-built construction can reduce costly change-orders and construction errors.
  • In the future, integrating drone data with 3D printers will produce scale models for stakeholders.

Drone technology is revolutionizing building construction and is fast becoming a multi-billion industry. Research and Markets believes global demand for drones in real estate and construction will reach a cumulative market value of $20.5 billion and total shipments of more than 6.3 million units by 2025, including hardware, software and service spending.

When combined with the right computing tools, builders can turn sensor data into three-dimensional (3D) structural models, topographical maps and volumetric measurements of stockpiles. The latest drone software can take a pre-designed flight plan, complete it error-free and use the data gathered to build a 3D map of the area. With faster and better data, efficiencies improve and costs decrease.

For instance, combining drone imaging technologies with LiDAR for volumetric data calculations has led to significant cost savings for earthworks projects. Optimizing excavation routes are optimized and uptime of heavy equipment minimized with imagery resolution at 200 feet providing half-inch-per-pixel definition. One company used drone mapping to assess its earthworks in a third of the time than that of traditional methods. Other drone applications include:

  • Tracking project progress to compare designs with as-built constructions to plan costs and schedules; costly change-orders are reduced before construction errors occur
  • Coordinating logistics among multiple team members using time-lapse video; drones are used to take weekly images of the structure, which are stitched together
  • Inspecting the building envelope; drones are outfitted with thermal imaging cameras to identify cold and hot spots from leaks and other problems
  • Optimizing machine idle and in-motion time on the job site when drone technology are combined with GPS-enabled equipment
  • Explaining a building's size, shape, materials, circulation and give a general introduction to the building; videos and photos are possible from any height, angle, in much greater detail and within minutes

Companies already embracing drone technology include:

  • Skanska overlaid drone footage with building information modeling and advanced visualization tools to understand design options and simulate scheduling sequences for the construction of a new 129,000-square-foot ice rink for a Massachusetts high school.
  • SRG Partnerships used drone day and night time photos and videos to explain the daylighting strategy (expansive clearstory and numerous skylights) for South Puget Sound Community College's Building 22. This was difficult to document and explain using exterior ground photography.
  • 3D Robotics is developing a specialized drone equipped to scan built environments and send data directly to the cloud. The company also integrated its flight optimization and analytics software—which can generate orthophotos, point clouds and meshes to build design surfaces and contours—with Autodesk.
  • McCarthy Building Companies, who already uses drones, is teaming up with PrecisionHawk to develop custom software that will use drone-captured data for productivity tracking, site surveying and schedule management. PrehisionHawk's platform will be used to create 3-D and 4-D models.

Future applications include:

  • Track inventory and materials in real time using topography and materials imagery, along with LiDAR data
  • Produce scale models of job sites by integrating drone data with 3D printers and ship to project stakeholders

Push-button UAV flights may also become the norm, eliminating the need for a drone specialist on site to manage flight operations and analyze data.

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Image source: iStock

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