For decades, the construction industry had to work with vital but hard-to-capture survey data. It was relatively expensive to produce. Its outputs often had to be interpreted by experts with the knowledge to translate complex data.
But using drones in construction has changed the way sites work because they provide an alternative capture method for accurate site data.
“It no longer has to be hard to know what’s happening on your construction site,” said Propeller Co-founder Francis Vierboom.
Construction is beginning to harness the power of drones
When looking at early adoption in the industry and what this new tool was used for, imagery comes first.
“Using drones in construction was a really useful way to quickly and cheaply create a visual of your site. For many years, people paid thousands of dollars to capture their site in order to have a comprehensive view of what was happening,” Vierboom added. The drone’s more advanced uses came with time and trust.
Early adoption of drones in construction meant better site visuals
At almost every site office, there’s a map on the wall of the whole project. These straightforward visuals are important for everyone—from site orientation to safety briefings.
“It helps everyone quickly see where things are and how the design relates to what’s happening on the ground today,” said Vierboom. “And simply making it affordable to capture that visual of what’s happening has been the first and still really important upgrade to what construction teams get out of drone technology.”
But that utility is already changing.
In the near future, it’s not just going to be the map that people have a meeting around. The data used to make it is a source of real insight and analysis.
Commercial drones have paved the way for sites to gather accurate quantities more frequently. This has built a much-needed empirical basis for site reporting, measurements, and budgets.
Survey reporting, progress reporting, and productivity insights are the new phase that accurate drone-captured data is impacting. It’s what businesses are getting serious about.
“The ability to get real reporting insights from your site as often as you want is going to have a transformational effect on how teams work together on a construction site,” Vierboom noted.
The commercial drones used in construction are improving faster than ever
With widespread adoption of drone solutions in the construction industry, we’re seeing the technology itself improve likewise.
In 2018, DJI released its Phantom 4 RTK drone (P4RTK) , a RTK version of its hugely popular Phantom 4 Pro drone. Real-time kinematic (RTK) processing on a drone records GPS information and geotags images as they’re captured during flight.
“Today, there are great rovers and cameras on the market. DJI has put those technologies into a flying robot: the Phantom 4 RTK, which costs about $10K,” said Propeller CEO and Co-founder Rory San Miguel. “They take photos as good as a $500 camera and GPS as good as a $20,000 piece of equipment, while flying 400 feet in the air.”
Guaranteed accuracy spurs automatic data capture
“The more accurate the data, the more useful it becomes. And the more useful it becomes, the more it gets captured,” San Miguel said.
This cycle brings about a new problem: capturing data often enough. While someone can fly multiple times a day with more than one team on site, once per day is the reasonable maximum for a single team.
A potential solution would be fully automated drone surveying of construction worksites. However, while the hardware and tech might be there for this solution in coming years, regulations will not.
The other side of this data deluge is a corresponding ramp-up of data analysis. Companies are laying the foundations of automated data analysis today.
Digitize to take the first step in closing the productivity gap
Digitization is not only a fix for lagging productivity and closing that $1.6 trillion gap, it’s the first and imperative step towards the AI-powered and autonomous-machine future.
“Whenever sufficient information can be quantified, modern statistical methods will outperform an individual or small group of people every time,” according to the Harvard Business Review.
This rings especially true when it comes to long-term insights and unstructured data.
What the construction industry is realizing is that it has a lot of data and a lot of different kinds of data. So-called “big data,” however, doesn’t erase the need for human insight. These are simply better tools to do the job. Just as the cost of surveying data falling means more work for surveyors, so too does big data mean construction professionals will be able to do their jobs better.
While improving work today, prepare for advanced data collection and analysis
To succeed, the industry needs to be as smart and prepared as possible, both before and during a job. Data visualization and analytics platforms are the first leap into digitization.
Having one place for storing all your site data and analytics means you can use it to improve productivity today and have data codified for tomorrow’s tech.
“The exponential rate at which companies are collecting data has increased the need for easy visualization and the ability to analyze and act on the big volumes of data,” according to Forbes.
But better data management is not just an abstract exercise in preparing for some future change. Today, half of all construction professionals still manually prepare and process daily reports, while 40% of companies are still using paper plans for their jobs.
Those inhibitors to increased productivity can be changed now, and doing so also prepares a company for better data management down the line.