Introduction to Drones in Construction
Construction drones help crews work faster, safer, and at a lower cost. Whether you’re an architect who wants to verify your vision, a site foreman keeping an eye on all your crew members, or a client monitoring the progress of your new headquarters, drones provide the images, data, and consistency you need to construct better, faster, and for less money. We’ll show you a few killer applications for drones in construction and highlight some of the best construction drone models available for each task.
Construction Applications for Drones
Site Surveys and Planning
When you’re starting to build on a particular site, you’ll need to know the exact dimensions of existing features and topography to take the biggest advantage of computerized planning and BIM (building information modeling) systems. Construction drones can take accurate measurements using both visible light cameras and other types of sensors, generating 3D maps and taking precise distance measurements that can be analyzed back in the trailer.
For your first experience in surveying a site, we recommend starting with a rugged but easy-to-use construction drone such as the Mavic 2 Zoom. The Phantom 4 Pro can create both straight down 2D surveys and, using a variety of intelligent flight planning apps, make a second pass at an angle so that you can automatically assemble an accurate 3D model. All of these capabilities are possible with an easy-to-fly drone that costs just a little more than a toy!
More advanced users will want to upgrade to lidar-equipped drone such as the DJI Matrice M600 Pro with the Geo-MMS VLP-16 lidar system. Lidar modules use thousands of pulsed laser beams to precisely measure objects and generate millions of points of data. These 3-D point clouds can be modeled as a solid 3D object, yielding accurate depictions of even the most complex environments.
"You’ll instantly know the true costs of preparing your site"
Feeding the data captured by a drone into construction planning software and overlaying with proposed building drawings will instantly show any potential mismatches between terrain, existing structures, and even vegetation. You’ll instantly know the true costs of preparing your site for groundbreaking and can make better decisions about how to best utilize the area where you’ll build.
On larger sites that require extensive ground work, like highways, railroads, bridges or parking lots, you’ll need a drone that can fly further and longer. The Quantum Systems Trinity takes off and lands vertically, but then flies like a fixed-wing airplane for missions of up to 90 minutes on a single charge.
With flight speeds over 50 mph, the Trinity’s high resolution visual camera can capture an astounding amount of image data in a short period of time. For the ultimate in flexibility, Trinity’s modular payload bay means you’ll be able to accomplish whatever mission the project requires.
Stockpile volume verification
As a construction job progresses, raw commodities such as fill dirt, gravel, or other aggregates can easily stop work if you run short of a key ingredient. These volumes of loose material have been notoriously difficult to estimate in the past, but with aerial surveys and 3D measurement capabilities built-in to a variety of popular drone apps such as Pix4D and DroneDeploy, you’ll know to the nearest cubic foot how much material you have. Armed with precise volumetric data, your usage rates, costs, and re-order points will become simple to monitor.
Consider the all-purpose Matrice M210 as an excellent construction drone option to start with as you complete your first stockpile survey. The M210’s flexible payload options, long flight time, and rugged, weather-resistant design will allow you the versatility to tackle any job on site.
Visual Progress Reports & As-Built Verification
Because drones can fly automatically based on precise coordinates, you can take identical photos from the same locations with consistent viewing angles. This feature is a perfect tool for communication with architects, shareholders, and future tenants. They’ll be able to easily see progress on the building site as you show them a series of images that can be compiled into a time-lapse movie or stacked as a “before and after” collage.
Another fantastic application of the visual camera in products like the Mavic 2 Zoom is the ability to accurately document the actual construction so that it can be compared with the original designs. This “as-built” model can even be ingested by certain BIM packages and automatically compared to the designs, with discrepancies flagged for review. Is a beam too long, a window misplaced, a concrete pad oriented in the wrong direction? The 3D rendering produced by the drone will show, visually, the comparison to plans at every step and will allow correction before the mistake is obscured by future layers of work.
Inspection Without Risking Lives
As any site foreman will tell you, climbing on a job site brings the potential for falls, dropped equipment, or collapsed scaffolding. Gravity can be a potent enemy! Fortunately, drones do the jobs that are too dangerous to safely attempt, especially when inspecting tall structures. Whether you’re building a skyscraper or a three-story townhome, drones can fly in close to see details that would be invisible from any other vantage point.
When flying close to inspect isn’t an option, we recommend a 30X zoom camera called the DJI Zenmuse Z30. It will allow detailed 2MP images (magnified 30X), yielding the ability to easily see fine details from a safe distance. The Z30 camera comes mounted on a stabilized gimbal module for sharp, steady images when zoomed in all the way. Finally, the module can be carried by any of DJI’s Matrice series for flexibility and future-proofing, allowing you to upgrade your drone without leaving behind your collection of cameras and sensors.