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The reasons we’re not using drones more

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In the second of a two-part report into drones and construction Jim Meehan, aerial imaging specialist at SkyHeld Cameras, rounds up the reasons that drone technology has not been widely adopted in construction.

Unaware of the benefits?

Many potential users are simply unaware of the outputs that the combination of drones and photogrammetry software can produce – and are often surprised at the results. From 2D maps to 3D models, area and volumetric measurements and even virtual reality walk-throughs of remote sites are achievable now.

Regulatory constraint?

Approved operators flying drones under 7kg have Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) permission to fly in congested areas and within 50m of people and buildings not under their control, reduced to 30m while taking off and landing. The CAA recently stated that height contributes to the separation distance calculation. This allows for the operator to determine the safe minimum in-flight horizontal separation distance.

With careful planning, more sites may now be assessed as suitable for safe drone flights within regulations. 

For some sites, to cater for drone flights over perimeter streets to obtain side views, it may be feasible to bring a street under control via foot and vehicle traffic management for short periods just as is the case for heavy plant operation. Many sites may already have procedures in place for this.

Where streets cannot be brought under control, a drone can be used to obtain high level imagery away from the street in conjunction with a hand-held drone camera, standard camera, or laser scanner with imaging capability for the side views at street level. Merging data from both devices provides complete coverage of the site.

Regulatory uncertainty?

The new rules will most likely affect drone build and performance parameters. Flight control methods and data workflow are unlikely to be affected by regulations. Methodology adopted now will almost certainly remain valid.

Waiting for the next generation of drones?

Construction firms may have looked at current drone offerings and decided to wait to see what the next generation brings. Drone technology, whether used in-house or via service providers, is relatively inexpensive and cost savings can be realised very quickly.

Adoption now, even if on a limited scale, means a business can be up and running, with experience, ready to scale out with drone data workflow processes in place and well-practised for when the technology is at the level required for full implementation. 

Skills shortages?

Often the stumbling block for new technology implementation is a lack of skilled people with relevant knowledge and experience. The CAA has been forward thinking with regard to drones and has had a clear path to drone pilot approval for several years. As a result, there are a growing number of trained drone operators and service providers available around the UK ready to help with implementation.

Perhaps drone adoption could be a catalyst to embrace BIM at the same time for those businesses that have not yet done so. As is the case with BIM, adoption of drone technology for construction is a case of when, not if, so why wait any longer to embrace this cost-effective efficient and exciting technology?

Adoption now, even if on a limited scale, means a business can be up and running, with experience, ready to scale out with drone data workflow processes in place and well-practised for when the technology is at the level required for full implementation. – Jim Meehan, SkyHeld Cameras