How drones are useful tools for project planning

Construction is back, but many of its workers aren’t. In April, the total number of job openings in the construction industry reached 440,000, the highest number recorded by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in more than two decades. That number fell to 375,000 in a recent BLS report, though the construction industry is still struggling to close a historic gap between the number of jobs available and the number of people willing to fill them. News reports relayed anecdotes of builders hiring more women and paying top dollar to high school students. In the end, both can be good things, but there is another, more sustainable solution: developing new technologies that, in some cases, can do a job better and safer than any human worker. never could.

Learning technology is especially important in industries like construction, where experience often matters more than education. Construction and development sites require careful planning, and even then they can pose safety risks due to unknown factors. Extensive monitoring can be prohibitively expensive, as can teaching an army of new workers the ropes, both in terms of money and time. Without sufficient training or experience, human workers can also easily incur physical costs. What is needed now are tools that can not only do the job, but make planning more efficient, more efficient and safer. Fortunately, these technologies, which we know colloquially as machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI), already exist. The hardest part is moving from the theoretical world to the worksite. Project planning is an obvious starting point.

3D rendering and property visits

When drones first appeared for sale and use in the private sector, the construction industry quickly realized that the technology was much more than just a toy. Early users included real estate agents, architects, planners and builders. An aerial drone, controlled from the ground, could capture any property from any angle in high definition photography and/or video. Since then, drone capabilities have grown exponentially. Think of a modern drone as a flying rack on which you can attach or swap the latest technology – multispectral sensors, high definition cameras and machine learning software capable of creating 3D maps from topographic data, which can be captured from virtually nowhere. anywhere.

Drones can also monitor and measure land to plan large-scale development. As more information is collected and analyzed, the software can determine the best and most effective courses of action for the task at hand. But using ML also means site data can interact seamlessly with data from outside sources, such as architects and engineers. Indeed, software and human experts learn and plan together, and in real time. Even better, as the drone learns its territory from multiple passes, it can create more efficient routes and recharge, limiting or even eliminating their downtime. Drones can also be used to perform critical tasks that previously required humans and vehicles, such as pinpointing precise locations of utility lines and potential physical hazards.

Mark the market

Covid has made drones even more important for the construction industry. In 2021, a record number of lands have been purchased for commercial development. This, combined with a persistent housing shortage in the United States, has inspired major investors – from private equity giant Blackstone to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos – to enter the homebuilding market. It involves a record amount of planning work, but without a record number of human workers.

As suburbs expand into suburbs and Covid has made more remote locations desirable for millions of people, the travel time alone needed to monitor construction sites has become staggering. Whether they’re building somewhere with existing infrastructure or starting from scratch, drones equipped with GPS, AI, and ML are already being hailed as the industry’s newest heroes. Why? Using sophisticated drones and software, planners can combine, match and overlay their own data against terrain and property lines.

Third-party software can then do much of the tedious work, leveraging existing data and resources, using them more efficiently while avoiding pitfalls. For existing structures, including those that will serve a primary property and may be difficult to move – such as utility boxes, transformers and switch stations – the ability of drones to accurately measure heights and depths turned out to be essential. These metrics help field technicians make better decisions during the planning stages, as well as after development is complete. In the future, planning software should be able to connect to municipal databases to “learn” about local environmental regulations and codes. This will ensure that future developments are compliant from the earliest stages, thus avoiding costly and/or contentious changes later on.

Precision

Of course, builders have more than labor shortages to worry about these days. With strained supply chains, delivery times are longer and materials are more expensive, making the opportunities for cost savings in other areas, like planning, more important than ever. Planners need tools that can not only work quickly, but accurately, and they need experience. Human surveyors are limited by time and accessibility issues, but aerial drones can capture high-quality images in a remarkably short amount of time thanks to both their speed and their ability to work essentially 24 hours a day. 24. This saves human capital, allowing multiple projects to progress simultaneously, and promises to rebalance the cost-benefit proposition that has been rocked by supply chain disruptions, Covid and war.

Post construction

Each new development ultimately becomes much more than surface, gradations and materials. Every property is unique, and even with the best planning, builders need tools to assess and adjust their designs as needed. Drones can now come with built-in multispectral sensors that can monitor and measure things like thermal heat, lighting, and depth. These are important elements before, during and after development; and the more accurate the information, the less builders need to worry about guesswork and costly change orders or redos. I consider built-in sensor capabilities to be the “killer app” of drone technology, as they allow developers to significantly reduce overhead when managing properties.

These sensors are also invaluable when repairing and maintaining industrial structures, including towering buildings, manufacturing plants, and power grids, not only because they learn, but because they never forget. . This brings us to the last essential planning technology: the cloud. Unlike humans who take notes, data collected by machines is processed and made available in real time. Data can not only be shared with planners, but with other stakeholders such as insurance companies, contractors, utilities and even the media. I like to think of these drone-driven planning systems as shared maps that drive future advances in AI and ML while benefiting immensely. Drones allow us to do real-time planning, rather than making plans that may or may not see the light of day. As President Dwight Eisenhower, the father of our federal highways, once observed, “Plans are nothing, but planning is everything.

About Debra D. Johnson

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