Drones in the construction industry

Today’s article from drone research professionals at Drone Industry Insights looks at drone technology in the agricultural industry.

The original was published here.

Following the in-depth look at drones in Energy and drones in Agriculture, it’s time for a closer analysis of the last of the top 3 industries for drone technology. Using drones in construction ranks second among all industry verticals and is a market worth roughly US$4.8 billion in 2024.

By 2030, the demand for drones used in construction projects will generate an estimated US$6.2 billion, which represents a CAGR of 4.5 percent. Although this rate is slower than the overall commercial drone market, that is partially due to the already high adoption rate of drones in the construction industry compared to other sectors.

The Use of Drones in Construction

The use of drones on construction sites was explored early on and has been steadily increasing in recent years.

While dozens of industries use drones, the construction industry is one of the largest. In many applications, the software that processes the captured images and makes them usable also plays a significant role 

As a whole, the construction industry is primarily engaged with the making of buildings or other large engineering projects (such as highways and utility systems). This industry also includes businesses that focus on preparing sites for new construction and those that subdivide land for sale as building sites.

More broadly, the industry vertical for drones in construction can be divided into two subsectors: 1) Construction of buildings and 2) Heavy and Civil Engineering Construction (for example; highways, bridges, dams).

Below is a closer look at both subsectors.

Using Drones for the Construction of Buildings

The Construction of Buildings subsector is self-explanatory and comprises establishments responsible for making and altering buildings.

Some of the work involved may include erecting new buildings, adding floors or extensions, changing the structure of buildings, or maintaining and repairing [old or damaged] buildings.

As mentioned previously, software can play a crucial role – Building Information Modelling (BIM) helps create digital twins of buildings during construction, modification, or restoration. And it is precisely in this regard that drones can make a radical difference.

Drones are the perfect tool to acquire the actual data and measurements since they can easily access all parts of a building from all angles. Moreover, in scenarios where a building may be planned in uneven or complex terrain, a drone can capture minute and precise data much faster and more accurately than a human or any other tool.

Using Drones for Highways, Bridges, and Dams

The second subsector is Heavy and Civil Engineering Construction. It includes businesses whose primary commercial activity is the construction of major engineering projects, such as highways, bridges, and dams. These are often substantial projects and usually entail much more intricate calculations, estimates, and planning. 

For this subsector in particular, typical outputs from drone technology are aerial photos, orthopods & orthomosaics (2D maps), live video streams, DEMs (Digital Elevation Models), and DSMs (Digital Surface Models).

Simple outputs (like live video streams and aerial photos) provide a quick overview of the construction site, which facilitates decision-making and supports project managers with progress tracking and reporting.

Meanwhile, photogrammetry and LiDAR can be used to make 3D models in either DEMs or DSMs. These DEMs and DSMs can be used for Building Information Modelling (BIM) and provide valuable information about slopes for the further building process.

DSMs are often used for construction management, including how many stockpiles are available or how many trucks need to be ordered to carry away the construction rubble.

Application Examples of Drones in Construction

Some examples of the plethora of tasks that drones in construction carry out include surveying an ongoing construction site, scanning a high-rise construction project to use for BIM or topographic surveying of an area for an upcoming highway construction.

Most applications in the industry can take place with relatively inexpensive equipment, which is one reason for the appeal of using drones in construction.

Over 80 percent of the drones used are multirotor drones, and typical payloads include regular or solid-state LiDAR scanners and other EO sensors. While LiDAR scanners are costly, the corresponding price for a drone and RGB camera is in the lower 4-digit range, which, in the context of building materials and equipment required for construction projects of any kind, could be more substantial.

Of course, the costs may be more significant in a few cases where extremely high accuracy is required, requiring more sophisticated sensors and an overall higher degree of technology.

In such cases, the price for the equipment can quickly climb depending on whether the focus is on 3D construction, BIM, and management software solutions.

Who and Why Use Drones in Construction Projects

The top companies that manufacture drones used in construction feature some of the biggest names in the industry.

This includes companies like DJI (China), Parrot (France), Autel Robotics (China), MMC (China), Microdrones (Germany), Wingtra (Switzerland), Percepto (Israel), and American Robotics (USA).

Yet it is worth reiterating that the market for drones in construction is quite large. Therefore, there are plenty of successful companies around the world who manufacture drones used in this industry vertical. 

Regarding personnel rather than companies, the top construction-related careers that benefit from drone data today are project managers, technology managers, and superintendents.

Projects are often running over budget and behind schedule. Therefore, it’s no surprise that project managers take responsibility for bringing drones to the construction site.

Drones help to streamline work to save time and costs, which facilitates their work perhaps more than any other role.

Contractors and building owners use drones to collect real-time project data and understand what happens on-site. Aerial photography improves progress tracking and helps identify problems early – before they become costly or extend the project’s schedule by weeks.

Perhaps the best reason to use drones in construction is that when a construction site is surveyed from the ground or with other alternatives, operations generally have to stop for safety reasons.

However, this is different when using drone technology. This means that drones not only save time and reduce costs directly, but they also diminish indirect economic losses from stopping work and addressing worker safety (or, in the worst case, serious injuries).

And when all of this is added to the vastly better results that drones provide (e.g., higher density point cloud for building data), it is no wonder that construction is and will remain one of the top industries for using drones.


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