Despite their reputation, drones are more than simple toys for tech enthusiasts and amateur photographers. Commercial drones — also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) — are transforming the construction industry as we know it. Learn more about some of the most exciting innovations in construction and what your company needs to start incorporating drones into your project workflows.
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Here are the eight most promising applications construction companies have found for drone technology so far.
One of the most common applications for drones is in pre-construction tasks like topographic mapping and surveying. Where manual surveying techniques would take one or two full days, a fixed-wing drone can collect all the information you need in a matter of minutes.
Most commercial drones come with high-resolution cameras, which can take incredibly detailed photos even at high altitudes. These photos are excellent for informing architects and other planners of site conditions and geographical features so they can make more informed decisions when developing their designs.
With so much equipment to manage on each jobsite, losing track of specific machines is a common problem for construction companies — especially if they're still using spreadsheets. Fortunately, drones and artificial intelligence (AI) make collecting and organizing information easy.
Rather than relying on manual reports from your personnel, you can fly a drone above your jobsite to take photographs of your equipment so you can quickly ensure each machine is where it should be. You can also leverage advanced technology like radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, which use radio waves to transmit data to other items or people. For example, in our Cat® Detect system, RFID tags attached to personnel and objects help prevent accidents by alerting equipment operators when they're getting too close for comfort.
Rather than scanning each photo and noting each individual piece of equipment, you could attach a sensor to the drone to “scan in” each machine as it flies by. This system can also help you track inventory levels, so you can ensure you have enough supplies for your job.
Discover other ways our technology can boost your jobsite performance.
Following a regular maintenance routine is essential for preventing unplanned downtime and costly repairs. Manual inspections and documentation are time-consuming processes, though, and they can eat into the rest of your workday.
Drones equipped with cameras and Internet of Things (IoT) sensors can quickly gather data on equipment function, helping to identify malfunctions and other issues before they become serious problems. They can also film the equipment in action, providing a useful visual representation so technicians can accurately diagnose and solve the issues.
The information these drones collect can also predict when machines need servicing, which can help you prevent serious breakdowns from affecting your project progress and causing you to go over budget.
Traditional progress monitoring relies on inefficient manual processes such as paper documentation, spreadsheets and in-person visits with stakeholders and inspectors. Although these techniques worked well in the past, they can't keep up with today's rapidly accelerating pace of business.
Incorporating drones and cloud-based file-sharing software into your progress reporting process can help you. After running a flyover scan, you can upload the captured images and data to the cloud and:
Theft and vandalism are big problems in construction. According to the most recent report from the National Equipment Register, $400 million worth of equipment gets stolen from construction sites each year. When only a portion of that loss gets recovered, the need to invest in jobsite security becomes even clearer.
UAVs equipped with thermal or infrared sensors can help you prevent crimes like theft and vandalism more effectively. Rotary drones can fit into tight spaces out of the range of your stationary cameras, enabling them to catch trespassers who may be sneaking in through hidden entry points.
Plus, a drone connected to cloud-based analytics software can transmit footage in real time, alerting your security team to threats as they unfold. For example, you could have a minimal security crew onsite during a holiday weekend and run drone scans to cover any gaps your human team can't.
Pre- and post-construction inspections are critical steps in any construction project. A full inspection of a large building can take days, resulting in long periods of downtime and impacting your bottom line. It's also a significant risk to send human inspectors into potentially unsafe situations, such as scaling aging building facades for pre-construction assessments.
A rotary drone can complete the same inspection in just a few hours, saving you valuable time and protecting your profit margin. Because you don't need to use human inspectors, it virtually eliminates the chances of an accident or injury. Plus, drone cameras and sensors are highly accurate at gathering site data, which can help you identify hidden hazards a human could easily miss.
Inspecting your jobsite with a drone can help your company adopt a more proactive approach to risk management by identifying risks before anyone begins work for the day. Advanced video and image analytics software can scan your footage to find hidden risks, such as structural instabilities.
Additionally, drones help keep human workers safe from falls and other accidents. Falls are the leading cause of death in the construction industry, accounting for more than 34% of all work-related fatalities in 2020. Sending a drone in to do risky tasks, such as surveying in dangerous spaces, can help prevent such tragedies.
On a construction site, preventable human errors can cost you valuable time and money by requiring your team to go back and redo certain tasks. Without evidence, though, it's hard to hold subcontractors accountable for their errors — or even to determine who is responsible for making the error in the first place.
Here's a quick walkthrough of how you can use drones to prevent or resolve conflicts:
In short, drones can help you at every stage of your project, from initial planning to completion. Here are some of the biggest benefits of adopting drones into your construction project workflows.
In today's rapidly digitizing environment, finding ways to increase efficiency is critical — including in construction. Now, you can use drones to multitask and accelerate project progress. Simply hook up the components you need for the job, charge your drone and send it out.
You can often complete several tasks in one or two trips, depending on factors such as:
Plus, the data you collect helps keep project managers updated on site conditions, project progress and other important information, which they can use to negotiate conflict and keep stakeholders in the loop.
Drones will never replace human workers — however, they can protect your personnel from harm by taking over dangerous jobs.
For example, you could send in a drone to take measurements in uneven or hard-to-reach areas, which can prevent falls and other accidents. In bad weather, sending in a rugged drone to survey an area can help keep your operations running even though conditions are too poor for your people to work outside. You can also preemptively examine structures before your team begins work to uncover vulnerabilities that could put them at risk.
Unplanned downtime is one of the top contributors to budget overruns and missed deadlines in the construction industry. Here are some of the ways drones can help reduce downtime on your site:
Although drone technology can be a large upfront investment, finding the right use cases for these tools can help your organization save in the long term. Drones can help you maintain high productivity even when your crew is unable to perform physical work on your site — preventing downtime and saving you hundreds or even thousands of dollars per day.
Additionally, for certain tasks, your drone can help you save money on labor by shortening the processes. Rather than hiring a surveying crew for several days to assess your site, you can use a drone to do that work in a fraction of the time.
Drones come in one of two configurations — fixed-wing and rotary copters. Your application will determine which type of drone will be the better choice. If you have the resources available, there are plenty of ways to incorporate both types into your project.
Fixed-wing drones look like small airplanes, with long, tapered bodies and horizontal wings. Unlike rotary drones, fixed-wing drones can only fly in one direction — no quick pivoting or hovering. As a result, they're better suited for long-range applications like mapping and surveying.
Vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) fixed-wing drones are a special exception to this rule. Because they can take off, fly and land vertically, they're generally better suited to construction applications than standard fixed-wing drones, which require the operator to launch them by hand. Operators can launch VTOL drones on any site, even one with uneven terrain and limited space.
Like helicopters, rotary drones use a series of rotors to fly and hover in place. These rotors allow them to rapidly change direction and navigate crowded spaces, giving them an advantage over fixed-wing drones in urban and vegetation-dense landscapes.
All rotary drones also have VTOL capability, which protects cameras and other delicate attachments from coming into contact with the ground. These drones tend to be louder and less energy-efficient than fixed-wing drones, which are important considerations when planning projects.
Some of the best applications for rotary drones include:
Just like with your other equipment, you need to ensure you're following the right steps to start using new technology like drones. Legal regulations and product specs are essential considerations.
Here's what you'll need to take care of before you can begin incorporating drones into your construction projects.
You need to make sure anyone who will be flying the drone has an FAA Remote Pilot Certificate. The basic eligibility requirements for certification include:
Your pilots will also need to renew their certificate once every two years by completing an online training program with the FAA. Some states and municipalities have their own laws and regulations governing commercial drone licensure, so be sure to check what additional rules apply in your area.
Most drones only come with basic features that may not work for all your intended applications. Depending on how you plan to use the drone, you may also need to purchase one or more of the following:
Conduct thorough research before choosing a drone to determine which model is best for your application and which attachments you'll need. You'll also want to ensure that any attachments you choose are compatible with your drone to ensure you can use them.
Drones are excellent for capturing data, but you also need digital tools that will help you make sense of it. Fortunately, various options are available for different interfaces, including desktop computers, mobile devices and even heavy equipment computers.
AI-powered analytics software can take the data you gather on your jobsite and generate helpful insights based on the trends it identifies. These insights can help you better plan out how to approach each step of your project, reducing the risk of overrunning your deadlines and budget.
For example, machines equipped with Cat Grade Control can accept data directly from your drones, which translates the information into 2D or 3D images. These images help reduce operator fatigue by enabling them to do the job more efficiently and accurately.
See how our advanced in-cab technology can help you keep your project on track.
Additional accessories can help you get the most out of your drone by enhancing its existing functionality. Some common examples include:
Combining drones with equipment from The Cat Rental Store can help you boost jobsite performance and get the most out of your investment. Our rental equipment comes with the latest technologies so you can accelerate your workflows and ensure you get the job done right. Plus, renting gives you the opportunity to try equipment before you buy — so you can be sure you're choosing the right machines for your fleet or project.