Drones: Your Preflight Checklist

Digitization is having a big impact throughout all aspects of the construction industry. While design has long been digital, the physical world itself has not. Now, drone imagery can digitize the physical world and provide builders with an accurate and up-to-date representation of a project. With this data, construction companies can measure, collaborate, communication, and put good practices in place.

This comes at an interesting time too—as drones across all industries are beginning to take off. In fact, a report from Allied Market Research suggests the market will continue to grow at a rate of 26.2 percent between 2016 and 2022.

At the same time, the hardware and software is advancing as well. Today, aircrafts have the ability to fly autonomously, with the help of an embedded program. Drones have new sensing capabilities, smart cameras, and new interfaces. Hybrid drones, those that possess the capabilities of both rotary and fixed wings, are also seeing some new traction.

All of this can enable greater productivity and insight into projects for workers. Drones can help with risk mitigation, resource planning, research and excavation, urban planning, and so much more.

Hugh McFall, product marketing manager, 3DR, says that he is seeing more construction customers using drone data to save time and money and to improve collaboration.

“Put simply, new technologies, including drones and other robotic tools, have quickly become just another tool on the jobsite—and that’s exactly how it should be,” he explains. “Now, many construction professionals are flying drones multiple times per week and using the data—the high-resolution maps and 3D models—as a team to plan the day’s work, identify issues that need to be resolved, share progress updates to their clients, and much more.”

He adds that this means that every morning project teams are reviewing a high-resolution map and a 3D model of their site, oftentimes captured no longer than a day before.

This is a stark change from how the construction industry operated even just five years ago. Perhaps the next best step for many considering stepping into the era of adopting drones is to create a checklist of all the steps to ensure positive implementation of the technology initially—and ongoing success for the long run.

Preflight Checklist

There are a number of different steps construction companies can take to ensure safe and productive flights of drones on projects.

Patrick Stuart, senior director of product, web, and mobile, Skycatch, offers this pro tip: the more people on a project who have access to the data, the more they will come up with the value-add uses for it. But here’s the catch: don’t try to figure it all out yourself.

“The most successful teams have enabled their uses and use cases to develop organically by getting the entire project into the platform,” he explains.

With that in mind, there are still a few key steps—or better yet a checklist—of things that construction companies can do in order to get the most out of drone technology on a construction jobsite. 

  • First, create a corporate or project budget. Stuart suggests that it is important to specifically dedicate resources to adopting new technology. This includes both people and money.
  • Next, create a mission and set goals. He adds to consider having objectives created at the top level of an organization that aim to find a way to use new technology to directly impact the future of the business. This can include things like making bids more competitive, reducing costs, or improving safety. Once it is decided what is going to be accomplished with new technology at a company level, it will ultimately trickle down.
  • Pick a champion. McFall of 3DR says this person will need to lead adopting new technologies and expanding them across project teams. Stuart adds that this should be supported by management to ensure that teams actively seek out and implement new solutions. He points to the examples of Hensel Phelps and DPR that both have corporate councils in each region that try out different technologies and check on a nationwide level to share what they’re testing out and what they’ve learned.
  • Next, implement a preflight checklist for drone pilots to follow. This can include everything from checking the equipment prior to flight to what needs to be done after. This will help them minimize risk, improve documentation, and ensure they are flying safely, according to McFall.
  • For some, the next step is to pick a trial project. This will enable a company to check against objectives and make adjustments as necessary until the implementation of technology is successfully.
  • Then, the final step is to expand to other projects, but use the first as a golden example to ultimately train and establish corporate best practices.

Putting All the Pieces in Place

Implementing new emerging technologies on construction projects isn’t an easy task. Even more, it can be challenging to build an in-house drone program and start flying.

McFall recommends adopting a complete, end-to-end solution, rather than piecing together a mix of software. He also suggests ensuring that it comes with effective training and implementation support from a dedicated customer success team.

“Having this level of support is crucial because regardless of how easy it’s become to fly a drone, there’s still a lot to consider: airspace regulations, flying safely and effectively, understanding how to analyze, export, and use the data to the fullest,” he explains.

Still, it is a domino effect. Once the new technology is in place, it will change the way work is being done out at the construction jobsite, creating that reality where every morning project teams are reviewing a high-resolution map and a 3D model of their site, oftentimes captured no longer than a day before.

“Technology leads to better visibility, which leads to reduced errors, which leads to better cost and schedule, which leaders to a better relationship to the client, which leads to more new business,” concludes Stuart. In the end, everyone wins.

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