Using Drones for Construction, Architecture, Engineering and Surveying

An increasing number of drones are being adapted for use on construction job sites, introducing builders to an unprecedented level of data mobility, visualization, access and efficiency on projects. Here are a few drone projects that I feel all construction industry stakeholders need to know about. These incredible drones show the progression of a technology solution that will significantly reshape your future job sites.

1) BP’s use of drones for pipeline inspection in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska.

This first video was from 2012 and outlined BP‘s potential use of a quadcopter for close-in pipeline inspection. With the drone, they are able to fly ground level at any time without the need of a pilot making the inspection process quicker, more frequent, and safer in the arctic climate. By using infrared and visual cameras, the drone finds hot spots in addition to other infrastructure faults. The drone takes pictures of these problem areas to automatically send to engineers to make adjustments to the job site framework. If the quadcopter drone inspection method works, it has the ability to enhance pipelines operations.

2) First unmanned areial vehicle for commercial use at BP Alaska

This second video is from 2014 and describes BP’s production drone plane equipped with LIDAR to scan the pipelines. This awesome technology allows the plane to fly over a 40 by 60 mile area of the field to detect a variety of issues. The unmanned aerial system is the first FAA approved flight, which allows BP to improve operations, reduce safety risks, and reduce cost in their pipeline operations. Flying at 200 feet at 12.9 lbs with a 2 hour battery life, the plane has the ability to capture high resolution 3D maps of the field in order to give engineers a better understanding of their field operations for further improvement. BP has partnered with FAA and AeroVironment to adapt the plane for the commercial industry.

2) SkyCatch for Construction Jobsites

SkyCatch has come up with a fantastic autonomous drone solution for construction job sites. The drone is released from a black box placed on the job site.  The user defines the scan area through their web browser, and the drone flies out of the box, automatically determines waypoints for flights, flies around scanning the job site, and produces an as-built 3D model with absolute ground truth each day. This scan allows the user to measure 2D and 3D objects on the site. The drone is equipped with precision auto-landing capabilities and immediate redeployment technology giving the user total control of the process without actually coming into contact with the drone or job site.  One of the most innovative features of this drone is the rapid battery swapper that swaps the battery and recharges the drone in very little time.

Skycatch in Construction from Skycatch on Vimeo.

3) PIX4D Mapping of Chillon Castle

This video showcases a very comprehensive method for producing a single comprehensive 3D as built model of 1,000 year old castle, the Chateau de Chillon of Switzerland. By using quadcopters, drone planes, and ground level photography,  PIX4D was able to capture over 6,200 indoor and outdoor images by air, boat, and foot over a 4 hour span. They then converted the images into a highly precise and accurate 3D model. The video shows an interaction with the 3D cloud model, where the camera takes you on a very lifelike tour of the historic castle. Drones were critical for this imagery as was the software to stitch together all of the disparate models.

4) eBee Drone for Mining Exploration in Yukon, Canada

SenseFly: A Parrot Company developed eBee to improve mining exploration. A representative from Ground Truth Exploration describes how they used eBee to scan an area to create a high resolution elevation model. With the drone imagery, they are able to see exactly where the hot spots are, indicating where the areas of rich minerals are located.  Also the drone gives users the opportunity to keep an unmined area as undisturbed as possible. Ground Truth uses the first image to show clients how little they disrupted the environment after exploration. Drones offer a foundation to mining exploration in the future that reduces time and cost.

5) eBee Drone for Survey-Grade Mapping

eBee by SenseFly can be used as a survey grade mapping drone to produce absolute ground truth scans. The autonomous lightweight mapping drone can be used in industries such as surveying, GIS, and agriculture. eBee offers accurate and reliable results in a quicker and safer way compared to recording locations manually by walking the job site. eBee is advanced with a fully integrated workflow that makes the flow of data from field to office to the client smooth and seamless. This drone makes surveying projects last a matter of hours instead of days, so projects can be completed faster and more efficiently.

The videos above demonstrate how drone technology will continue to expand the potential for operational efficiency in construction and countless other industries. Drones can give companies access to aerial data they have never captured before, resulting in more accurate project plans, models and operations. As the technology continues to improve and the cost to employ them continues to drop, drones will become a common job site technology solution. Construction projects will see a gains in time and costs savings as a result.

Have you had the chance to operate a drone? If you haven’t, I recommend starting with the DJI Phantom 3. The sooner you can familiarize yourself and your company with the benefits of drones, the better position you’ll be in when they become a common installation on every job site.

Posted in: Written By James

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11 Comments

  1. Dinesh July 26, 2015

    What are the cost aspects of use of drone technology say per hour of use

  2. James Benham August 4, 2015

    It’s difficult to peg down the cost per hour. Decent mid grade drones cost $1,200 to $3,100 to buy. Then you have your labor cost and cost of materials and maintenance. You’re probably in the $100 an hour range using in house labor and a purchased drone.

  3. Johnson McGee August 13, 2015

    Using drones to survey potential areas for engineers is a great idea. I think this would save time, and eliminate the need for additional surveying. I didn’t know that this type of technology was being adapted for the engineering industry, but I’m glad it is. I am going to research the benefits of using drones over humans. Are drones more accurate than humans?

  4. Cheryl Smith September 30, 2015

    I think it is awesome that companies are using drones. Being able to do a project in hours instead of days probably helps their bottom line as well. It will be interesting to see what the drones will be able to do next.

  5. Zach Potter October 5, 2015

    Sure why not use drones for everything that could possibly make our lives easier! I have been trying to do some research for a class on engineering surveying and have thus far been fruitless so I thank you for the cool article that not only helped answer some of my questions but at the same time spiked my interest in the subject of drones. It seems as though drones will become even a bigger part of the industry when they have an increased battery life and do not cost as much as they do to implement.

  6. Ian Johanson November 3, 2015

    It’s amazing what people are able to use drones for. Instead of sending a technician out in a car to check on the pipeline he can control a drone from the comfort of his office. It baffles me when I think about it, but I think that in the end having drones help with projects will only help to improve how companies do things.

  7. Fred Summers November 6, 2015

    Using drones seems like the next advance in a lot of fields. I also like that it doesn’t replace the human component. They still need to be operated by a human. If it reduces injury and and can do a better job I say bring on the drones.

  8. Jason Strong January 6, 2016

    I’ve been wanting to learn more about surveyors and the work they do. It sounds like a very complicated and hard field to be in, but one that I’m excited to learn more about. This helped a ton and I can’t wait to see if its something that I would interested in doing at all.

  9. Grace Turner January 22, 2016

    Using a drone at a construction site wold be so useful! From the video I can see that it really was useful for constructing models. The technology here is fascinating and makes the job look a lot easier. My uncle owns a construction company I’ll have to show him this video!

  10. Vincent Burns February 3, 2016

    I think that using drones would greatly help the construction crews as well as the surveying teams on these projects. I could see it being really helpful to have something that can get a good angle on everything and is also not very expensive. Drones are starting to become more popular too.

  11. April Cook May 25, 2016

    This is so cool! I love seeing all the different professions that are implementing drones to help them do their jobs better. I like your examples of using them in industrial construction for mapping and creating 3D models. Is there special training needed to fly the drones, or is it a learn as you go process? Thanks for the information!