Drones have been in the air for more than fifteen years, but the last three years have seen an explosion of their use for commercial purposes. The construction and engineering industry is now the fastest growing industry to adopt drone technology for efficient, accurate and timely capture of data. In addition to collaborating with clients in real time and documenting projects from a unique visual vantage point, drones and the data they are able to effectively acquire can integrate with all aspects of planning, design and construction.
The potential uses of drones continue to expand as the technology improves and becomes more sophisticated. Drones can capture construction progress photos and videos, extract surface areas and volumes for construction reporting, inspect structures or areas not accessible in traditional ways, and capture 3D clouds and images for existing conditions models. Drones may also be utilized for thermal imaging, 3D mapping, obstruction observations, pre-site surveys, hydraulic modeling, surface and structure inspection, and asset management.
Drone technology is now being utilized across the engineering industry from aviation to transportation projects. For example, an engineering team may secure drone footage to provide a 3D model of a neighborhood and the tree canopy adjacent to an airport to determine which trees extend vertically in to the runway approach. For a transportation project, drone video might be used to create a 3D model of the streetscape of a proposed corridor to share with stakeholders in the community. For projects with significant environmental impact such as landfill closures, drones may be used to provide weekly construction observation photos to ensure proper placement of closure materials and to aid in communication with field staff. Of course all of these uses depend on a process to scale a drone program to the organization’s needs, manage the data and ensure collaboration and integration with other design platforms.
Clearly, the industry is only scratching the surface of drone capability and the many ways to utilize this technology. CHA currently has a fleet of three drones and six FAA Certified 107 Pilots with plans to add 2 more drones and four additional pilots in 2020 to facilitate improved vertical accuracy, extended flights and a more versatile platform for optics and sensor expansion.