By Paul Levin
Aerial photography is the obvious first reaction when you ask a contractor about the use of drones in construction. This is born out from the results of a short survey we conducted last week (more on that later). Technology advances, ready access and low entry cost have made the photography aspect a practical reality; and the industry is finding other creative uses as well. However, users face major roadblocks from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). So the question is: Where are we headed with the use of drones in construction? When and how will we get there? Let's start with a review of our survey results.
WPL recently conducted a four-question survey that was included in the ConstructionPro Week (CPW) newsletter and posted on several LinkedIn groups. Response, though small, was still a respectable 82 persons and provided some interesting statistics. Let’s start with the summary stats:
- 73% of readers are familiar with or are aware that drones are being used on construction sites
- 24 people, 29%, reported having hands-on use on a construction site
- Respondents included:
o Contractors – 34%
o Construction Managers – 28%
o Owners/Owner’s Reps – 17%
o Architects/AEs – 5%
o Others – 15%
These are impressive numbers, given that the awareness of drones among people I have encountered on the street seemingly only extends to Amazon.com’s proposed use of the technology for package delivery and the invasion-of-privacy concerns that the media has reported.
So, exactly how would drones be deployed by our respondents?
Aerial photography to track job progress
Aerial photography for logistics and production planning
Aerial photography for marketing
Inspection of areas difficult or impossible to access
Safety monitoring and support
Land surveying, thermal imaging, laser scanning or other data collection
In the “other” department, one person suggested a good use would be to keep an eye on crews to make sure they are working, and working safely. Security, surveillance for risk assessment, and materials control were also mentioned. Two different respondents said they used drones for civil and highway design work.
The FAA Drone Status
The FAA is currently engaged in collecting public input as it struggles to develop regulations to govern the use of drones in the face of safety and privacy concerns. Its current ban on commercial use is sometimes ignored and its attempts to issue fines have met resistance in the courts. New regulations may be issued by late 2014, but more likely in 2015, with total speculation on what they will allow and not allow. Based on observed best practices, common sense would suggest that drones be allowed to be used on private property with consent of the property owner, with “line of sight” controls of the drone, warnings to persons of the drone use in their proximity, respect of privacy of adjacent property owners and inhabitants, and restricted to heights under 400 feet and not near airports.
Wrapping It Up
So assuming some reasonable regulations and enforcement policies by the FAA, drone use is expected to increasingly find its way onto construction sites over the next five years. Job photography will continue to be the no-brainer application, but there’s unlimited promise of other uses on construction sites for QA/QC, surveying, production planning and monitoring and, ultimately, some materials handling as well as actual installation activities. Stay tuned for CPW’s ongoing coverage.
We welcome your comments.