The use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, has been one of the most attractive construction trends in recent years. The construction industry has seen an almost 240% increase in drone usage, higher than any other commercial sector.
Drones offer such aviation benefits and capabilities that provide invaluable help in solving construction activities. Civil engineers use them for different types of applications such as inspection of highways, bridges, roads, cell towers, high mast lighting, wind turbines, power transmission lines, building façade and roof, survey and mapping, construction monitoring, wetland/environmental, drainage and erosion, traffic monitoring, emergency services, etc.
Drones provide invaluable help and cost savings with wide views of inaccessible and otherwise difficult and tough to navigate locations. They indicate the best access with the overhead perspective, and 360° panoramas relay a real-time scenario. With this input, engineers can prioritize their approaches. Drones also offer a high level of automation that allows them to reach previously inaccessible areas and capture a large amount of data very quickly.
Types of drones used in construction
Although there are a large number of drones on the market, engineers commonly use four major types of commercial drones in construction, such as multi-rotor drones and fixed-wing drones.
Multi-rotor drones generate vertical thrust using multiple rotors. They are classified based on the number of rotors, e.g., tricopters (3 rotors), quadcopters (4 rotors), hexacopters (6 rotors), and octocopters (8 rotors). The disadvantage of multi-rotor drones is their limited endurance and speed. Due to these limitations, these types of drones are not suitable for large scale aerial mapping, e.g., pipelines, roads, power lines, highways, etc. Depending on the weight, multirotor drones currently hold an average of 20-30 minutes or less in the air.
Like passenger airplanes, fixed-wing drones do not generate thrust by vertical rotors but generate lift using fixed wings. They need energy only to move forward and not to keep them in the air. Thus, they are a much more efficient variant for topographic mapping of large areas, and they can cover longer distances than multi-rotor drones.
They can reach a higher altitude during flight, making them an efficient tool for aerial mapping topography. The main disadvantage is the inability to stay in the air in one place, which prevents them from creating the detailed aerial mapping, e.g., the as-built buildings. Depending on the size, they also require a runway or catapult launcher to take-off from the ground and land.
As mentioned earlier, the drone technology in the construction industry has a very wide range of applications. Drones can be applied in the construction industry in the following ways:
1. Building surveys
Almost every building survey of the building requires the visibility of the building’s roof to assess its technical conditions and assess any defects or failures. In most cases, the ascent to the roof is complicated, which often requires scaffolding, ladders, or other auxiliary structures, which may ultimately pose a danger, which is both time-consuming and costly.
The use of drones in these cases can save time, costs, reduce health and safety risks connected with the building surveying of the roof structure, and access to complex or hard to reach parts of the building’s roof.
2. Topographic mapping and land surveys
In the case of planning large-scale and complex construction projects, consultation of topographic maps is essential. Topographic maps may reveal construction design errors that are inappropriate for the terrain. Although topographic maps are useful for construction projects, their production is often costly and time-consuming. The use of drones is very effective in these cases.
Due to its ability to capture large amounts of data in a relatively short time, it leads to significant cost savings and the project costs required for these activities. Drones, thanks to their capabilities, ensure project time, budget, and accuracy. Furthermore, drones’ high-quality aerial images can create 3D models of the surface (DSM-digital surface model) or of the terrain (DTM-digital terrain model).
3. Construction site inspections
There are mainly four benefits of using drones for construction site inspections: improved safety, saves time, less labor-intensive, and higher quality data. For builders, the data collected from drones allow easy integration and tracking of site progress precisely without any lag time.
This allows construction companies to work more effectively in managing their time and resources while minimizing potential construction or technical issues and delays. This avoids rebuilds and plans changes, ultimately saving time and money. Using drones is also much safer because it eliminates spaces or areas on the construction site that is potentially dangerous to assess the damage.
4. Equipment tracking
Equipment tracking is the problem of every project manager on the construction site. This is usually a problem with a large number of different tables and documents, which are often difficult and time-consuming to keep.
Using the drone, the same project manager can immediately assess if the equipment should be during the drone flight. With a drone, it is also possible to quickly assess if a piece of equipment has already completed its work and is still on-site. With this, it is also possible to prevent expensive accidental extension charges.
5. Remote monitoring and progress reports
The biggest advantage of drones in construction is that they can provide remote monitoring of the site from a great height in any location. The drone can represent a quick way to map the progress of a project, especially when the clients cannot be physically present on a site. Thanks to multiple high-resolution aerial images and HD-quality videos, project developers can better overview project progress at daily, weekly, or monthly intervals.
Other uses of drones in construction include security surveillance, personnel safety, health and safety inductions, maintenance inspections, promotional photography, live feed/ virtual walk around, site logistics, monitoring workers, etc.