Drones in Construction
28th July 2017
When you stack up the list of dangers facing workers on a modern building site, falls from heights top the lot. About 3 in 10 fatal injuries on building sites are down to falls, in an industry with double the average accidents of other sectors. With that in mind, it's really not surprising that so much research and money is going into using drones in construction.
Aerial drones have come pretty far in just a few short years. They've found their way into a wide range of industries, not to mention gadget shops and back gardens up and down the country.
Their popularity is coming with a few necessary regulations, of course. Near-misses with aircraft and privacy concerns have made the news more than once. Those glitches and hiccups aside, though, the technology's starting to find its place now, and construction looks set to benefit a lot from it.
A drone is ideal for getting a clear aerial view of a site or ongoing project, for instance. They cost a fraction of traditional surveying methods, and slash the risks to workers. Surveys can be done very quickly, whether to test for structural defects or simply to show progress to clients.
The benefits don't stop once the project's complete, either. Drones are already seeing use for inspections of schools, public properties and ageing buildings to test for problems before they develop.
150 people per year die after falling from structures and ladders in the UK. This is dangerous, critical work so anything that makes it safer to carry out has got to be good news – at least in principle.
It's worth noting that not everyone's excited about the future of drones in this kind of job. According to former Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors East Area chairman Gordon Murdie, there's simply no substitute for the trained eye of a skilled surveyor. There's certainly some truth in that, although you cold argue that improvements in the technology will close that gap quickly enough. Also, a skilled surveyor operating a drone might be able to access tricky areas more easily, so there are arguments on both sides. Sending a drone into a nuclear reprocessing plant, for example, has a couple of obvious immediate benefits over putting a human surveyor at risk.
There's actually much more to construction drones than simply providing an eye in the sky. There's research being done into using them in disaster-struck areas, for one thing. The idea is to combine drone and 3D printing technology to quickly construct shelters in disaster zones. The devices would fly in, scan the landscape and “print” required buildings on the spot. This would give people vital support while waiting for the emergency services to arrive. It's early days yet on this kind of thing, of course, but the idea is promising.
Whether you see drones as a threat to jobs or just another tool, the chances are you'll be seeing a lot more of them in future. The truth is they're probably not going to be replacing people on construction sites any time soon. In fact, in most cases they're going to need skilled operators to be useful at all. Flying robots might still have their limitations and drawbacks, but UK construction is already suffering from having too few boots on the ground. It only makes sense to keep as many as possible there.