Drones are used across many industries and commercial fields, but one of the main adopters of this technology is the construction industry. Incorporating drone technology in construction has redefined the way buildings are designed, constructed and maintained. It is commonly thought that drones can only be used to take photos and videos. However, they benefit construction companies and developers by improving design accuracy and overall quality, while simplifying maintenance during the building lifespan.
Project managers, supervisors, technology managers and contractors are taking advantage of drones to fulfil their roles more effectively. Drones have transformed the way the construction industry operates, and those changes will have lasting effects. Here is an overview of some applications and key functions of drones during various stages of a building life cycle.
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Evaluating Site Conditions
When purchasing land, it may be difficult to fully understand the terrain and land distribution. Therefore, drones can be used to capture images and give landowners a better understanding of their investment. Airplanes can be used to complete this task, but drones have become a more efficient option for many reasons:
- When using planes, information may take longer - companies must wait to have several projects to photograph, in order to make the flight time worthwhile. On the other hand, drones can easily fly and capture images when necessary.
- The operating costs of drones are considerable lower than those of planes.
- Drones fly at a lower height than planes, and the presence of clouds does not affect the quality of photographs.
- Data acquired by drones can be used by engineering software to measure dimensions, elevation changes, and estimate material volumes for earthworks.
Images and data captured by drones can be used in combination with site plans, to create layouts that provide more information and a better understanding of the site. Plans and drawings can be superimposed over site photographs in order for designers to distribute the different elements such as buildings, parking lots, sidewalks, and landscaping areas. These layouts can help builders and site owners to visualize and understand all the features of the site plan in the context of the land, also to determine geographic features that might affect the distribution.
Another application of drone technology in construction is photogrammetry: scanning existing structures to create 3D models. This application is helpful especially in retrofits and renovations, since it allows the creation of a detailed model with actual conditions.
BIM software can be used to import the model and use it as a reference. Drone data can also be converted into virtual building models that can be “walked” using ER goggles. This allows clients to observe the final outcome of renovations, and have a better understanding of spaces, before construction even starts.
Supervision and Progress Checkups
The most common application of drones in construction is using them to inspect progress, and verify that the schedule is being followed as established in the contract. Drones can help project managers with the following functions:
- Setting weekly predetermined flight paths to develop consistent images that can be compared throughout the project.
- By monitoring progress images and overlaying them on designs and drawings, builders can corroborate that the project is moving according to plans, and also supervise construction quality.
- Drones provide high quality images that can be easily compared to the plans. For example, if a structural element is misplaced or misaligned, this can be easily identified with overlaying.
In a few words, drones can detect issues that tend to remain hidden with conventional supervision methods. With their small size and hovering ability, drones can observe work-in-progress from any viewpoint.
Maintenance and Damage Assessment
Drones can also be used in buildings once they are completed. For example, the information obtained by drones can be used for maintenance planning. Also, drones can be used when working on as-built drawings and models, which simplify decisions for owners during future renovations and upgrades. Drones are also useful in situations like the following:
- Damage assessment after a hurricane or tornado: Drones can easily fly around structures and identify the extent of the damage caused by the natural disaster.
- Drones with thermal imaging equipment can detect air leakage and poorly insulated areas in the building envelope.
Nowadays there is no other device that captures videos and images like drones. They are capable of reaching viewpoints that are inaccessible for humans. The high-quality images and videos obtained with drones can be used for marketing purposes in websites or social media.