The use of drones and UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) has been a somewhat controversial topic. A recent joint study by the Pew Research Center and Smithsonian magazine found that while 59 percent of Americans feel that most changes in technology are leading to a better future, 63 percent said that future would be worse if the U.S. opened airspace to personal and commercial drones. Many believe that the use of these unmanned small aircraft will lead to decreased personal privacy and could lead to many safety concerns. Related safety item: Safety Helmets.
We would like to thank Equipment World for this informative article on Drones in Construction.
Despite the public’s concerns, many in the construction industry are finding that drones and UAVs can play a vital role in their work.
These small aircraft have many uses on the job site. Some tasks that they can be used for include: surveying land, showing clients or potential clients an aerial view of completed projects, for monitoring jobsites to better ensure safe practices, inspections (such as bridges or other structures that can be difficult to inspect), and much, much more.
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The biggest obstacle facing contractors interested in exploring this technology is legality. The Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) prohibits the use of all unmanned aircraft for commercial use without the agency’s express approval. The agency lumps both UAVs and drones under the single category of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS). However, they’ve done so with guidelines originally designed for model aircraft and the definition of “commercial use” isn’t always cut and dry. With the exception of a few experimental and academic research approvals granted by the agency, the result has been several UAV pilots receiving cease-and-desist letters and, in some cases, lawsuits from the FAA, though at least one of those incidents have been struck down by federal judges. Even drone schools, degree programs where students learn to pilot the aircraft, aren’t allowed to fly drones at all, forcing instructors to teach using simulators.
Another obstacle facing the use of drones and UAVs is public perception and concern. Many people worry that these drones can be used to spy on them or invade their privacy. Many have a negative perception of drones and this perception will be something that will prove difficult to overcome, especially when the FAA is still deciding on how to further regulate these aircraft.
Current Drone Users
Javier Irizarry is one of the few people who have received permission from the federal government to fly UAVs at work. As an associate professor at Georgia Tech’s School of Building and Construction, Irizarry and the CONECTech construction technology lab he directs received a $75,000 grant from the Federal Highway Administration and the Georgia Department of Transportation last year to study the potential uses of UAVs in highway construction and monitoring.
“Once the FAA finalizes its regulations, a gun’s going to go off and everybody’s going to race. There are already academic programs that we’ve seen. (Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University) already has a drone degree,” Irizarry explains. “I’m sure that you know how surveyors used to use a simple measuring line. Now they use total stations and GPS rovers. You can imagine a specialty trade would adopt something like this to maybe do surveys with UAVs. Some will add the technology to professions that already exist but new professions or trades could arise that use just the UAV.”
Overall, once the FAA has implemented more defined regulations, we could see much more widespread use of drones and UAV’s on jobsites. Some are already trying start their own drone surveying companies. Drones and UAV’s may one day become a key, instrumental tool on all jobsites.