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Viewpoint: Drone Revolution is Dominating Construction Projects Across Every Stage

Drones are here to stay in the world of construction. But what are the benefits they are providing exactly? This viewpoint article rounds the bend on all the various benefits and strategic functionality that drones are delivering to the building industry.

Planes without pilots or quad copters capture digital images and videos from an altogether different perspective. Pictures of construction sites and projects captured by these drones are further used for creating BIM 3D models, point clouds, or a Digital Terrain Model (DTM). Statistics delivered by these drones are extremely useful in generating 3D renderings of any location, which comes handy for engineers working in varied fields like surveying, geodesy, and geography.

Construction is an industry where even small gains in the efficiency can help contractors and construction companies save billions of dollars. Drones have proved their worth by contributing in the form of increased efficiency levels across various stages of construction engineering.

“Drone revolution is successfully dominating architectural engineering across preconstruction, construction, post-construction and ongoing safety maintenance stages.”

Preconstruction Stage

This is where construction projects are in their budding stage, and building construction designs are required to be paid extra attention to, by architects. The most prominent activity that takes place at this juncture is land survey documentation, where drones provide land surveyors with accurate and quick overviews of humongous sites and high-risk areas. The data delivered in the form of digital images and videos captured by drones is further utilized for scheduling and planning construction activities.

01 - Drones are now being used extensively in construction, process and plants industries and related AEC fields.

01 – Drones are now being used extensively in construction, process and plants industries and related AEC fields (image: Courtesy www.3dr.com).

While working with conventional point cloud methods, surveyors experience challenges of uneven topography due to obstructions on the site. However, with the advantage of a bird’s eye view, which drones provide, generating data across an entire region with the same consistency, accuracy, and density, is reassured. This bird’s eye view data can further be used to create a BIM model, depicting how exactly the building will look upon completion of the construction process—a major benefit from designer’s point of view.

Construction Stage

This is the stage where construction projects encounter various challenges. Improper documentation of the construction project progress is one of these difficulties. Conventionally, there are site managers who are typically responsible for capturing images at random points for the preparation of site reports. Even a layperson could make out that site reports prepared based on limited and low-quality pictures of the construction site will produce a defective report. However, drone technology has revolutionized everything in this construction phase as well.

02 - Drones are useful for inspection of completed structures and for ongoing maintenance.

02 – Drones are useful for inspection of completed structures and for ongoing maintenance. (image: Courtesy, www.3dr.com) .

High definition aerial shots and videos are conveniently captured, giving a better insight into the construction project progress—without being physically present on-site. Drones equipped with light detecting sensors provide real-time data, which is useful in creating point clouds or BIM models, which are ready to be plugged in BIM programs such as Autodesk Revit or GRAPHISOFT ARCHICAD, or into CAD programs like AutoCAD or Microstation. This helps in early damage detection procedures, quality management exercises, and the various other asset evaluation techniques. The point clouds or Building Information Models (BIMs) are further leveraged to retrieve relevant and accurate information, when the engineer, architect or contractor or owner is in need.

Post-Construction Stage

The post-construction stage can be as challenging as the construction stage. Evaluating high-rise buildings and other structures with multiple complexities, with a naked eye, is a tedious, redundant, and often dangerous task. At the same time, inspecting such building structures, or a building roof with the help of a multi-rotor drone system is very economical, secure, and an efficient way of doing it. Similar to laser systems, drones can also be utilized to capture aerial thermal images to locate those potential cold and hot spots in a building. The 4k quality of thermal images captured by these drones is an added advantage over conventional low-quality laser scanned images.

03 - Drones can be outfitted with infrared cameras.

03 – Drones can be outfitted with 4k infrared cameras (image: Courtesy, www.3dr.com).

The dominance of drones over traditional laser scanning methodologies has many more advantages if looked at from marketing perspectives as well. No better way has been invented to advertise a new project than a top to down view or a “fan view” as we may say. Engaging walk-through project videos is one of the most amazing ways to introduce key personnel to the construction project and convince them to get on board.

Ongoing Safety and Maintenance Stage

A safe and secure work atmosphere is one of the remarkable features that makes drones a practical reality for safety inspectors at construction sites. Drones are capable of striking gold in multimillion dollar projects, as here safety officers in charge are not always around, but the live video coverage of drones can suffice for their needs. Accessing live feeds from remote locations by supervisors is not a challenge where drone safety measures are implemented religiously. This keeps the routine asset inspections, fatigue and damage evaluations, and conditions survey schedules intact. There’s nothing wrong in calling the drones the “Boss” on the job site.

Contractor’s Eyes and Ears Virtually in the Sky

The notion of ‘technology integrated construction’ has advanced by leaps and bounds with the intervention of drones into the construction industry. They are used with excellent benefits to all stakeholders during the pre-construction stage, the building stage and the post-construction stage, helping obtain data for use in BIMs, point clouds, and high-quality photography useful to both inspection and marketing. Importantly, they add deep value to ensuring routine asset inspections and safety measures.

With the advent of drone technology, as enumerated above, it should not come as a surprise if the future of the construction industry is spearheaded by drones. With virtual eyes and ears and camera technologies that far extend what the human eye can evaluate, drones will likely drive GPS-based data to computer systems and applications that will govern and streamline processes through automated means. The time, savings and human safety benefits will continue to stack up as immeasurable in the future of construction. Drones are here to stay.

About the Author

Bhushan Avsatthi is an Associate Director at Hi-Tech iSolutions LLP. Bhushan imbibes the prophecy of efficient and prudent use of energy in his day to day life and advises his team to do so as well. He is also involved in green initiatives like nonprofit tree plantation project and promotes using bicycles for commuting small distances. Bhushan handles a team of Architects, Structural and MEP engineers, LEED consultants and Energy modeling experts.

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