Drone Deployment within the Construction Sector

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BIM Technologies' Anthony Harte talks about the use of drone's within construction.

I had the pleasure of visiting the GEO Business 2019 conference in London, and it played host to some fascinating presentations on Drones with ARPAS-UK suggesting that UAV’s are expected to increase GDP within the UK Economy by £42Bn by 2030 creating over 600k jobs.  

As a hobby, my interest in RC (Radio Controlled) aircraft started from a young age as a progression from competitively racing RC cars. By the age of 18, I’d learnt to fly both Helicopter and Fixed Wing. So, to see the technology advancements in my hobby and professional career start to come together excites me greatly. I just can’t get enough of machined carbon fibre, circuit boards, programmable LED’s, video transmitters and firmware!  

As the technology has advanced through a relatively short space of time, competitive drone racing has started to become a “big thing” with the likes of DRL Founded by Nicholas Horbaczewski in 2015, attracting some big named media agreements including Amazon, BMW, Swatch and the US Air Force for example.  

Much like BIM. Technologies (part of Space Group), Horbaczewski claims that DRL is a technology company at its core, whilst creating a new sport DRL is also pushing the boundaries and forcing manufacturers to develop this area of technology. A technology that is rapidly advancing and is already capable of some impressive stuff which is why it appeals to a younger generation.  

It helps new technologies emerge before finally making an appearance in consumer grade products.

With any cutting-edge sport, it helps new technologies emerge before finally making an appearance in consumer grade products. We’ve had a history of seeing this in Formula1, and we will see it in competitive drone racing. 

The figures discussed during the presentations at GEO Business 2019 claimed that the Construction & Manufacturing industry would account for circa £8.6Bn of that figure. It’s also suggested that the UK Drone Economy could contribute to £16Bn of net cost savings, although it wasn’t clear where these savings would come from.  

These huge figures are backed up by drone-data firm DroneDeploy who suggested that Growth in Industry Adoption (YoY) is said to be 239% for the Construction sector with mining and Agriculture at 198% and 172% respectively. The highest usage within Construction has been highlighted as Progress tracking & communication, followed by Site Planning, QS, Bid Process and Job site Risk mitigation.  

It's been proven that Drone photos, maps, and models improve communication across large teams and help drive smarter decisions and most of this is being performed with drones that cost less than £1,500.

Over the last few years, Space Architects (part of Space Group) has commissioned Drones for a variety of reasons from Aerial Inspections in Newcastle City Centre, to capturing imagery of development sites for Planning Applications such as NGI (Newcastle Gateshead Initiative).  

This enabled the buyers to see the exact view from a property that wasn’t even built yet.

On the BIM. Technologies side, Drones were used to capture imagery for a showroom Window Scape for Renderings and animations. Drones were flown to a height of the apartments, then HD pictures were taken in which were used by the 3D visualisation teams for renderings. This enabled the buyers to see the exact view from a property that wasn’t even built yet. 

In the Construction Sector we don’t really need BVLOS (Beyond Visual Line of Sight) regulations however, as an industry the UK are investing heavily in experimental BVLOS “Corridors” as test beds for the latest technology. For example, the air corridor for UAV testing at the National BVLOS Experimental Centre (NBEC) was made possible by funding from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sports. “Blue Bear” is part of a consortia which is trialling the use of 5G technology used to track and identify UAV’s in the 16km NBEC air corridor, allowing manned and unmanned aircraft to share the same airspace.  

The challenge construction professionals are going to face in 2019 shares similar issues to the uptake of BIM (Building Information Modelling) and how it relates to scale, regulations, standards and education. Right now, each drone flight needs a trained pilot, and there’s only a finite amount of people that will be able to operate these drones, because you can’t train everyone in your organization. The regulations are constantly changing in an industry that’s developing quicker than the appropriate Standards Authorities can keep up.  

There are some fantastic case uses for UAV’s within the Construction Sector, and HS2 appear to be the largest user of this technology having collected a total of 18.4 billion measurement points, captured to an accuracy of between 30mm-50mm across three weeks in March 2018. The drones flew more than 23km every day along pre-programmed autonomous routes and these points were then stitched together to create full 3D digital maps of the Phase One route reports SenSat.  

A pioneering new technique called Structure from Motion (SfM) photogrammetry, using survey-grade GPS to digitally recreate the world in incredible detail, it’s reported SenSat had to factor the curvature of the earth into its digital replica! Capturing such large datasets due to the length of the route not only has its challenges but also breaks records along the way by flying a distance of 12km BVLOS. This is a massive development, as under current Regulations (CAP 722) remote pilots must maintain direct unaided visual line of site with the UAV or a max distance of 500m horizontally and 400ft vertically.  

Read more: https://www.sensat.co.uk/blog-high-speed-two-case-study  

Drone Corridors will have human defined safe landing sites and no-go areas.

At the Drone Show Live 2018, Dr. Dennis Majoe from Motion Robotics suggested that BVLOS implies loss of human control and that they are using AI to reconstruct virtual worlds in which the human can take semi-autonomous control over low bandwidth connections. He went on to suggest that Drone Corridors will have human defined safe landing sites and no-go areas with the UAV’s using AI to recognise landing sites and check nothing has entered those sites before landing.

Back to GEO Business, Historic England presented some great material on the positives this new technology brings to Heritage sites, and the impact that drone surveys can have on restoring them should disasters happen or assisting with construction works for landmark Bridges for example. Whilst National Trust and Historic England sites are designated no drone flying, there can be exceptions to this however you need to be a PfCO holder, have insurance and submit your flight proposals for acceptance.

Historic England have just recently put their first graduate through their PfCO so that she can perform drone surveys for many of the heritage sites around the country. Interestingly, they have already written some guidance documents on surveys and their specific requirements.

During 2019, we will undoubtably see more software companies in the Construction Sector aiming to make use of UAV data capture in various ways. With Autodesk recently purchasing PlanGrid (a cloud-based software construction company) it means drones are going to be much more of an integrated product in the Autodesk ecosystem.  

The use of UAV’s or “Drones” in Construction will become even more commonplace and I wouldn’t be surprised to see all the large contractors taking this facility in-house within the next 12-18 months.

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