There are some awesome options for using drones for construction. There is a huge amount of interest in drone technology for construction and infrastructure because of the ability to quickly and safely capture data about the construction zone and the potential return on investment. Drones are getting cheaper year on year with even more advanced technology thrown in. In this article we are going to look at the best drones for construction as well as a buyers guide for what you should look for it you are in the market to buy a drone for use on your construction site.
In a hurry? Buy this drone – LIAIR 220
This drone brings together the best-in-class measurement accuracies and multichannel lidar sensor capabilities. The drone is able to generate a high-resolution 3D point lidar image for users which includes measuring both surface terrain and objects emerging from the ground. This drone carries a system that is able to capture measurements from up to 220 m away which makes it perfect for situations where the environment stops you from getting close to your point of interest.
Table of drones
Here is a table of all of the drones which are mentioned in this article.
|LIAIR 220||Multichannel LiDar 3D clouds|
|Hovermap||LiDar Portable unit able to be hot-swapped to different drones|
|Parrot Anafi USA||Best Thermal Imaging option|
|Phantom 4 RTX||DJI option 2D and 3D maps|
|Explore 1||High accuracy Mapping option|
If you want more information I have gone through each of the drones, above, and talked about all of their features as well as any stand out points of difference that each drone has. I am sure that given the drones in this list you will be able to find one which works best for you.
In this section I’m going to go over the top 6 drones that I think you should consider. There are plenty of drones which can carry a camera or sensor to collect data about your construction sites and infrastructure, but these are the top options if you want affordability, portability, and reliable construction.
This drone brings together the best in class measurement accuracies and multichannel lidar sensor capabilities. The drone is able to generate a high resolution 3D point lidar image for users which includes measuring both surface terrain and objects emerging from the ground. This drone carries a system which is able to capture measurements from up to 220 m away which makes it perfect for situations where the environment stops you from getting close to your point of interest.
You can choose between standard or premium packages of this drone where the premium is aided by inertial navigation packages which helps resolve system position uncertainties occur during the data collection. You can also add on a high-definition digital camera which will allow you to produce true colour topographical and 3D point clouds.
This drone is perfect for anyone looking for an off-the-shelf solution for high accuracy and high density ground point 3D imaging at a relatively affordable price point.
The postprocessing software contains a centimetre level positioning result which means that you can trust the data that it has collected. The software or postprocessing can also generate a system performance report for evaluation by your team with a single click.
This drone also comes with LiPlan which is an iPad app to support planning your flight. You can take off and land with one button and perform a calibration manoeuvre automatically.
Hovermap is a smart mobile scanning unit which you can use by mounting on a backpack, holding in your hand, or even mounted to a drone to provide autonomous mapping from the air.
This unit only weighs 1.8 kg and is able to be fitted to smaller drones such as the DJI M210. The Hovermap mobile scanning unit not only acts as a way to capture a 3D model of your construction zone it can also act as a collision avoidance system for the drone. The lidar data is processed on board in real-time to produce a 3D map of the surroundings which means that your drone will be flying in a virtual safety bubble to prevent collisions.
Drones often rely on GPS for location, navigation, and for accurate flight control. By fitting the Hovermap mobile scanning it to your drone you are able to fly without using GPS such as situations where you are underground. This makes Hovermap a perfect solution for those that want to fly in mining situations or in large warehouses. Also, if your flight is likely to have unstable GPS connection – like flying under bridges or into caves – using the Hovermap mobile scanning unit will protect your drone from the GPS dropouts by using lidar.
By using an on-board camera you are also able to get real colour 3D point clouds by combining the on-board camera footage with the data collected. This means that you are able to reveal previously hidden details in your critical infrastructure.
This solution is perfect for people who want the ability to use a range of drones with their construction mapping ability. There is little to no calibration required with most drones and it is a plug and play system which integrates seamlessly with DJI drone systems.
The parrot Anafi USA is a very powerful drone which has been specifically built to meet the demands of construction surveying and inspection. It has an industry first 32 time zoom and a 4K HDR camera and also thermal imaging capabilities.
The great thing about this drone is that is manufactured in the US so that you can be assured that there is no data being sent abroad about your construction sites and it features data encryption and privity features to deliver the best in class privacy and security for sensitive missions – part of the software has been designed for use by the United States Army.
This drone has a 32X zoom which makes it perfect for capturing images of your construction zone without getting close to hazards. To put that into perspective the parrot Anafi USA can see details a small as 1 cm from a distance of about 50 m away.
Although this drone does not come fitted with lidar it has a thermal imaging unit which makes it perfect for people looking for hot spots on electrical equipment or firefighters trying to understand the hotspots created in a fire.
Because this drone has been made for firefighters it is able to be flown within 55 seconds. That means if you are in a mission-critical situation it takes less than 55 seconds to unfold the drone, turn it on, establish a secure radio link between the controller and the drone and then take off to commence your mission.
This drone is also able to work indoors without GPS. The drone only weighs 500 g and folds down easily for maximum portability. This has a massive 32 minute flight time which is one of the best in its class. Impressively, this drone has been made to fly in rainy conditions so that you can be sure that you will be able to fly when you want to. It has passed the IP53 qualification.
This drone is perfect for someone in the construction industry that doesn’t want to create 3D cloud mapping but still wants to understand and monitor their construction area. This is perfect for surveying in nearly every condition and the enterprise level features cannot be matched at this price point by any other drone.
There are also a number of DJI options if you want to go with a manufacturer that offers a range of plug and play options for enterprise level construction drones. DJI has become the go to manufacturer forward commercial and consumer level drones and their enterprise level drones also offer a whole range of features which are powerful and easy to use.
Phantom 4 RTX
If you want to survey your construction site you are able to use the phantom 4 drones with a mobile ground station which will improve the accuracy of the generated 2D and 3D maps.
This drone was designed to make drone mapping easy, convenient, and efficient with the ability to fly for up to 30 minutes. The drone captures original satellite observation data as well as highly accurate image position data. It is built for surveyors as the website points out that:
“The drone captures original satellite observation data as well as the ephemeris data and stores it in a PPKRAW.bin file in RTCM 3.2 format. Additionally, the Phantom 4 RTK converts the satellite data on the fly to the RINEX format (Receiver Independent Exchange Format) and writes the data into a RINEX.obs file. Thanks to the internal synchronization of the GNSS position and camera, the Timestamp.MRK file provides a precise recording of the highly accurate image position. All operation-relevant data is stored on a Micro-SD card in a unique folder for each mission. The consistency of the Phantom 4 RTK’s data reduced the time needed to validate the data and results in an efficient post-processing workflow with minimal to no manual adjustments.”
If you’re looking for a highly precise solution you can use the explore 1 RTX enable platform drone which will deliver reliable centimetre level accuracy without the need for a ground control points.
Buyers guide – best drones for construction
Perhaps, none of the drones mention above match exactly what you want to do with your drone for construction. We are now going to run through all of the aspects that you should consider before purchasing a drone for construction.
If you’re using a drone for construction you should consider how easy it is to get to the construction or inspection site. Portability is an aspect of drone ownership which is greatly under appreciated. Sure, there are some very big and powerful drones which can deliver some incredible results and fly for a very long time, but it often comes at the cost of portability.
You want to purchase a drone which is able to fit in a hard rugged case such as a Pelican hardcase. When considering what drone to purchase you should also think about the accessories that you will need to carry with the drone. And, in my experience, it’s best to carry these all in one case.
Typically along with the drone you will need to carry:
- batteries – this will extend your flight time and give you some flexibility in how much you can fly to achieve your flight mission goals.
- Extra propellers – carrying a set of propellers is important in case you accidentally clip an obstacle or have a heavy landing which destroys a propeller.
- Cables – quite often smart devices are attached to remote controls using a series of cables your need somewhere to store these.
- Charging cables – sometimes you’ll have enough time to charge up your batteries in between your flights. I recommend that you carry your charging equipment with you at all time.
- Landing pad – carrying a landing pad with you means that you are able to take off even on the dusty is almost unstable of surfaces without risking the propellers and then wash causing debris to fly around.
- Hot swap units – some drones are able to quickly change out for other features for example lidar, thermal imaging, other cameras – making sure that all of your cameras and hot swappable components are in one place will help with your time management during your flight.
All of these will need to be carried to your takeoff point as well as the drone that you are flying on that day. Having it all in one case will make your preparation for the flight much easier and as simple as grabbing a single container.
Typically, enterprise level drones will fly up to about 30 minutes. If you decide to buy a less expensive drone typically this comes at the cost of a shorter flight time. This isn’t necessarily a problem since you can simply purchase more batteries to extend your flight time. All you have to do is come back to the takeoff and landing spot to quickly swap out the battery pack.
I used to work on a mining site and I know, firsthand, the sorts of conditions that can be found on a construction site. You need to make sure that your drone is suitable for the environment in which it will be used the most as small electronic components in the drone can easily be affected by dust.
Not only that but the sorts of people that are found on construction sites generally are the heavy-handed sort. Therefore you will need a drone with not only light construction but will withstand the daily use from people that aren’t used to dealing with sensitive electronic equipment.
Looking for a drone which contains carbon fibre arms will also help you ensure that the drone lasts a number of flights and people.
Ease of flying
If you are considering using the drone regularly you will have to train a number of people in the use and piloting of a drone. Luckily, there are plenty of advanced flying features which means that flying a drone is as easy as it’s ever been. However, because you are in an enterprise situation your training will have to be more robust than the typical consumer pilot.
Choosing a drone that has simple set up and advanced safety features such as auto hovering, auto stabilisation, GPS, and altitude hold will mean that if any of the pilots ever feel unsafe simply letting go of the controls will keep the drone in a stable hover until they are able to work out how they will return to the takeoff spot.
Hot swapping ability
There are a number of times when a flight has to satisfy a number of missions. If you find that you are using a drone to capture lots of different types of data from your construction site you will need to purchase a drone which has the ability to swap out different components quickly.
Some drones are unable to swap out cameras for lidar or thermal imaging components. However some drones do have the capability and will allow you to capture 3D cloud lidar images as well as thermal imaging and camera photos or videography of your flight.
Choosing a drone which has the capability to do a range of different data catches will also future proof you for anything that your construction site or company wants to expand into.
Getting your licence
Lastly, you should look at getting a drone license because of the commercial flights that you will be undertaking. Some places do not require you to get a commercial license for hobby activities but for enterprise level drone flights and services you will almost certainly have to get your drone pilot license.
There are many rules and regulations which change regularly about drone ownership and flying. As a drone owner it is your responsibility to keep on top of all of the new regulation changes and ignorance is not an excuse for failure to comply.
You should check your local laws and regulations as well as any special circumstances such as those found if you were to fly over national parks or protected marine areas.
Here are some links to local laws and regulations in the United States of America, Canada, Australia, and the UK:
Drone flying restriction in USA
Drone flying restriction in Canada
Drone flying restriction in Australia
Drone flying restriction in UK
There wouldn’t be anything more frustrating than going through all the effort of selecting the perfect drone for you and then not being able to fly it where and how you want to.
In this article we have gone over the best drones for construction. If you want to buy a drone for construction you need to make sure that it not only has the features that you need it to have but also that it is rugged and portable and has all of the accessories easily available for you to purchase so that you never miss a critical flight.
Happy drone flying!