The results of ConstructionPro Network's second annual Drones in Construction survey report have been released. The first survey, conducted in the summer of 2014, was a short four-part questionnaire to obtain the industry’s pulse as drones were just beginning to be used on construction sites. Surprisingly, 73% of respondents said they were aware of drone use on construction sites, while 29% reported having hands-on experience. The leading uses reported were aerial photography, inspection, safety monitoring and surveying. The number of respondents aware of drones in the 2015 survey jumped to 88%. Leading use cases were similar, but the 2015 survey was expanded to 10 questions to gather more detail on how they were used, what drones were flown, what cameras were used and to learn best practices based on user experiences.
Drones have proven themselves to be a useful tool on construction sites. 100% of those surveyed this past summer that used a drone on a project reported it to be a success and were very satisfied with both the experience of using a drone and the quality of results obtained. The primary cause precluding more widespread use is the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) regulations on drones in the national airspace. Current FAA regulations allow operation only after receiving a written exemption that meet certain safety and operational requirements, such as having an active pilot's license. Regardless, benefits abound and many users are deploying drones despite the risks.
The low hanging fruit is for those who previously hired a helicopter to take aerial photos; these users are finding photos from drones are much less costly, safer to obtain and are of higher quality. The rest of the industry is finding a multitude of benefits from aerial photography and the collection of data with laser, infrared and other sensors that can be used to produce 3D maps for earthwork calculations, thermal imaging for inspection, and point clouds for BIM models, for example. Survey respondents reported a number of unexpected side benefits, such as improved communication with other team members, a boost to morale and just plain fun. This report presents many of the comments received, organized by benefits and outcomes. Survey respondents generously provided best practices in the preparation and operation of drones on a construction site.
The use of drones on construction sites is clearly compelling and likely to be the wave of the future. With the expectation of FAA proposed rules to be issued in 2016 making drone use more practical, construction professionals may want to start preparations now and build on the experiences of our survey respondents.
Drones are clearly providing beneficial use on construction projects, particularly for surveying, mapping, inspection and aerial photography. In the U.S., at the time of this report, the FAA rules on commercial use are clearly holding back more widespread use. While some contractors are complying by obtaining an FAA exemption or using service providers, others are flying drones at their own risk. For those on projects located on remote sites or otherwise not readily accessible or visible to the public, drone use is considered less risky. Assuming the proposed FAA rules will loosen up the restrictions, construction professionals who anticipate wanting to use drones are encouraged to obtain one and practice in open areas in compliance with FAA regulations. In the interim, consider hiring a service provider.
The 2015 Drones in Construction Survery Report is available for purchase at the ConstructionPro Network bookstore -- click here. (Free to members.)