Industry experts from across the cmBuilder ecosystem recently gathered to discuss the current and future role of drones in construction in a roundtable panel discussion hosted by cmBuilder’s co-founder, Javier Glatt. The panelists included Jonathan Kubiak, Digital Engineer at Fletcher Construction based in New Zealand; Wilson Haworth, Virtual Design + Construction Manager at Juneau Construction based in Atlanta, Georgia; and Ben Stocker, Construction Technologist at Skender Construction based in Chicago, Illinois.
Key insights from the panel included: Drones can greatly enhance the ability to gather large amounts of data quickly and accurately; Drones can capture high-quality images of construction sites that can be used to create 3D models, plan site logistics with accurate existing conditions, monitor construction progress, and identify potential issues onsite; Drones can be used to inspect hard-to-reach areas such as roofs and facades, improving safety and efficiency on the job site; Real-time data provided by drones allows for digital feedback loops driving quick decision-making and increased productivity.
“I took an updated drone survey of a site beforehand; I was able to fly the site in under 20 minutes and create an orthomosaic map and bring that into cmBuilder, and that’s just huge for planning the rest of your project because it is so much more accurate.”
- Ben Stocker - Construction Technologist at Skender.
“We went into the reality capture space and started putting spherical imagery all around the site on a regular basis so that people could work remotely. We gave everyone access to this mass data, and the drone was the tool to do that because the sky is just the most convenient place to capture all this data from.”
- Jonathan Kubaik - Digital Engineer at Fletcher Construction
Despite the benefits of drones, the implementation of drones on construction sites is not without its challenges. One significant hurdle is complying with regulatory requirements imposed by the FAA. Additionally, on a more internal note, some workers may be hesitant to adopt and embrace new technology, slowing down the implementation process. Data management can also be a challenge, as large amounts of data generated by drones need to be properly stored, analyzed, and utilized.
The panelists agreed that the future potential of drone technology in construction is vast only just getting started. Advancements in drone technology such as increased flight time, better sensors and the rise of autonomous flights can improve their effectiveness on construction sites. As drones become more common in construction, the data they collect can inform better decision-making, such as predicting potential delays or optimizing workflows. As drone technology evolves, integrating drones into established workflows will become easier, making them an increasingly valuable tool on job sites.
“Our workflow right now is fly, overlay, report, analyze, and then act. The future of what our workflow is going to be is fly and then act.”
- Wilson Haworth - Virtual Design + Construction Manager at Juneau Construction
The panel also discussed the potential of drones functioning autonomously. Advancements in machine learning and artificial intelligence could enable drones to identify and respond to issues on their own, improving efficiency and reducing the risk of human error. Drones could also be used in conjunction with other technologies, such as augmented reality or virtual reality, to create immersive experiences that enhance decision-making and facilitate collaboration.
“To be able to use AI to cut down the man hours to capture, create and analyze reports, so that we can have updated, accurate, and actionable information delivered to our inbox every morning - that’s what I think the future is going to be like in 5 years.”
- Wilson Haworth
Drones have the potential to improve safety on construction sites by inspecting hard-to-reach areas, reducing the need for workers to climb ladders or scaffolding. However, effective use of drones requires proper data management techniques such as data cleaning, analysis, and visualization. Drones can enable remote collaboration, allowing for better communication and decision-making between project teams, even if they are not physically present on the job site. Finally, the effective use of drones in construction requires worker training on safe and effective drone operation, data analysis, and proper infrastructure and technology investment by companies.
Overall, while there are challenges associated with implementing drones in construction, the benefits of drone technology make it a worthwhile investment for construction companies looking to improve their operations. The future possibilities of drones in construction are vast and will likely revolutionize the construction industry by providing quick, accurate, and real-time data to inform better decision-making and improve efficiency on job sites.