Much has been written about how Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs, commonly known as “drones”) are set to transform the construction industry. From surveying and mapping to performing dangerous tasks, nothing in recent history has offered so much futuristic potential as the application of drone technology.
In light of GLE’s recent investment in a drone, our team got to thinking about how these wonders of modern technology will shape the construction site of the future. It struck us that at least three of our expected changes could be… a little bizarre. But have no doubt—this is happening, and it’s good news for property owners and developers.
Remember in the movie Wall-E, how when you finally see the humans, they’re all lying on floating recliners sipping milkshakes, and growing ever-more-obese? When drones become common on the construction site, one thing that’s going to happen is visual inspections are going to be replaced by video inspections. Instead of stomping around the site, project managers are going to spend a lot of time in a chair in front of a monitor.
This is certainly a major advantage for construction companies that embrace the technology. Inspections can happen more quickly, and therefore more of them can be completed, and therefore the work can be expedited and mistakes found more easily. For owners and developers, it’s even better news—it means your project is likely to stay on schedule and encounter fewer expensive mistakes.
But for the project managers, who currently burn off all those tacos and sodas by walking the site, it means their hands-on outdoor job just became a desk job. Sure, there will still be times when a project manager’s expertise is needed on-site and up close, but when 90% of the job can be completed by watching a video screen, the choice becomes one more taco or five more pounds.
Those same drones that allow a project manager to quickly inspect any aspect of the site’s progress, can provide the same information to owners. And once an owner gets used to that? Bad news for poor contractors and subcontractors. Good news for you.
To be fair, providing real-time visual progress reports to owners quickly and inexpensively can be a boon to good contractors. They can replace frequent, time-consuming in-person site tours with self-guided visual tours that owners can access at any time of day or night.
On the other hand, it also means that you’re going to more easily see any mistakes and shortcuts, and notice how often construction staff is standing around doing nothing. This allows you as the owner or developer to much more effectively hold your construction team accountable, while simultaneously enjoying peace of mind when the project is going well.
A successful construction project lives and dies by the schedule. Owners lose money for every day the project runs over. The fact that contractors usually have to compensate the owner for the financial loss doesn’t make it easy to stomach delayed production, angry tenants, and missed occupancy dates.
A construction project with an experienced schedule manager and qualified oversight can reduce some of the schedule risk, but even a well-managed construction project will have its hair-pulling moments. A subcontractor who doesn’t wrap up on time, a subcontractor who doesn’t show up with the right people or equipment, mistakes, changes—all of these things can derail a project and send everyone scurrying to find a way to get it completed on time.
Drones have the potential to eliminate many of these causes of schedule delays. Real-time drone video can alert supervisors and project managers immediately to potential trouble spots, allowing them to respond quickly to resolve the issue and move the project forward. This is bound to make owners happier, and allow schedule managers to grow that full head of hair they’ve been longing for.
Fatter managers, hairier schedule managers, and pickier owners? We think they’re coming. What about you? What do you see as the biggest (or weirdest) changes drones will bring to the construction industry?
Bob Greene, PE, PG, CIH, LEED AP
As the founder and president of GLE, Bob Greene leads a highly diverse team of architects, engineers, environmental consultants, and construction experts to design fast and effective property solutions. He has served in the architecture, engineering, environmental consulting and remediation, and general construction arenas for nearly 40 years.