How UASs are Revolutionising the Construction Industry

How UASs are Revolutionising the Construction Industry

Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), sometimes referred to as drones, are beginning to have a real impact on the construction industry…

As the technology improves, developers and housebuilders are finding more and more uses for this technology. Here, we take a look at how UASs are already being used across the industry and the implications this might have for the future of construction…

Site Surveying

The industry has been quick to adopt UASs as a convenient, cost effective means of surveying sites and there are already plenty of examples of UAS providers offering their aerial surveying services to the industry.

Fitted with high resolution cameras and compatible with various sensors and mapping programs, UASs can offer detailed surveys of potential development sites without the cost of hiring a plane or helicopter. UASs can be used to create 3D maps and provide various data about the site, for example, what the terrain is like and how it is affected by climate conditions.

Siemens have been using this technology to conduct surveys above the Aspern Vienna Urban Lakeside project, one of the largest developments in Europe. The company has been using drones to film and analyse conditions at construction sites, using thermal mapping to identify which buildings could be made more energy efficient.

Site Management

UASs can also be used to provide aerial views of construction sites to allow overseers to monitor progress and manage the site more effectively. The data captured can be used to create 3D maps of construction progress and impose overlays onto plans to ensure the project stays on track. This information is useful for project managers as it helps them to monitor progress more accurately and share this data with clients as needed.

UASs are also contributing to onsite safety by giving safety officers an overview of the site, allowing them to spot potential hazards that may not be visible from the ground and monitor ongoing work to ensure that safety protocols are being followed. This could help to reduce the risk of onsite accidents in the future.

Inspecting Structures

As well as new projects, UASs are also proving useful for monitoring and maintaining existing structures. Drones can be used to inspect various structures to check for signs of wear like rust or corrosion.

Traditionally, this type of inspection would require the use of a scaffold or scissor lift and would take a significant amount of time to carry out. Thanks to their compact size and aerial agility, UASs allow inspectors to see any part of the structure from a variety of angles, meaning they are able to carry out a visual inspection quickly and efficiently without ever leaving the ground. This also saves money on cages, harnesses and reduces safety risks associated with working at height.

Building Work

There has been discussion in the industry regarding the utilisation of UASs to actually carry out physical building work. It’s easy to see why the idea of using drones would be appealing. Not only are they perfectly suited for work at height but the UASs could also be programmed to automatically assemble structures that would normally require huge amounts of man power.

In 2011 Quentin Lindsey, Daniel Mellinger and Vijay Kumar at the GRASP Lab, University of Pennsylvania designed a system that allows a team of quadrotors to grasp materials and fit them in place using magnets to assist with location. This shows the way quadrotors can work together to build structures. 2011 also saw a team of drones, developed by roboticists from ETH Zurich’s Institute for Dynamic Systems and Control, build a 6m (20ft) tower using polystyrene blocks.

However, due to their size, UASs cannot carry large payloads and this presents a challenge when it comes to building structures strong enough for real life applications. The industry has already started coming up with solutions to this problem. Dr Kumar’s team at the University of Pennsylvania showed how large teams of multiple quadrotors could be programmed to work together to make up for their small size.

Meanwhile others have suggested that the solution will be to develop new building methods better suited to UASs. For example, the Institute for Dynamic Systems and Control and Gramazio Kohler Research recently released a video showing quadrocopters assembling a rope bridge capable of supporting a person. Part of this process involved designing a series of computational tools which simulate, sequence and evaluate the design of tensile structures. Although, the technology is still fairly new, systems like these could change the way we think about building design and allow UASs to become a viable tool for building applications in years to come.