Tech Innovation

UAV technology provides valuable data to construction companies

The drone at the heart of construction

No technology currently in use in the construction industry can collect more information quickly and safely than unmanned aircraft. UAV technology is advancing rapidly and manufacturers are taking full advantage of it. UAVs are used to gather a wide range of information, including site topography, project progress and quality control.

“The information we can provide to customers now includes detailed mapping and 3D modeling, as well as videos and photos,” said Jason Wise, UAS Program Manager at Terracon. “Manned aircraft have always been able to provide aerial photography and mapping products, but unmanned aircraft are lower and cheaper, which means they can provide much more detail and fly much more often than manned aircraft.

What is the most common use of UAV technology?

Perhaps the most common use of UAV technology is for project monitoring and inspections. With a drone, builders can regularly inspect all angles of a project to check its progress and quality.

“Nothing excites a homeowner more than seeing his project unfold at various stages, especially if it is impossible for him to visit the site regularly,” said Wayne Bell, President of LGE Design Build. “Associated with on-site timelapse boxes that provide live feeds and are accessible from anywhere with Wi-Fi or GSM coverage, LGE Design Build uses UAV technology to capture a 360-degree view of our projects.

And BIM in all this!

According to Steve Berry, BIM manager of Kitchell Integrated Services, these regular UAV flights collect information that helps builders better track the use of materials on their construction site. They also offer the possibility of having an interactive 3D tool that allows teams to quickly locate a hidden element. Steve Berry said smaller drones are being developed, and they will fly like a swarm of bees, with several small drones moving together.

“If they become smaller and smarter, it would be convenient and useful to use them,” said Steve Berry. “Launch them after the site closes, send them down a path and they walk through a building, photographing everything in their path. In one night, you could have documented everything. The next night, you could do the same thing.

What can you do with a drone?

Site monitoring is the most common use for drones, but they can also collect information on parcels of land before they are selected for development. UAVs equipped with LiDAR technology will fly over an area and explore the landscape. This technology allows topographic information to be collected in the field, even if it is covered with vegetation, to reveal possible hidden problems.

Unknown civil and earthmoving requirements on a large site can pose a significant risk to project owners and the contractor. Once the site is selected and the study is ready to begin, the drones can provide investigators with more data, which is then transmitted to the manufacturer.

Wise and Terracon are developing their own UAV technology to generate 3D models of rock formations so that engineers can analyze site stability, map large parcels of land for environmental work and produce thermal infrared photographs of buildings. Some drones use certain thermal infrared technologies, which fly near buildings and scan them to detect any temperature changes caused by air leaks.

The use of this technology is not as simple as buying a drone, strapping a camera and broadcasting it in the air. All drone pilots must be certified to fly. They may not fly drones on persons or in occupied airspace without authorization. The pilot must keep the drone in sight, which can be difficult around buildings.

In addition to the practical challenges, UAV technology is limited by short battery life, radio interference and mechanical failures. In addition, companies must find ways to analyze and store all the data collected.

All these problems are minor compared to the benefits that companies see from using drones in the field.

“Safety is the real advantage of construction today,” said Root. “An example would be the verification of roof conditions. If you can go there with a drone, you don’t have to send someone to inspect it. You can go there, investigate the situation and develop a plan to solve the problem. And do it without sending someone on an elevator or a ladder.

On November 17, the British Institute of Structural Engineers announced the winners of its Structural Awards. The projects, located around the world, included a floating roof for a football stadium in Bilbao, Spain, an easily transportable and modular stage structure for Adele’s Tour 25, and a Bahá’í temple in Chile, both elegant and earthquake-resistant. Despite the diversity of these projects, they have in common artistic creativity. They push the boundaries of construction technologies to bring to life today the utopian projects of yesterday.

Technological innovations are well underway in all sectors. If you are active in architecture, engineering or construction, there is a good chance that something new will soon come on the market and improve the quality, aesthetics or profitability of your projects, as we have seen in these eight inventions that influenced the year 2017.

Technological innovations in the construction industry

Greener asphalt

Since the 1960s, the construction sector has been successfully using recycled rubber, mainly from used tires, as an additive for asphalt to improve its quality while reducing costs and waste. In recent years, this practice has been extended to recycled bottles and other single-use plastics.

The city of Rotterdam, in the Netherlands, has even proposed to build a new bicycle path using only plastic blocks nested inside each other, in the same way as LEGOs. And recycled materials, plastic and rubber are not the only ones used as additives in asphalt. Researchers at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, have shown that adding cigarette butts can improve road quality while retaining heavy metals. In Sydney, recycled ink toners are incorporated into an environmentally friendly mix for asphalt.

Printed concrete bridges

Additive concrete printers are no longer really new (Redshift first mentioned this technology in 2014), but a real turning point occurred in 2017, with the construction of not one, but two in situ printed walkways.

The first, a pedestrian footbridge in Madrid inspired by the Gaudí style, was designed by the Institute of Specialised Architecture of Catalonia. The second, a bicycle bridge in the Netherlands, was designed and built by engineers from the Eindhoven University of Technology and the construction company BAM Infra.

3D printing offers many advantages in these cases: the structures only require the amount of cement that will be used (reducing carbon dioxide emissions), do not require any formwork (and therefore less waste) and can take forms that until now, only the magic of the special effects of cinema made it possible to imagine.

Construction site robots

In 2017, the principles that have proven their worth in semi-automated equipment (graders, wheel loaders, backhoes, etc.) were further developed and extended to robotic and autonomous control technologies.

Several new applications are already being implemented on construction sites. An example is SAM (Semi-Automated Mason), the bricklaying robot that works alongside human masons to increase productivity and reduce physical fatigue among workers. There is also Built Robotics’ stand-alone charger, which uses LIDAR and GPS technologies, as well as digital files, to guide you on a construction site and perform necessary earthmoving tasks.

And many other construction robots are at work, such as trucks, dump trucks and even a 320-ton “mega rigid dump truck” that is self-piloted. A fleet of these giants is currently deployed by the Australian company Rio Tinto for these mining operations and controlled remotely from the company’s headquarters in Perth, more than 1,500 km from the site.

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