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What a Drone Can Do

Drone photos and video can monitor project progress throughout the workday.
Drone photos and video can monitor project progress throughout the workday.
Today’s drones are smaller, lighter, and more technologically advanced.
Today’s drones are smaller, lighter, and more technologically advanced.
With drone video and analytic software, contractors can calculate volumetrics without sending people onsite to measure
With drone video and analytic software, contractors can calculate volumetrics without sending people onsite to measure
From preconstruction to job completion, drones can provide information that increases safety and efficiency
From preconstruction to job completion, drones can provide information that increases safety and efficiency
Jason Hurdis, Global Market Professional, Caterpillar
Jason Hurdis, Global Market Professional, Caterpillar
If you think you can’t afford to put a drone to work for your operation, it might be time to rerun the numbers. In his interview with Associated Construction Publications, Jason Hurdis, Global Market Professional with Caterpillar, explains how drones can benefit construction companies in multiple ways.
How Affordable Is a Drone?
Drones continue to get smaller, lighter, more technologically advanced — and more affordable. When drones first started, they were big copters or fixed-wing aircraft that cost $30,000 to $40,000. In addition, you needed three or four days of training on how to fly it.

Now you see drones at weddings and sporting events. The cost of a drone with a camera and recording capabilities is light years ahead of where it was a few years ago — now the price is $1,000. You can go to Amazon, buy a drone, and have it delivered to your house with camera quality equal to or better than a professional drone of the past. Because of that, we’ve seen the market explode and the use of drones in all industries has grown exponentially.

Drones are also getting smaller and smaller. The drone I have now fits in the palm of my hand and takes better pictures and videos than my first drone, which took me an hour to assemble onsite. Now I just pull my drone out of a bag the size of a water bottle, flip out the props, and I’m up in the air taking better-quality pictures and videos than I ever have before.

What Can Drones Do in Construction?
In heavy construction, drones are typically used to survey and monitor progress. Depending on the analytic software you have, you can start figuring out volumetrics — for instance, today between 8 and 4, we moved 10,000 tons of material. That’s without having to measure or put people out there with grade stakes. It’s all done through the video camera and back-office analytics.

Some companies have their own drone departments that do all the drone flyovers and analytics. They have certified drone pilots on staff. Others do it through a third-party service. There are a lot of providers that will fly a site for you and give you all the information. It depends on how often you want to fly, what you need to fly, and what you expect to get from the drone.

Companies that work in many different areas can save time and money with drones. When you’re working in Illinois one month and California the next month, you can fly a site before everyone gets there. You can figure out your game plan, where you’re going to stage equipment, etc. Instead of sending a guy out to California for a week to do all the prep work, you can do it in a 30-minute drone flight.

What Facets of a Job Can Drones Benefit?
Your bidding and estimating group will be the first ones to benefit from a drone flyover. They’ll be able to more accurately bid and estimate materials and material quantities.
Leeboy - Pavers/Asphalt
Your local LeeBoy dealer
Power Equipment Co

For the fleet management department, it will help them have a better understanding of how much land they have to work with, how much area they need to clear, and what type of machines they need in there first. It can also help them plan the crews.

Surveying and drones are huge. Rather than sending a crew out, you can survey a site with a drone and get your pins and topographical survey right from a flight’s video. You don’t need a crew of 10 people to go out and survey land beforehand.

Whether it’s greenfield or an existing road, drones help all those departments be more efficient and smarter before they actually step on the job site.

What Happens Once Construction Starts?
During construction, you can do a drone flight and get volumetrics — how much material your crew moved today, how much asphalt was laid in a day, or how much base material was put down.

You can also use it for mitigation. If four inches of rain fell last night, what does the site look like? What do you need for pumps and water removal before you can get back to work? The big benefit of getting all that information with a drone is safety. You don’t have to put people on a job site that isn’t ready for them; you can get all that information ahead of time.

At the end of a project, a lot of heavy contractors will fly again to have a video record or picture of exactly what the job site looked like when they turned it over to the owner or the next phase of construction.

How Can You Use Drone Data?
Sometimes you just want a photo of the area you’ll be working in, or a video that gives you a basic understanding of where the roads go and where the entrance and exits will be. But the cool part comes from all the post-analytics.

Once you have ground control points that tie your video and photos to a known point on the ground, you can put the images into analytic software. The accuracy of the flights and the analytics get better all the time. On my first flights, if we were within 3 feet on elevation we were doing pretty good; now most analytics can determine within less than a foot.

You can fly a site and get volumetric data so you know exactly how much material was moved between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. You can determine the topo of the entire site so you know where your cuts need to be. You can even figure out volumetrics of stockpiles from a flight.

What Regulations Affect Drones?
When I first got into drones, I had to go to training to be a drone pilot, but then I had to pay a licensed airplane pilot to stand next to me while I flew. That person didn’t do anything other than watch me fly the drone, but because he or she had a pilot’s license, that was covered by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The FAA also required everybody to be a pilot at first, then it progressed to a personal path and a commercial path. Now when a 12-year-old gets a drone for Christmas, he doesn’t have to get a pilot’s license to fly in his backyard.

However, for commercial use of drones, the FAA still requires a drone pilot’s license. You have to pass an online written test with some basic aeronautics, but it’s not as deep as a commercial pilot’s knowledge requirements. When you fly, you have to keep a line of sight to your drone.

In addition, drones for commercial use need to be registered with the FAA. You get a tail number to put on your device and if the drone crashes then is found, they can link it to you.

The FAA also requires drones to follow the same airspace rules as an aircraft. There are restricted airspaces such as military bases or anywhere in Washington, D.C. You can’t fly within a certain distance of an airport. However, I have one customer that’s very close to an airport. They filed flight records and flight exemptions so they can fly within a limited time frame.

The more drones there are in the market, the more the airspace will need to be defined as far as where and at what altitude flights are allowed or not allowed or what you need to do if you fly in a particular area. I would definitely keep an eye out for updated regulations in your area.

What Should You Consider Before Drone Adoption?
Drones now are much more economical, and they make you more profitable and productive as a company. But you need to check the regulations for your state and county. I would definitely make sure I understand those before ever putting one up in the air.
Wirtgen America Inc
Your local Wirtgen America dealer
Dobbs Equipment (DXC)
Power Equipment Co
Your local Atlas Copco CMT USA dealer
Power Equipment Co