Type to search


Commercial UAV Expo


The Commercial UAV Expo looked at how drones can make a difference.  

By Jeremiah Karpowicz

The many ways in which drones can impact a construction project have been detailed and documented over the past few years. Whether we’re talking about how drones can be used to gather more frequent and accurate stockpile measurements or what kind of efficiencies they can create for project managers, it’s clear the technology can and is making an impact in the industry.

How are organizations quantifying that impact, though? What’s happening to all of the data that comes with more frequent measurements?  In what ways are drones actually making projects as a whole that much safer? These are the questions that construction professionals are looking to have answered, because being able to utilize a UAV means pushing past vague promises. Today, justifying and actually using a drone is about results and ROI, both of which are related to using drones in most ideal situations and circumstances.  

Detailing the circumstances and situations where drones can and are making a difference is what the presenters at the Commercial UAV Expo explored in-depth. Presenters like Oliver Smith from Skanska, Nathan Fuller from Bechtel and Richard Lopez from Hensel Phelps all made sure to specify what it meant for them to use drones on various projects, and what kind of a difference it made to their schedules, bottom line and company as a whole. 

Smith co-presented with Josh Kanner from Smartvid.io, a solution that is designed to utilize machine learning in order to organize, tag and archive the images and video gathered by a drone. Issues around what can and should be done with such an incredible amount of data have created bottlenecks across workflows of all sizes, and Smith highlighted what it means for their company to use technology that makes a difference in terms of how they’re able to approach visual communication, security and quality control.   

It’s easy to focus on the big picture in these sorts of conversations, but as ever, it’s the little things that can really make a difference. Smith showed how using a drone at a certain location has meant that the team no longer has to setup and deal with scaffolding, and that impact on safety is one the people on the ground continue to feel. 

Fuller specifically outlined how drones have impacted progress reporting, parking, safety and environmental compliance for Bechtel, and it was great to see him get so specific. While the impact a drone can have on parking might not seem like a big deal, using a drone to identify and resolve traffic jams that form at the end of a workday can keep a crew from becoming unnecessarily deflated as they head home.  

That’s not to say he wasn’t able to still focus on the impact of the technology at a higher level. He talked through the two to one savings the company has seen for every dollar spent on UAVs based on surveying alone. He also detailed the many ways Bechtel is looking to leverage drones in the future, which includes being able to displace helicopter tasks, using the technology for inventory management and plenty more. 

Lopez also made sure to mention the impact his company’s use of drones has had in terms of the ways it has been able to identify time and money savings while also anticipating construction issues. He also highlighted the different costs that are associated with operating a drone versus helicopter services. 

What’s important to remember is that such costs are not absolute, and all of the presenters made sure to highlight that fact when making these sorts of comparisons. While the per/hour cost of a helicopter is astronomical, there are situations where a helicopter is going to make more sense because of how long it needs to be in the air, or because of the altitude it needs to fly at. 

Additionally, Lopez detailed the long and drawn-out process that he had to go through in order to secure a Section 333 Exemption and legally operate a drone for commercial purposes. Doing so under Part 107 will be far simpler, but those are the kinds of details that need to be considered when weighting out how a drone can or should be utilized on a given project, especially as it relates to costs.   

 Ultimately, those are the kinds of concerns that commercial operators in 2016 and beyond need to be focused on, and for the most part they are. Gone are the days when an investment in a commercial drone was just about “seeing what it can do.” Tangible results related to inventory management, real-time information and data management are at the top of mind for construction professionals, and those sorts of results were highlighted at the Expo. 

There’s really only one reason an individual or organization should use a drone on a construction project: because it makes sense to do so. That’s a conclusion, which is not necessarily the same for every project though. 

Not too long ago, there was talk about how a drone could do anything and everything on a given project, and that we’d soon be living in a world where fleets of drones would be performing any and every task that might be required. That future might someday be a reality, but in the meantime, what matters is a present in which drones are evolving into being just another tool for professionals to utilize when and as necessary. 

Figuring out exactly how to utilize a drone is a question that construction professionals need to assess and work through, but the results others have seen are proof that the technology isn’t just about a future where automation and mechanized robots rule a job site. It’s about a tool that can be and is making a real world difference right now. 

Jeremiah Karpowicz is the executive editor for Commercial UAV News. He has created articles, videos, newsletters, ebooks and plenty more for various communities as a contributor and editor. He is also the author of a number of industry specific reports that feature exclusive insights and information around how drones are being used in various markets, including construction.