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From Start to Finish and Beyond: Drone Deployment in the Construction Process

From Start to Finish and Beyond: Drone Deployment in the Construction Process

By Luke Carothers

Among the first adopters of drones for commercial usage, the AEC industry is often also among the first to embrace its new technological developments.  From a data capture and mapping perspective, drones are an easily deployed and cheap alternative to traditional methods, making them invaluable tools to each stage of the construction process.

One of the companies responsible for these new developments in drone usage is DroneUp, an innovator in drone flight services.  DroneUp was founded in 2016 with a focus primarily in drone delivery and providing flight services.  Brian Young, Director of Enterprise Solutions for DroneUp, believes that–as the only drone service provider that combines airspace awareness, flight services, and drone delivery–DroneUp is uniquely positioned to continue improving the AEC industry through these three divisions.  The company’s ability to provide intelligent access to airspace through things like knowledge of FAA regulations and an automated drone solution helps their customers streamline project management and construction.  According to Young, the construction industry in particular can benefit from this depth of ability through lifecycle management and overall process management.  

Young notes that, from a lifecycle approach, DroneUp’s services are applicable through each stage of development in a construction project.  In the preconstruction and design phase, processes such as topographic mapping and land surveys are essential first steps, helping projects determine whether the chosen terrain is suitable for the building design and layout.  Additionally, this preconstruction mapping and surveying is essential for determining environmental concerns about the project.  When compared to traditional surveying and mapping processes, Young says deploying drones reduces the associated time, money, and paperwork that would otherwise be present.  

During the next phase of the construction process, after the plans and design have been approved workers and resources will be deployed on site.  In this regard, drone mapping can be used to improve worker safety and perform volumetric measurements.  Young notes that this area mapping allows for a 360º view of the project site, which means that potential hazardous situations can be identified and mitigated before becoming serious issues. Also during the second phase of construction, drones are capable of making cut-pile analysis possible through accurate volumetric measurements.  Drones deployed over the job site to gather sufficient data to provide workers with exact measurements on how much soil there is and how much needs to be removed, which drastically improves the efficiency of this second phase of the construction process.  According to Young, drones are also becoming essential in asset and equipment tracking.  Representing such a large portion of investment on a construction project, the ability to track equipment and make its usage more efficient represents a huge potential return on investment for the project.  DroneUp’s products are designed with artificial intelligence that helps optimize the deployment of these assets by tracking their movement over the course of a project.  This means that any assets that are being underutilized can be shifted elsewhere, thereby increasing the return on investment for rented or leased equipment.

Still further, as projects move through this second phase of construction, drones are deployed in the comparisons between the design and plan.  Young says that the ability to measure progress by comparing the original CAD design to where the project is at the current moment–using the original CAD drawings overlaid on an orthomosaic map– is essential to identifying deviations from the plan so the corrective actions can be implemented.  For any project, the ability to create a clear and efficient timeline of information that validates tasks is a basic pathway to maximizing return on investment and minimizing the project’s timeline.  Young believes that this is where DroneUp truly makes a difference in the construction process.  

However, drones have yet more to offer after the construction process is complete.  Drones have become used increasingly to monitor structures, which provides accurate data about the structure while also removing the need for workers to directly access potentially hazardous areas that need attention.  Still further, Young points out that drones capture a unique perspective of the built environment, making it an easy way to promote structures and document different angles that couldn’t otherwise be captured.

During every stage of a project’s development–from the first stages of planning and design to maintenance and documentation on the completed structure–drones provide a perspective that is increasing return on investment and decreasing construction times, pairing that perspective with the ability to capture and document data.  This is supported by new developments in supporting technologies for drones that help us capture better data and use it in new and innovative ways.  This vision of the future for the construction industry is being spearheaded by companies like DroneUp, and, as their vision is increasingly adopted throughout the AEC industry, the construction process will undoubtedly change for the better in terms of worker safety, increasing return on investment, and decreasing project delays.

Luke Carothers is the Editor for Civil + Structural Engineer Media. If you want us to cover your project or want to feature your own article, he can be reached at lcarothers@zweiggroup.com.