Construction Site Manager’s Guide to Drones

Drones have recently turned from toy to profit generator, and just as essential as a GPS rover. Unlike traditional equipment, you don’t need tons of special training and education to use it. Used correctly, they can provide your business with accurate, up-to-date information on your site’s progress and productivity, and information you can use to ensure high-quality work and minimize operational risks and costs.

Data collection and processing is only half the story. Cloud-based platforms act as translators, making your raw data readable. Take Propeller: it transforms your data into a 3D site survey. Fully navigable. Fully measurable.

Check local aviation regulations

Drones are regulated differently depending on location. Usually, all unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are overseen by the country’s aviation regulator, so check out your country’s website if you’re not finding information elsewhere. (Websites and apps like Global Drone Regulations Database or B4YouFly are also helpful.)

What’s the optimal drone hardware for your construction site?

UAVs come in many forms, but to choose the right one for your needs you should consider the size of your survey areas; your budget; and image resolution requirements.

Generally, drones into two categories: fixed-wing or multicopter. 200 hectares (500 acres) or less can be comfortably surveyed with a multicopter. Any larger and you may want to consider multiple multicopter or a fixed-wing UAV.

Budget

Multicopters, like those made by DJI, are mass produced and can be purchased easily and cheaply. Meanwhile, fixed-wing UAVs are still made in limited quantities making units much more expensive.

Availability and ease of maintenance

Keep in mind added maintenance costs and the availability of parts and replacements. You don’t want to postpone surveying because you’re waiting on a replacement drone or part.

Camera

Generally, make sure you have a high-resolution camera, with a larger sensor and a 35mm-equivalent focal length. This provides more detail about any point and increases your image contrast in order to help generate better 3D renderings and point clouds. Keep in mind specs affecting resolution and ground sample distance (GSD). (Test out different GSDs with this handy calculator.)

We recommend DJI’s Phantom 4 Pro for most sites

With the exception of some edge cases, DJI’s Phantom 4 Pro is an ideal craft for the majority of worksite survey applications. But the drone itself is just a starting point, a tool serving a greater use. To learn more, check out our blog on the topic.

Pick the right software

Unlike hardware solutions, software is not an interchangeable tool. Construction jobs are intricate, with many levels of oversight, design, and management. The right software has to help your workflows.

Two software pieces go into successful drone surveying: flying programs and software processing.

Flight planning apps

Steady, consistent flight can’t be overstated. The best way to do that is to use a flight planning app. We recommend DJI’s Ground Station Pro, which has an intuitive user interface and in-flight performance is great. You can set the survey boundary, front- and side-lap percentage and flight altitude, and it’ll estimate the flight time and GSD.

Processing, measurement, and visualization software

Processing photogrammetry is a resource-intensive process, requiring specialized knowledge. Powerful software and skilled personnel are necessary—both of which are expensive and hard to scale up.

Desktop software is optimized for processing data from a single site or a single drone. If you’re dealing with multiple surveys simultaneously, or multiple sites, use cloud computing.

Construction site cut/fill map done using drone data

Cloud-based applications are the most cost-effective ways to leverage scaleable, powerful computing and requires no installation or maintenance from you. Device-independent data also means easier collaboration and sharing.


If you want to learn more, download our ebook Drones for Construction: The Beginner’s Guide.
Guide to drones for construction

Read more:

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