Drones Aid Communication and Collaboration on the Construction Site
Andrew Dennison, COO of Uplift Data Partners, shares his perspective on the value of drones in construction, both today and tomorrow
By Anya Lamb, Marketing Manager @DroneDeploy
Drones are contributing value to many aspects of the construction process. Our customers have shared how they’re using volume calculations, initial site surveys and more.
Andrew Dennison, Chief Operating Officer of Lift Technologies
This week, we spoke with Andrew Dennison, Chief Operating Officer of Uplift Data Partners to hear his perspective on how drones are improving monitoring and collaboration on the construction site. Uplift Data Partners is a nationwide UAS Service Provider focused on the construction industry. They teach UAS pilots how to safely and accurately collect construction data on construction sites.
How do you use drones on construction sites today?
Andrew: Today, we use drones mostly for site communication. It’s important to communicate and collaborate with all interested members — the people on site, the people off site, and the clients paying for the building — and a drone map is the quickest way is to show them what’s going on [Click to tweet]. We also use drone maps for measurements, such as the area of dirt moved.
For example, one of our customers is building a very large, million-square-foot distribution facility and the ground is not level. They asked Uplift to fly the site to give the people that aren’t on site an idea of how the earth-moving process has progressed. This is the first flight, but we’ll be doing more to monitor the site over time.
How does using drones for construction monitoring compare to alternatives?
Andrew: There are two alternatives to drone maps for construction monitoring. One alternative is photos from aerial flyovers with a Cessna airplane. That’s cheaper than drone imagery, but you don’t get nearly the same level of detail, and you don’t get the same measurements. The other way is to slap up a webcast on a pole — it broadcasts all the time, but it’s a very narrow view of the site and it’s harder to analyze.
Using drones, the quality of the imagery is far superior to these alternatives.
“The construction company wants to show how high-quality their operations are, and the drone imagery (aerial orthomosaic) we collected and processed through DroneDeploy embodies that quality.” — Andrew Dennison
In addition to providing superior image quality, DroneDeploy also processes the maps quickly and makes it easy to collaborate. You upload all your pictures and in two hours you have your map. Then you can just send a link to share a map. It’s so fast and it’s so easy.
Although the drone imagery is more expensive than a Cessna flyover, we see time-savings and efficiency gains from the higher-quality drone-based site communication and updates. The project executive doesn’t feel the need to visit the site as often because he has a much better idea of how the site is progressing. The site managers don’t need to spend hours walking the site every day — they can check it on the drone imagery. The construction company execs and the construction clients themselves can much more formally and neatly be updated on progress.
“If you can prevent one site visit a month, just in travel, you’ve overcome your drone flight cost. I’m confident that the drones can prevent one site visit a month, at least.” — Andrew Dennison
What future uses for drones in construction are you excited about?
Andrew: In the future, we’ll be perfecting the technology to do better and better 3D scans of site progress, to create much more accurate site updates. If you have a really good 3D model of site progress, you can overlay that with the 3D model from the architect and get a really good idea if your project is on schedule.
I also believe that the survey industry will change drastically as they realize the accuracy and speed with which drones can generate contour lines. All sites before they can get developed, need a topographic map. A drone can easily make that map and really assist in the estimation of cut and fill analysis.
Facade inspection is another area where drones have big potential. Before we hand over the keys to a new building, we’ll be able to fly with a thermal camera to check for leaks. If there is a crack in the caulking and heat is coming out of the building, that will show up as a bright spot on the thermal camera.
What advice would you give to someone looking to use drones commercially in construction?
Andrew: Fly as much as possible and process every flight that you fly to learn what works well and what doesn’t. We’ve found that meticulous planning, tight flight paths and choosing the right weather conditions are vital to make a high-quality map. You’ll also want to work on using GCPs (ground control points) to ensure a high level of global accuracy for your maps.
And of course, remember to be safety conscious. Particularly with take-offs and landings, people can drive up, and park in the landing zone — which can be a major issue. One thing you can do is put cones around our landing zone, and the other thing you can do is make sure that everyone on site is aware that you’re flying.