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Rise of the Drones

Posted on May 26, 2016

For the last several years, the tech industry has been all about drones. You might be surprised to learn that they have actually been around for decades, originally developed for military use, and therefore not so broadly publicized. Over the past several years, advances in drone technology have since expanded its applications. Accessibility and wider use has spiked due to smaller size, light weight, better batteries, and more affordable prices.

Recently, they have become quite popular in the construction industry among early adopters who claim they help improve safety, communication, and productivity, while also reducing instances of material theft at jobsites.

Safety is a constant concern in construction, so any technology that might help protect the safety of workers attracts attention. Drones equipped with surveillance equipment can help operators detect dangerous situations so they can immediately alert workers who may be in harm’s way. They hold the potential to save lives by acting as an extra set of eyes looking out for workers. Eventually, drones may be able to actually perform tasks in precarious situations, completely eliminating the need to put a human life in danger.

As a surveillance tool they are a little more versatile than stationary surveillance cameras. Theft of materials at construction sites is an expensive nuisance which they can help discourage. Just the presence of a drone with a camera on it can be enough to stop a thief. Traditional surveillance cameras can do the same thing, but they are limited due to the fact that they can only capture footage from a few angles. If a drone spies a thief, it can easily be repositioned to capture the perpetrator’s face… as long as it’s not obscured by a mask or clothing.

They can also be used to provide video footage from an aerial perspective of a job in progress, which is practically guaranteed to impress a client. Who doesn’t like seeing things from a bird’s eye view? Capturing progress footage and images is easy with the help of a drone.

As with any new technology, there are still lots of kinks that need to be ironed out before drones will be truly prevalent in the construction industry. Battery life and flight range are two very obvious shortcomings. Depending on a drone’s capabilities, it may require a permit to operate from the Federal Aviation Administration, adding another expense. Currently, if a drone is considered “Hobby Class”, as determined by the unit’s weight and travel range, no permit is necessary.

There are also potential risks. All technology has the potential for failure. Because commercial use of drones hasn’t been rigorously tested for several years yet, there’s always the risk of discovering an issue that has yet to be addressed. Hacking could also be a concern. If a construction firm is using drones to record any sort of proprietary method, it could be at risk of being stolen. If the drones being used are not truly autonomous, user error can be an issue. Not to mention the privacy concerns associated with a flying surveillance vehicle.

Pros and cons aside, drones are obviously here to stay. It will be fascinating to see how they develop in the coming years.