Drones are revolutionising aspects of nearly every sort of profession but an area where they are having a particularly strong impact is in the construction industry. Drones are able to help make a load of improvements in construction for example, increased accuracy in reporting, volumetric analysis, identifying hazards and improving security, and cutting costs by increasing the efficiency of their work. In this article I’m going to go over the types of drones used in construction, while drones are used for, and the important types of data that construction companies can get from drone applications.
The types of drones used in construction are typically multirotor drones that can carry a camera, lidar module, or infrared camera. They are used to survey land, monitor construction assets, provide progress updates, and have even been used to deliver resources to remote parts of a construction site. Fixed-wing drones are also used to cover large areas to collect survey images.
Each construction company is buying a drone for their specific purposes and use cases. Sometimes, when a drone is purchased by a construction company to do one job they find that it has a range of other types of applications that they have never even thought about.
In the next section we are going to look at the types of things that’s drones are able to be useful which dictates the type of drones which can be used in construction.
What are drones used for in construction?
Drone technology is becoming more widely adopted due to its low cost and powerful data it can collect. Importantly, drone technology has not only just increased on the hardware side of things. Drone technology has been vastly improved by the rapid development of artificial intelligence driven software which allows companies to quickly process a drone’s visual data to create 3D and 2D maps of the construction site.
Even the least technical member of the team is able to get powerful insights into their construction operations at the press of a button. Here are some of the best ways you can utilise drone technology in the construction industry.
Drones are rapidly replacing traditional land-based surveillance methods. There are a range of ground control units which provide centimetre level accuracy during land surveying.
The birds eye view that is generated from drone technology eliminates a lot of the human error associated with the process of land surveying and importantly captures the data in a significantly smaller amount of time than sending out a person or team to map out an area.
A fixed wing drone which is more like an aeroplane can cover a huge amount of distance in a small amount of time whilst also capturing high resolution images of the area below. The high resolution images can be changed into 3D models which allows the construction team to identify any preconstruction issues and mistakes which improves the efficiency of the project before it has even started and saves the company a lot of money.
Because nearly every drone is fitted with a camera it makes perfect sense that they could be used to quickly and efficiently monitor assets during your construction. Whether that is volumetric analysis of stockpiles of essential materials or keeping track of where your equipment is on-site. Drone technology has an easy way to do a load of technical things!
Construction sites are full of stockpiles of rule materials which can be used for surfacing roads, laying foundations or other activities. Sometimes, it can be difficult to keep track of how much of a certain material you have on sites and how much you have used to inform ordering more.
Drone technology is able to quickly capture an image of the site from a range of different angles and quickly perform volumetric analysis on your stockpiles of essential materials to let you know how many tons are in your possession. This gives you a quick and simple way of determining whether or not you have enough of your stockpile to finish the task.
Construction sites contain a lot of equipment which needs to be efficiently transported around the site to avoid lengthy delays in mission-critical tasks. Typically, a site manager or project manager has to keep track of each bit of equipment is and where it needs to go next. This leads to a huge potential for human error to impact the progress and costs involved in the project.
By using a drone the same person can quickly do a fly over of the construction site and finds out if there is anything out of place with the equipment. It also allows them to recognise if any of the equipment that is rented is still on-site which can prevent expensive accidental extension charges to the rental agreement.
Construction sites are full of valuable equipment. Drones are able to quickly check the construction site for people who should not be there whilst also acting as a deterrent for would-be thieves. Drones are very loud and can be used to intimidate and scare people into moving on.
Prevention is better than a cure-all since a recent study by Capterra shows that less than 25% of stolen construction site equipment is ever returned.
A birds eye view is a fantastic place to quickly identify any unseen hazards. Safety should be the number one priority on a construction site and having a quick way to fly over the entire site and check that everything is in order for the safety of your employees is imperative.
Having this unique angle on your construction site will certainly give you the ability to identify hazards quicker and easier than simply walking around the construction site. It is also likely to pick up hazards that you have never identified before.
During construction projects clients want regular updates to make sure that key performance indicators and milestones are met. Drones are a perfect way to capture images of the work site to share with the clients.
Drones are able to not only capture the grand features but also provide an up close and detailed view of high construction sites such as high-rise buildings and antennas. Using drone footage and photographs will give your project that extra level of professionalism to build confidence with the client.
Drones can also be used to scare large amounts of birds away from construction sites. Check out my other article – the best drone to scare birds square bracket for awesome options] to get a full run down on scaring birds with drones.
Getting rid of birds cuts down on cleaning costs due to the amount of bird droppings that may accumulate on the top of high buildings but also mean that the birds do not cause any issues with sensitive equipment.
Lastly, drones are able to deliver resources to remote parts of the construction site. There are plenty of drones which are able to carry things and the technology can even deliver up to 12 kg payload over a relatively large distance. This is a great option if your work site is hard to navigate or certain environmental conditions – like wet roads – inhibit delivery of mission-critical items.
Now that you know about all of the ways that drones can be used these other four types of drones which can be utilised in a construction type environment.
How many types of drone do we have to play with?
Each task and each construction site will require a different type of drone to get the job done properly. Typically, when we think of drones we think of four propeller drones which are the most commonly available type for consumers and enterprise applications. Although this type of drone is probably your best option for a range of applications you still have the option of a drone with more than four propellers and also hybrid drones for specific locations. Let’s take a look at the types of drones you need to know about.
This type of drone is the most commonly used by professionals and hobbyists. The great thing about multirotor drones is that they can take off like a helicopter and are very stable and manoeuvrable. The artificial intelligence software which is used to control the drone is getting better and better which means even the most inexperienced pilots can get flying and confident in the air within a matter of minutes.
Typically there are four rotors but they can have up to 8 depending on the stability and payload that the drone is carrying.
The downside of this type of drone is the relatively short flying time and limited endurance and speed. They are not really suitable for large-scale projects like long-distance aerial mapping or surveillance. For that you will need a fixed wing drone which is a much better drone for conserving energy.
The best multirotor drones available at the moment give a flight time of approximately 30 minutes. But this will vary depending on the wind conditions as well as the types of payloads it is carrying – for example lidar instrument or camera.
Fixed wind drones
fixed wing drones look like an aeroplane and create lift by continuously moving through the air and passing air over the wings to create a low pressure system on top of the wing to fly like a conventional aircraft. They cannot stay stationary as they would quickly fall out of the air and move forward continuously through a set series of predetermined waypoints or are controlled manually by a fixed wing drone pilot.
These drones can fly for a couple of hours at a time and if it has a conventional petrol engine it can even fly for over 24 hours. This is because of their great fuel efficiency and the fact that they are not hovering and draining energy from the battery. These drones are perfect for aerial surveillance and taking photographs over a large distance and area.
The downside of using a drone like this is that you require a much higher skill level and you need to have a runway or catapult launcher to put the drone into the air. Then a runway or a parachute is again necessary to land them back on the grand in a safe and controlled manner without damaging the drone.
helicopter drones are very similar to court, as apart from the fact they only have one main rotor and looked very much like helicopters. Having a single rotor on top is much more efficient then a multirotor drone because of the amount of turbulence that they create. They have significantly higher flight times and are more efficient with the energy that they use.
One of the downsides of using this type of drone is that they are much harder to fly and there are higher occupational risks associated with using this type of drone. Because they only have one main rotor the smallest of imbalances all collisions with something in the environment means that they can quickly become unstable in the air.
There are also hybrid type drones which have the benefits of a fixed wing model but the stability and manoeuvrability of other motor based models. These are the least common type of drone available and different types of control sensors required are becoming more efficient and inexpensive. Typically, this type of drone is suitable for very specific applications and are very expensive because of the customised features that these sort drones typically have.
This type of drone is being looked at for things like package delivery by mail services like UPS and Amazon.
Now that you know all of the different types of drones that you can use in your construction applications here are the types of data which is the most useful for construction.
Types of data drones can collect for construction
Drones can collect a huge array of data. A lot of people only think about drones as gadgetry that can collect photos and videos. That is because in the early days of drone flight their popularity arose from the fact that you can get some stunning aerial footage without the use of helicopters or other expensive rigging equipment.
However, as drone technology has advanced, and manufacturers have increased their customer base they have developed a ton of capabilities for enterprise customers. Here are the most useful for construction.
One of the most basic functions that drones allow you to do is collect high-definition photos and footage from your construction site. The images are not just there to monitor and identify parts of your construction site or process that can be improved.
Like we have discussed above, images can be used for a range of other aspects and artificial intelligence software is becoming advanced enough that they can turn the collected photographs and videos into 3D images and representations of your construction site.
If you are interested in this, you will need to get a camera that can capture high definition footage as well as the software which makes turning your footage into 3D models a breeze.
Fixed wing drones are able to fly at a high altitude which makes them perfect for mapping topography and surveying greater distances. For closer aerial inspections rotary drones are much better as they are easy to control and they are able to hover and fly in any direction that you wish. They require a lot more power and you will be swapping out batteries more often but they are a great option if you want to inspect certain areas of your construction site in detail.
Lidar stands for light detection and ranging. It is a survey method which measures the distance to a target by eliminating that target with a pulsed laser. It measures the reflected pulses with a sensor and creates a 3D cloud of data points which represent the 3D environment in which it is flying.
Kind of think of it like sonar on a submarine but with light.
Lidar is a fantastic and affordable technology which means that not only are you able to capture 3D representations of the construction site but, with addition of the data from the camera it can produce real colour representations of the construction site.
Because of the increased resolution you get with lidar it can be used for stockpile measurement, topographical mapping, tracking resources, and also measuring the full 3D environment of overhanging objects such as underground mining and the underside of bridges or caves. It truly is a powerful addition to nearly every construction site.
Lidar can also be used to keep the drone safer than the on-board sensors allow. Lidar can create a quick 3D environment and therefore create a protection bubble around itself by knowing exactly where everything is in the environment. This is a similar technology that self driving cars used to keep themselves safe while on the roads.
Lastly, drones are able to send up a load of cameras which capture different wavelengths of light. One of the most useful for a construction site is the capturing of thermal data. You will be able to see people and hotspots on the construction site which may give you an early warning sign for potential hazards will also allow you to identify any suspected thieves on your property where they shouldn’t be.
Solar technology and other electrical infrastructure can make great use of thermal imaging for improving the efficiency of electronic transfer between wires and components.
In this article we have been through all of the types of drones used in construction as well as a detailed exploration of what type of drones are used and the sorts of information you can get from every type of drone.
Drones are an absolute powerhouse for the construction industry and I’m excited to see what the future holds for application of drone technology in this field.