Can Drones Shape The Future Of Civil Construction

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This article is the second in a 3 part series covering how drones are being used in insurance, civil construction, and mining, and how it affects the people and processes within these industries. This article has also been reposted on Linkedin.

In my last article, I spoke about how drones are currently being used by insurance providers, both for claim adjustments, underwriting, and damage assessments. In this article, I’ll focus more on how drones are being utilized within the construction industry to optimize production plans, mitigate losses, efficiently plan resources, and communicate progress to stakeholders. McKinsey Global Institute estimates that the the global construction industry will spend over $57 trillion on infrastructure projects before 2030. Companies are faced with such a large growth opportunity, but many have remained archaic in their methods, resulting in missing deadlines, cost overruns, and thinning margins. John Deere has partnered with Kespry to provide a seamless integration for their partners and customers, while Komatsu, one of Japan’s largest construction firms, just placed an order for 1000 high-precision drones from Skycatch and DJI. A growth opportunity of this magnitude presents benefits for all players in the industry to address major structural and procedural challenges.

Using systems currently available in the market, surveyors can get down to 2 cm of absolute accuracy, and cover over 150 acres in a 30 minute flight. Airware and Kespry are two of those companies currently providing both hardware and software solutions for surveyors to achieve this level of accuracy. The value proposition is simple. By using a drone to gather aerial analytics, surveyors are essentially capturing a snapshot of their site in time. By compiling these snapshots together, not only can surveyors see and share their progress over time visually, but they can gather in-depth analytics about how their cut and fill activities are performing, if they are on schedule in grading their site, and predict completion dates based on historical data.

Project Managers, Site Managers, and Surveyors are those primarily using drone technology today to address a lot of the issues affecting the construction industry. Project Managers are responsibly for building a plan and ensuring construction remains on schedule. Slight miscalculations early on can cause dramatic delays and cost overruns down the line. Site Managers ensure the construction site is within regulations, meets specifications, and ensure worker safety throughout the duration of the project. They use drones to check for drainage on site, where equipment is located, and ensure the safety of equipment and workers on site. Individual surveyors may also be brought in to measure cut and fill across a construction site. Armed with drone technology, they can quickly, easily, and accurately perform a volumetric analysis of a construction site and generate a progress report of cut fill activity on site at any given moment in time.

The process today is fairly straightforward and simple. Project Managers on site need to visualize and measure how their cut fill grading operations are performing. Many PM’s will fly the drone once a month over their site. Some will fly more often if they need to reach a specific deadline. Using that snapshot, and the resulting orthomosaic and 3D model, they can measure the volume of material that needs to be cut or filled in different areas around their site. Job-site managers can use heat maps to visualize the surface changes, measure the grade of a line, surface area, and perform a complete volumetric analysis. Armed with that knowledge, they can estimate how long it would take to grade the site based on how much equipment is available to them and how much material their vehicles can move per hour. Some of the more advanced tools such as Pix4D mapper can automatically measure the amount of material moved and estimate a completion date based on the site’s design plan. This tool along with various third party plugins also offer integrations to easily transfer data to downstream processing in traditional CAD software and project management tools. Common issues that arise throughout construction are geological surprises, the inability share frequent and accurate data, and disconnected project planning.

The future of drones within construction relies on companies focused on the data and analytics that can be attained using these new aerial tools. The more companies move away from being solely drone companies to be being aerial analytics companies, the sooner construction companies will begin to realize the immense potential these tools can provide. New technologies are already being implemented within the UAV space, like artificial intelligence and machine learning to improve performance and deliver accurate results. The rewards available to the companies bold enough to adopt this new technology are never ending. Teams will have better information, to make better decisions, and deliver results. They’ll have the competitive advantage of being leaders that shape the path to where the construction industry will be decades from now.

That’s all for today, but check back next week for the other posts in this series:
How Insurance Companies Are Using Drone Technology To Quickly Address Claims
Mine Planning, Safety, And Regulations Meets Drones


Jay Mulakala has been exploring the drone industry for over 4 years, most recently as the Product Manager at Kespry, working to help build the next generation of cloud applications within Aggregates and Mining, Construction, and Insurance. Jay has also co-founded FreeSkies, a Bay-area drone startup that revolutionized consumer drones for use in professional photography and videography. He is a Part 107 certified remote pilot and offers private aerial photography and videography services through Skyfran Aerial Photography and Videography. He has also been rated as one of the most viewed writers in Drones in Quora. Find out more at

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