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Drones, Dogs, and Robots: Envisioning a Safer Future for Construction Workers

Drones, Dogs, and Robots: Envisioning a Safer Future for Construction Workers

By Luke Carothers

The death rate for US construction workers has flatlined over the last decade.  Despite new developments to safety protocols, inaccurate or unavailable data has made it harder for workers to follow these protocols.  This lack of available data has led to increased investments in construction technology, which has resulted in massively improved jobsite safety.  Adam Cisler believes that this flatline is indicative of significant positive progress when it comes to worksite safety in the construction industry.  Cisler, a Senior Solutions Engineer at Avvir with 18 years of experience in the construction industry, points out that the scale and complexity of projects has increased exponentially over the last few years, which has been further compounded by an increase in the pace at which projects are completed.  To accommodate for these changes in the construction industry, there has been an influx of workers, which involves a constant process of training new people to do new tasks.  In light of a changing industry, Cisler believes that a stable rate of safety is indicative of a renewed focus on the technologies that support safer practices.

Drones are one of the technologies supporting this move towards safer worksites.  Cisler believes that drones are becoming essential to conceptualizing these new projects, and that the technology demonstrably improves logistics and planning.  In turn, better logistics and planning practices lead to less day-to-day congestion on job sites which “reduces safety errors and the possibility of safety issues.”  From the perspective of a project manager, this bird’s eye view is an invaluable tool for coordination in real time, allowing them to send the right people to the right places.  Furthermore, as drone technology becomes more ubiquitous, their use for inspections will not only increase the safety of workers on the jobsite but also reduce the overall timeline for projects.  

In recent years, drones have been increasingly used to monitor not only the progress of construction projects, but also the health of structures and buildings.  Cisler points out that, over the last five or six years, there have been several significant advances in AI and Computer Vision as they apply to drones, which has enabled companies to use drones to do things like monitor cracks in concrete and develop highly detailed 3D models.  For Cisler, these advancements are significant not only in the efficiency they bring to construction projects, but also in that they often save workers from having to access “risky” areas to collect project data.  Drones allow projects to both locate potential problems faster and prevent accidents from workers entering dangerous areas, which has the downstream effect of preventing bigger issues that could lead to structural failures.

Cisler believes that drones will only continue to improve worksite safety and efficiency as their capacity to work autonomously is improved.  Recently, drone docks have started to appear on job sites throughout the United States.  Based on user input, the drones housed in these docks will take flight several times throughout the day to monitor progress and changes in the jobsite, which gives a clearer view of potentially dangerous site conditions earlier.  Cisler also points out that these capacities are being further improved by developments in AI.  New products are being developed that use AI to interpret the data from these frequent flights and provide greater insight into the images.  For Cisler, this ultimately means that issues are found faster, which leads to fewer injuries.  However, while the use of drones to monitor job sites has increased significantly over the last decade, it is by no means the only autonomous or unpiloted system that is improving worker safety.

Cisler points out that robot dogs used to autonomously monitor are an increasingly frequent site on jobsites.  Furthermore, robots are being utilized to lay projects out by transferring points to the ground, and others are being used for purposes such as drilling and monitoring oxygen in confined spaces.  Cisler believes that the number of robots on the job site will only continue to increase as we continue to focus more on developing technologies that improve worksite safety.  In addition, Cisler believes that these developments will address the recruitment and retention of workers into the construction industry.  New technologies are being developed to test for worker fatigue and stress.  The data from this testing will allow project managers to switch out workers when needed and prevent burnout and improve retention.

Cisler is adamant that worker safety will only continue to improve as technologies are developed to support the autonomous monitoring of job sites and worker safety.  These technologies are also capable of improving the efficiency of construction processes, which leads to less delays and less unexpected costs.  In envisioning the construction industry a decade from now, Cisler paints the picture of a collaborative environment between workers, robots, and autonomous systems, and believes that this progress will ultimately lead to a healthier and safer construction industry.