Home > Unpiloted Systems

The Desire for New Heights

The Desire for New Heights

Two drone quad copters with high resolution digital camera flying aerial over spectacular sunset orange sky. Cityscape silhouette with sun goes down in the background.Vehicle at sundown and copy space

By Luke Carothers

The 2022 Engineering Drone Video of the Year (EDVY) Competition is in its sixth year of existence, and, much like the drone/UAV industry and its technology, the competition looks vastly different than it did when it was imagined.  Different concepts of drones and other unpiloted systems have existed for centuries at this point, but our modern concept of these systems was developed and popularized in the general public through the military sector.  

By the 1980s, aerial photography had become ubiquitous in many industries thanks to developments in flight and photographic technology.  However, the military sector’s development of UAV and drone technology around this time would have a significant impact on the future of aerial mapping and photography.  It wasn’t until 2006 that drones and UAVs were deployed in civilian spaces.  Following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, drones were used to survey the damage and search for trapped survivors.  

Around this time, the interest in drones for use in civilian sectors was beginning to grow, but the technology hadn’t yet made them practical for many uses.  For example, the drones used in the wake of Hurricane Katrina had to be manually launched and controlled using multiple trained crew to ensure its safe piloting and return.  Such a system was not feasible for many commercial uses, but the interest in the technology was strong enough that the commercial market continued to grow.  By 2010, drone technology had developed to where a drone could be safely controlled by an operator using a smartphone.  In addition, these new drones were much less cumbersome and relied on a quadcopter design for take off and control.

Some of the first adopters of drone technology were amatuer enthusiasts who viewed the burgeoning technology as a place of creative freedom.  Photographers, filmmakers, and artists saw drones as a way to view the world as it had never been seen before.  Soon other professionals began to pick drone flying as a hobby, and oftentimes, amatuer drone enthusiasts saw applications in their professional lives.

Just five years later in 2015, the drone/UAV market had grown immensely, and the technology had become common in many different industries.  In the AEC industry in particular, the need for drone/UAV technology was immediately evident, although adoption has not quite matched pace.  As the designers of the world around us, the AEC industry is responsible for large, complex endeavors that often have an immediate impact on people living in communities across the globe.  Drones provided a valuable and accessible point of view–checking and tracking the progression of a project, inspecting and detailing aspects of projects that would otherwise be dangerous for workers.  Other enthusiasts saw the potential for a new point of view and began deploying drones around buildings and structures–old, new, and under construction.

By the time Civil+Structural Engineer Media held the first EDVY competition in 2017, drones were beginning to catch on in the AEC industry.  Many of the entries, while excellent content, were produced with little to no budget.  In addition, these early videos were often produced outside of the firms, which made it harder to provide context that wasn’t visually evident.  Even with a lack of resources, these early EDVY videos managed to capture our audience’s attention, speaking to the power drones and UAVs have to attract people to our industry.  As the years and competitions progressed, more and more videos were being produced by the firms themselves, adding an element of production and context to the videos which had previously been inferred visually.  However, that spirit of individualism has never left the competition, and each year the field is driven by new innovations and risks taken by experienced drone operators.  The 2021 EDVY winner was a high school student who impressed our panel of judges so much that he was unanimously selected as the competition’s winner.

While each of this year’s top ten videos were produced by firms themselves, this shows the progress of the technology into the AEC industry.  That hunger for a new point of view pulled drones into the sphere of the AEC industry.  Now, this year’s entries into the EDVY competition demonstrate that the desire for a new point of view has not been extinguished, but, rather, it has been transformed into a tool that can both tell us more about the environment–built and natural–and draw new perspectives into the industry.

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.