In recent years, the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), more commonly known as drones, has grown in popularity across a number of different industries. While the deployment of drones in some sectors has attracted a degree of controversy, resistance to their use in mainstream industries is steadily decreasing as employers become more aware of the many advantages of using these airborne devices in the workplace. In the construction and telecommunications sectors in particular, the unprecedented visualisation potential of drones is being harnessed by a growing number of organisations eager to enhance their ability to draw a richly-detailed picture of ongoing projects. If current industry forecasts are accurate, drones are set to become a mainstay of the workplace in the very near future.
Drones in Construction
An increasing number of UAVs are being adapted for use on construction sites. Drones can assist in a range of activities, including site inspection, planning, and health and safety. The falling cost of drone hardware and the availability of sophisticated control, navigation and planning software have all helped aerial vehicles make a significant impact on the construction industry. Leading US drone service providers such as the San Francisco-based Skycatch are currently supplying construction companies across the world with drone technology to assist in surveying and 3D model construction. In a recent interview posted with tech website gizmag.com, Skycatch CEO Christian Sanz says that the UAV market will continue to expand in the coming years as industry leaders embrace the potential of drones : “Right now, drone technology is providing a competitive edge to the companies who’ve successfully adopted it,” he says. “They use their equipment and resources more efficiently, communicate better through accurate maps and data, and now have highly quantitative means of measuring their progress against their schedule. In the future, the construction industry will realize aggregate benefits such as a much better safety record and fewer projects that are completely late and off budget.”
Crossrail’s Innovate19 programme
To illustrate the advantages of drone deployment, UK company Crossrail has recently completed a project exploring current and possible future uses of UAVs in construction. The project, entitled Innovate18, identified a number of key areas in which the use of drones could be beneficial:
• Site inspections – close examination of high risk areas, and speedy overviews of large sites, freeing up time for other tasks
• H&S Induction – site plans can be quickly and efficiently updated to show where different works are taking place (such as lifts and excavations), ensuring that operatives stay safe
• Crane/tower/scaffolding inspections – much easier method of inspecting high-up structures, providing real time footage to spot anomalies. Reduces site downtime and mitigates risks of personnel having to work at height
• Site planning – overviews can be obtained quickly to inform planning sessions
• 360° panoramas – a more immersive experience to enhance appreciation of potential hazards and site orientation
Crossrail’s team also noted that UAVs have significant potential in logistical planning at larger job sites, where the drones’ ability to provide an information-rich picture of a site would carry considerable benefits. With modified camera technology, drones can also provide a live visual feed which can transmit images directly to a control room – allowing for real-time decision making and improving both quality and efficiency.
Drones in Telecommunications
Many of the world’s leading telecommunications firms are now beginning to incorporate drones into their strategic planning. Both BT and Nokia recently deployed drones in key ongoing projects such as Nokia’s maintenance of networks in United Arab Emirates. Drones can be of particular importance for telecoms engineers when deployed in tasks which exploit their considerable visualisation potential, such as tower inspections. Radio-planning and line-of-sight testing can also be performed via drone, which allows engineers to improve the quality of networks in areas by tackling recurring problems. These issues could include avoiding certain frequencies which are affected by trees and other obstacles, either by boosting antenna power or by changing location.
Using drones for telecoms inspections could also present a host of benefits for employers in terms of health and safety. It is not only safer than placing a human in harm’s way, it can also be a less time-consuming option; deploying a drone is a much quicker process than setting-up safety equipment to scale a tower. Drones, when performing a tower inspection, are able to deliver a high-quality site audit with unique and detailed panoramic and top-down views of the tower captured in one pass. The possibilities of drones use in telecommunications have just begun to be explored. In the future, they could be used to provide temporary internet access during disruptions to the network, broadcasting connections at large events, and helping other customers tackle logistical, agricultural and energy challenges with drone deployments.
Through monitoring and aerial mapping, drones are proving indispensable for forward-thinking companies looking to stay one step ahead of the competition. By eliminating the need for expensive and heavy-duty safety equipment, UAVs are saving time and money, while also delivering precise information more reliably than is otherwise possible. As the use of these vehicles continues to spread across multiple industries, drones are set to become a common feature of the future job site.
For more information on Crossrail’s Innovate 18 programme, please see:
For more information on Skycatch and drone use in construction please see: