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.
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.