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By Hildy Medina
May 8, 2017
As more construction companies use drones to act as the canary in the coal mine, advances in drone technology are taking worker safety to greater heights.
You’re looking up at a 60-ft. water tower where a painting project is in full swing, however, instead of a painting crew standing on scaffolding high above the ground, there are a pair of drones doing the work. The idea may seem a little far-fetched, but one company is working on making it a reality.
Currently, the pre-production drone model known as the Worker Bee, can only paint buildings up to three stories high. The drone’s maker, Apellix, is aiming to develop a Worker Bee that can paint skyscrapers, bridges, and other tall structures––eventually eliminating the need for scaffolding.
“At Apellix we develop technology to keep workers safe,” notes the company’s website. “The Worker Bee eliminates the need to place workers at dangerous heights.”
Falls from construction work kill more people each year than all the other leading causes of worker deaths combined. In 2015, of the 937 construction-related deaths, 364 were from falls.
The Worker Bee is just one example of how drones can potentially change the way safety looks on a construction site. It’s also indicative of one of the area’s where the rapidly advancing drone technology is potentially heading.
While the most talked about use for drones remains future home delivery, it’s how they are being used on construction sites ––from inspections to capturing real-time data––that is sparking newer, more exciting innovations.
One of the most advanced and user-friendly drones to land recently is the automated Kespry Drone 2S. It can take off and fly a mission along a designated path with just a few clicks on your iPad. A Google Maps app pops up on your iPad, allowing the operator to plot out a specific area. The drone will tell you how long the “mission” will take and show you the plan; all the user has to do now is click “fly.”
The drone can map 60 acres in one 20-minute flight and measure a stockpile volume in a matter of seconds. This is a hazardous job that could typically take two weeks to do and now only takes minutes! The data is timely and it’s all stored in the Kespry cloud, where it’s easily accessible and can be used for cutting costs, improving productivity, and enhancing safety.
Industry insiders say drone technology is only starting to scratch the surface and the potential benefits of unmanned aircraft is huge. Will your company be riding the drone technology wave?
If you’re not riding the wave, your competitors may likely be if the projected growth of commercial drone use is any indication. The business of unmanned aircraft is expected to expand by more than 6,000 percent by the end of the decade. Globally, it is currently estimated at about $2 billion and is expected to balloon to as much as $127 billion by 2020, according to a 2016 report by consulting group PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP.
Still, even as the construction industry recognizes the drone’s great potential, the Federal Aviation Administration has recently taken a tougher stance on drone regulation. For many years, small drones under 55 pounds, were governed by a one page FAA advisory circular written for model airplanes. It wasn’t until 2013, that the agency began requiring a private pilot’s license to fly a drone for commercial use. Last August, the FAA’s new 624-page rulebook governing drones went into effect.
So what does this mean for the future of unmanned aircraft on construction sites? The good news is that the agency appears to be taking an open-minded approach to the commercial use of drones.
One of the biggest changes the agency made was lifting the requirement that drone operators must have a private pilot’s license when it’s being used for commercial purposes. The FAA is also allowing for waivers in certain situations. For example, a roofing contractor using a drone to inspect a building more than four stories tall could obtain a waiver to deviate from the regulation––as long as the operation can still be performed safely.
It’s exciting to envision the future of drones and at the forefront of this transformative technology is the construction industry.
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