In the drone

Previously only commonly used in the military, the benefits of using drones is becoming increasingly clear to a diverse range of sectors. Dave Bush, Director at Future Aerial, discusses the huge potential of using drones in the construction industry

The utilisation of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), otherwise known as drones, has grown rapidly over recent years, with industries including agriculture, power, infrastructure and mining, realising the benefits of surveying and inspecting assets via consistent data capture, analysis and delivery. Additionally, drones provide footage at sporting events, are used in films and advertisements and can help in search and rescue operations.

Another industry to notice the huge potential in using drones is construction, with companies realising that drones can assist with activities such as site inspection, planning and health and safety thanks to their ability to deliver a bird’s eye view of the entire construction area. In more detail, drones can be used to quickly and efficiently survey a job site and build maps; this service drastically reduces the need for human resources, heavy machinery and expensive surveying tools, which means surveying projects are completed in half the time, with less money spent and with more accurate results. They can also be used to show clients progress of the project, monitor sites and keep the project both on track and to budget.

Able to provide 360-degree views, drones offer customers an immersive experience and point out potential hazards on site; they can also closely examine high risk areas and swift overviews of large areas and increase safety by showing where different projects are taking place.

Spearheading this revolution in the construction industry is Future Aerial, a company that has a history in mapping and survey, with an early focus in quarries and mining. The company is delivering a world first solution to large construction companies that recognise they can use drones to check the condition of bridges, pylons and other types of infrastructure without sending helicopters or people up into the sky to take photographs. By building a network and bespoke cloud based technology, the British based start-up firm can deliver high quality data in the same format, or an ‘Uber for drones’ for the B2B community.

Looking back on the developments that led Future Aerial into the construction arena, Dave comments: “Having completed some world first mapping projects in African mines we started applying some of the photogrammetry techniques common in mapping and began using these on multirotor platforms creating 3D models for a wide variety of inspection applications, growing the team and technology within the company. Future Aerial is now predominantly focused on innovation in infrastructure, construction and energy sectors working closely with some of the world’s largest clients such as Costain on projects including Crossrail and Hinckley Point C. Operating the world’s 1st Drone Operations Network (DON™), allows Future Aerial to deliver to clients nationally and internationally.

“We are focused on both managed drone services and the technology surrounding it and have a core internal team of very experienced operators and GIS analysts; we also have a carefully vetted network of operators within the DON that provides our extensive geographical reach and wide variety of capabilities. The cloud technology we have developed, FDC (Future Drone Cloud), enables clients to easily commission services, helps us manage field operations, process large amounts of data and deliver to our clients in a consistent and regulated workflow. At this stage it would be hard to conceive of any drone service company successfully competing without cloud based processing solutions purely down to the vast amount of data that is collected.”

He continues: “The innovation side of our business is based around providing consultancy and R&D, which often includes alliances with clients, regulators and hardware/software companies. In the process of exploring complex proof of concept work we strip back the processes so that these can be delivered through the DON via step flow training and ultimately a turnkey commercialised product.

The type of services we undertake can range from flood mapping to complex industrial asset inspections, our most common deliverables would be: Digital Terrain Model, Digital Surface Model, Volumetric calculations, Topographic Mapping, Monitoring, Point Cloud and 3D Visualisation,” Launched December 2015, Future Aerial’s groundbreaking DON model is coupled with Future Drone Cloud, the company’s cloud based technology, to enable any commercial business in any sector to commission multiple fleets of drones at any time. The introduction of this innovative technology means companies within the construction industry, particularly large blue chip companies that are involved in major infrastructure projects, no longer have to suffer varying levels of quality when it comes to data capture, analysis or delivery to complete a job and can instead receive data of a consistently high standard.

“In simple terms, drones can now offer very accurate situational awareness across much of the construction life cycle. From basic aerial photography of a construction site to gain increased health and safety perspective through to high accuracy volumetric calculations that can give exact information of where material is being extracted from and to, all within a fraction of the time and cost of traditional methods,” says Dave. “The most vital part of applying drone technology is understanding what kind of data is possible and what outputs are most appropriate for a specific purpose. Once you have a site mapped using techniques like stereo photogrammetry there are a great many possible outputs that can be exported for a wide variety of applications, topographical, volumetric, monitoring etc. During 2016 we have noticed a real increase in an appetite for complex outputs such as point cloud data being mixed with terrestrial scan data for BIM and architectural design applications.”

With the hype and noise surrounding drones currently at fever point and drone technology continuing to develop at a strong pace, the construction industry looks set to go through a period of transformation as conservative companies increasingly realise the benefits of using drones during projects. “Companies are already establishing internal drone divisions and this will almost certainly be the norm in the future but I believe that it will be survey companies who understand the nuances of applying the technology who will shoulder the bulk of the work as contractors at this point. We are also seeing a convergence of early adopters merging and much more activity around JV’s and partnerships,” says Dave.

“However, the future of drones in construction will not only depend on regulation from groups like the CAA but also standards authorities such as RICS will determine the speed of innovation and uptake. Setting standards for the quality of data and accuracies will open up the future of drone use in construction, standardising outputs and keeping clearly defined quality control measures in place,” he concludes.