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Drones in construction

Drones in construction

By Jorge Gómez, ACCIONA Innovation Manager – Head of tunnels and railway research.

Drone technology, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), is used for different reasons in the construction industry. As a tool that improves communication, safety, and marketing, the use of drones in construction can offer many advantages; capturing real-time images from the field.

In the last few years, drones have helped make several improvements in construction, from increased accuracy in reporting, to improving safety conditions, to cutting costs and increasing efficiency. 

While the uses of drones do not include the actual labour phase of construction, they play a huge role in the planning and analysis process because they can provide an aerial view of a site at a comparatively smaller amount of the cost of the construction. We are currently using drone technology for various activities in the construction sector, such as photogrammetric flights and photographic reports, both for drafting new bids and works in progress; volume calculations, structural inspections, monitoring works progress, assessing the environmental impacts associated with a project’s construction, or taking soundings on mountainsides.

The use of this technology, which has already been implemented on various company projects in Spain and abroad as part of ACCIONA’s commitment to innovation and the digital transformation, aims to leverage the benefits of mass data capture to digitize and optimize existing construction processes. The countries where ACCIONA has already implemented the use of works site drones include Canada, New Zealand, Norway, Denmark and Panama.

We love to be one step ahead and we have used drones during the tunnel construction phase to obtain digital models. This technology, which can be used on tunnel projects excavated by conventional methods (explosives, hammers or cutters) as well as on underground mining projects, can be supplemented with photographic resources to regularly monitor a project. 

Tripod-based laser scanner systems are currently used, supplemented with conventional topography, to obtain digital models of the inside of tunnels under construction. Unfortunately, these methods are time-consuming and not very versatile, which is not very compatible with the production performance of these works, reducing their effectiveness.

However, by using drones in tunnels, a regular digital record of the works can be created to analyze any variations against the project’s specifications, such as the volume of material excavated, the consumption of inputs, execution deadlines, incidents, etc.

The use of drones to create digital models of tunnels is an alternative solution to conventional systems and responds to the needs of the business. The versatility and efficiency of this technology has made drones an extremely useful tool that can be replicated across all ACCIONA’s tunnel projects.

In addition, ACCIONA’s Construction Technology Centre, located in Spain, is researching other benefits that this technology can provide in digitization processes in construction. 

Moreover, we continue to explore the latest technologies from the Digital Innovation Hub of the Innovation Department. Technologies such as long-distance military drones, underwater drones, efficient point cloud processing software, automatic extraction and modeling … are tested to capture, process data and generate content for business applications.

Therefore, ACCIONA is constantly developing innovative applications based on drone technology in order to collect real time data about major transport projects, which will help their managers to understand what is happening on site. The aerial information will enable to monitor progress and help to detect incidents earlier before they become costly or slow down the project execution.

With the development of technology and the price reduction of these devices, drones are showing great effectiveness in terms of possibility and accuracy: activities that otherwise would be impossible, such as entering through the interior of very deep cavities as we have seen or their ability of these machines to remain motionless in space.  

In fact, modern drones offer a wide range of possibilities in the construction field. Their versatility, ease of use, economy and precision make them a clearly advantageous option over traditional procedures and with technology improving for drones every year, they look set to help construction industry even more over the coming years  and are already a reality in the daily life of our construction projects in the Middle East region.  

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