Licensed Drone Pilots providing aerial photos are helping construction companies find new ways to save money and increase profits.
Recent advances in drone technology and cloud-based imaging are making huge changes in the construction industry. Essential tasks that once took days and often cost thousands of dollars to complete can now be done in hours at a fraction of the cost. As a result, construction companies that utilize drones in their project workflow are gaining a huge advantage over those that don’t. Armed with the proper software and tools, a licensed drone pilot can bring efficiency and massive cost cutting throughout a project from pre-bid inspection to final completion.
Here are 3 Ways Drones Can Save You Big $ on Your Next Construction Project
Pre-bid Job Site Inspection
Traditionally, when a company uses aerial imagery in a construction bid it is either pulled from satellite imagery or if higher resolution and current accuracy is needed, it is contracted through a pilot flying a helicopter or Cessna airplane. The low cost benefits of satellite maps are often overshadowed by a lack of current data and accuracy. Hiring a pilot can ensure the latest images but rarely goes beyond a few static images and can’t produce the finer detail provided by drone imagery.
Drones can quickly create high resolution orthomosaic maps, 3D models, point clouds and elevation mapping all before the proposal is sent to the client. Armed with drone imagery and data, construction companies can accurately estimate material volume needed for both fill and removal, equipment needs and other project expenses. The low cost of the drone flight can be quickly recovered through the value of a higher quality bid.
From a sales perspective, the company that comes to the table with 3D models, topo maps, accurate resource predictions and annotated surveys is going to look much better than the company with nothing more than basic satellite imagery.
Consider the cost of a traditional site survey. For example, an 80-acre site with GPS points in a 50 x 50 grid would require approximately 1,600 GPS points. A survey team placing a point every three minutes would need 80 hours to complete the job. At a cost of $150/hour, it would cost $12,000 to complete the survey. It would take a two-man team working without break 80 hours just to place the GPS points. Add additional time for mapping, drawings or other data processing.
A drone service provider with proper tools could conduct that same survey in about a day for a fraction of the cost.
For our drone survey, to increase accuracy we would still need a handful of Ground Control Points (GCPs). GCPs will increase accuracy to 2-3cm. Just to be safe, for the job above, let’s place 10 GCPs. Since the GCPs will be scattered throughout the site we will give our survey crew three hours to complete the job.
While the survey team sets their GCPs, the drone service provider checks airspace, programs the flight and conducts any other preflight operations. Total time needed, less than one hour.
Once ground control points are in place, the drone service provider flies site capturing approximately 1,000 images. Total time on site: 1 hour.
Drone service provider uploads images to a cloud-based imaging system. Images are processed by cloud-based server and results received within 24 hours. Check points are used to confirm accuracy. Drone service provider emails shareable links to the online orthographic map, customizable elevation heat map, 3D model and more. These maps can be annotated and users can conduct highly accurate measurements including volume. Point clouds, shape files, ArcGIS or DXF files (for AutoCAD compatibility) can be downloaded and imported into other programs as needed.
The final orthographic image can consist of more than 1 million key points compared to the 1,600 points placed by our traditional survey team.
Total time start to completion: 24hrs
Total Cost: $1-$2,000
Time Saved: 2 weeks
Total $ Saved: $10,000
Site Inspection and Asset Management
For a company managing multiple projects, there often isn’t enough time in the day for proper site monitoring and management. In a typical day, construction project managers travel to their sites, check to make sure all necessary materials have been delivered, equipment is where it needs to be, walk the site to review progress and tackle any problems that may prevent the project from moving forward. These can be time-consuming tasks and with multiple sites to manage, even the smallest problem can cause a delay on other inspections and projects.
And while a drone can’t replace the need for on the ground inspections, they can significantly reduce the number of on the ground inspections needed.
Once again, a drone service provider can provide much of the information and data needed in a fraction of the time that would be required by project manager on site.
In this example, let’s say we have a 20 acre site. Throughout the course of the project, grading work will be done, heavy machinery will need to be moved requiring access routes around trees and other obstacles, delivery of building materials will need to be confirmed along with a number of other project management tasks.
Let’s look at how a drone service provider could help with this job.
It would take a drone service provider less than 30 minutes to fly the site from start to finish. Depending on location and travel time, imagery and maps as described above could be delivered to the client on the same day as the flight (since this is for monitoring, we are not using GCPs which increases processing time).
Using drone imagery, along with tracking progress the project manager can:
- Confirm that heavy machinery has arrived on site
- Identify hidden obstacles that could restrict machinery movement
- Measure supplies on site such as fill dirt, stone and lumber to ensure that project has necessary materials and reorder if necessary
- Review 3D models to visualize progress
- Utilize aerial virtual tours for a highly detailed view of the entire site
- Track tire patterns in dirt to see where work is being done
- Provide square footage measurements to contractors such as landscaping or pavement crews
- Annotate imagery and highlight data to share with others who can also comment and add annotations as needed
All of this can be completed without leaving the home office.
The only other way to do remote monitoring of this sort would require hiring a helicopter which provides the steady platform needed. On average, you can expect to pay at least $600/hour for helicopter photography. Flying two flights per month, over the course of a six-month project you would spend $7,200 in helicopter photography.
Because a drone service provider doesn’t have near the expenses needed to maintain and fly a manned helicopter, he can provide the same photos as a helicopter photographer along with the orthographic images, 3D modeling, elevation mapping or any of the other monitoring data mentioned above at a much lower cost. Typical costs for monitoring a project of this size would run around $2,000 for the entire six months through a drone service provider.
Total Cost for 6 month Drone Site Monitoring: $3000
Total Cost for Helicopter Site Photography, 6-month project: $7,200
Total Saved: $4,200
Total saved monitoring four construction sites: $16,800
These are only a few examples of how a drone service provider can save money on a construction project. This is a rapidly developing field and new technologies and applications are being developed at a break-neck pace. As you can see, the cost of hiring a drone pilot can be quickly justified when compared to traditional construction workflows and processes.
Why Do I Need to Hire a Drone Pilot? Why Can’t I Just Fly it Myself?
At first glance, it would seem simple enough to purchase a drone and just fly it yourself. And while on the surface that may make sense, the FAA has made it very clear that drones used for commercial purposes must be flown by a FAA Licensed UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems) Pilot. They have also made it clear that commercial use includes anything that has to do with business in any way, shape or form. Even a picture taken with a kids toy drone and used on a Facebook business page counts as “commercial use.”
Along with legal issues, there is a practical need to hire a licensed pilot. A licensed drone pilot is going to be able to identify any issues regarding public airspace. Just like airplanes and jets, drones are required to follow FAA rules regarding air traffic and air space . The last thing you want to do is to unknowingly fly a drone in restricted airspace. If your construction site is in restricted airspace, a licensed drone pilot will be able to request and receive an exemption from the FAA to conduct the flight.
A licensed drone pilot has also studied drone safety procedures, knows the requirements of a safe flight and should have an emergency procedure in place. Along with safety procedures, commercial drone pilots should also provide liability insurance specific to drone operations.
Finally, a good drone pilot will have workflows and procedures in place to capture and deliver the data you need. When you hire a drone pilot, you are hiring an expert knows the specific flight characteristics of the drone, how to program flights so that they capture the data needed and how to create and process the imagery needed for high quality orthographic maps, surveys and other construction needs.
Special Offer – Free Project Analysis
Contact us today at Jim@Chesapeakeaerialphoto.com for a free construction drone project analysis. We will take a look at your current workflows and needs and show you how our drone services can save you money. If we can’t save at least $1,000 on traditional construction tasks that can be completed with a drone, your first flight’s on us.