In recent years, one of the most interesting but also mysterious advances in technology has been drones, which have evolved from mainly military purposes to a variety of commercial, recreational and other uses.

What was once grounded in science fiction has now become reality, as drones become more advanced yet more accessible, and also cheaper to purchase and operate.

Many industries have taken advantage, with agriculture employing their use to monitor fields, crops and livestock and photographers using them to snap hitherto inaccessible areas, but one area with multiple uses for them is construction.

Eyes in the sky
For many years, speculative building projects that required aerial photography would need the use of a plane or helicopter, which would understandably come at a significant cost and would cause some projects to be scaled back and prevent some from going ahead at all.

The much higher return on investment through using human-operated aerial drones and the associated reduction in the possibility of an error being made – as is common with human fly-bys – has seen the use of drones for this purpose increase in recent times.

Planning and blueprints
From an architectural perceptive, it can be both costly and difficult to construct a visual representation of a building, but drones employed with ultra high definition 4K cameras can transmit data directly to the ground, where it can be fed into software that creates plans in seconds.

Likewise, when it comes to inspecting existing buildings to inform a decision about expanding or demolishing a structure, drones have the ability to fly literally within inches of the building. This not only provides an advantage over large manned aircraft, but also reduces the need to send human inspectors out to the property and the associated safety costs.

While we are some way off drones carrying tonnes of metal through the air to a construction site, Amazon’s trials of drones to make deliveries is evidence that the technology is capable of easing pressure on the construction supply chain.

Having a drone onsite that is capable of moving essential material from one place to another and locating it accurately at varying height levels can significantly reduce the need for larger vehicles to be used and also free up space on the ground, enabling projects to go ahead more smoothly.

For documents such as schematics or contracts, drones would be well placed to help avoid any gaps in communication and ensure a more continuous flow of activity, although it remains to be seen whether payloads of more than a few kilos will be possible in the years ahead.

Safety and security
With safety a key concern on any construction project, having the ability to monitor every aspect of the site in real time and with high-quality cameras can help to boost security significantly.

This can not only ensure that both staff and site visitors are secure, but also means that those with unauthorised access are kept out, and that valuable materials and equipment onsite are protected.

By Liam O’Hara, marketing director at SIG Building Solutions