PlanGrid Construction Productivity Blog
How drones in construction are revolutionizing projects and saving money

How Drones in Construction Revolutionize Projects and Save Money [Supergraphic]

Why You Should Consider Investing in Robotics for the Job Site

You’ve probably seen drones used in aerial photographybut drones in construction? The conspiracy theorists would have you believe that drones in the workforce are the first step in the robot takeover and that we’re just one machine mishap away from waking up on a Matrix-style human farm. Nutrient baths for all.

The good news? While that image is admittedly frightening, the reality is much friendlier. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), usually shortened to the colloquial term “drones,” are an increasingly useful device in the contractor’s toolkit. As construction continues to get more advanced, rich media, data and images will play an increasingly important role in a construction company’s productivity, and in turn, their ability to compete. In fact, drones are poised to present one of the biggest revolutions in construction, which has remained stuck in analog mode for longer than most other industries.

The unmanned workforce is just coming into its own, and it’s time you stepped on board. If you’re looking to increase construction productivity, without noticeably raising construction costs, drones may just be part of the solution. Sure, they represent a significant upfront investment, but they have the potential to quickly pay themselves off via the massive leaps forward they offer.

Below, we’ll give you a bird’s eye view of what drones are, how they can be used in construction, which technologies are being implemented and fine-tuned already, how drones help cut costs and what potential dangers they pose. You can also take a look at (and share) our supergraphic to learn how drones can specifically fit into every stage of construction.

drones in construction supergraphic

Robots in the Workforce

Drones aren’t the first machines to enter the construction “workforce”. In fact, automation already has a time-honored place in the construction industry ever since the invention of heavy machinery in the early 20th century. Nonetheless, it’s not the same as robotics, which brings an element of added intelligence to building which historically has not been present.

Good thing, too, considering rampant misuse of time and funds in the industry. According to Robotics Online, “Construction is a $10 trillion global industry, but it’s plagued by inefficiency. The U.S. construction industry has nearly 200,000 unfilled positions. On average, 98% of construction megaprojects go over budget. Inefficient processes, major potential savings from productivity gains, and widespread labor shortages–construction is an environment ripe for automation.”

Fortune adds, “The American Institute of Architects believes building-related waste makes up anywhere from 25% to 40% of America’s solid-waste stream. With construction spending in the U.S. totaling $1.13 trillion this year, those losses add up to more than $160 billion in waste—and that’s just in America.”

If automation has proven one thing, it’s that it is collectively better at preventing waste than fallible people. Not only that, automation can improve safety to statistically significant degrees as well.

However, as construction sites get more complex, roboticized workflows are the key to improving safety and work conditions for humans. Think about it. Robots aren’t afraid of heights, can’t die, don’t suffer chronic use injuries, and are faster and more accurate than any human can hope to be. It’s only natural that we take these robots to the air eventually.

Enter drones in construction.

Drones in Construction: The Industry’s Latest Revolution

While automation is an old hat in the industry, drones are just now entering their heyday as one of the most powerful tools in the construction industry across the globe.

As SmartBid explained back in 2014, “It may be a bit eerie to think about a flying ‘robot’ that can process information quickly and potentially take a snapshot of you from a bird’s eye view. However, drones are now becoming more useful in ways that were never thought possible. With a camera attached to it, a drone can easily maneuver in and out of construction job sites while giving the architects and construction crew footage of their work from a different perspective.”

In fact, drones are proving early usefulness in related industrial fields as well, including farming and firefighting. Indeed any industry that requires a wide angle on a large site or plot of land can potentially benefit from either a manned or unmanned aerial vehicle. In the case of construction, as it is already so hamstrung by its dependence on labor, unmanned is probably the better way to go.

Interwoven Technologies

Combined with other innovations in technology and communication, drones in construction will likely improve efficiency to an even greater degreeand they’re already starting to do so. Mobile phones and tablets have proven particularly impactful, as have global positioning and applications such as Skype. Now the question becomes: how will these technologies continue to expand in the future, and how likely they are to interweave with the developments in drone technology?

First and foremost, communication technologies can be seamlessly linked to drones, so that, for instance, a large group of workers can view and analyze the imagery a drone produces all at once. Construction personnel can all see the footage in real time, while talking over a video conferencing application and piloting the drone as they speak, allowing them to address concerns and issues in the moment.

In addition to improving overall communication, drones in construction can also increase access to and accuracy of surveying data, building inspections, site monitoring, safety compliance, records and more.

A Cost-Saving Measure? Maybe Not Now, But Soon

Aerial imagery and coordination has heretofore been a relatively ambitious prospect simply because buying or renting flying equipment is incredibly expensive. Typically, companies don’t opt out of aerial imagery because they don’t want it, it’s because they generally cannot afford to do it. On the other hand, drones, which are smaller, lighter and easier to maneuver by one person, change that.

Of course, that doesn’t mean drones can be entirely left to their own devices; they do require oversight. No, not because they’re going to form evil robot armies, but instead because they still need human direction. However, this direction requires a significantly smaller time and cost outlay than aerial imagery and communication previously required. That’s mainly because a drone is generally a much more compact and mobile piece of equipment with a simplified structure and operational requirement than an airplane, helicopter or other flying machines.

Drone pilots aren’t cheap, though. Estimates for salaries could climb to $50 an hour or $100,000 a year for true expertise, estimates UAV fleet coordinator, Kingsley Chen. Nevertheless, sophisticated drones can run themselves thousands of dollars, as opposed to hundreds of thousands of dollars for larger aerial equipment, and thousands even to rent the equipment. Nonetheless, as drone tech improves, prices are likely to decrease further, making them a feasible option for your business on the near horizon.

Plus, unlike planes or choppers, it’s quite quick to get a drone up in the air to have a look around. Again explained by SmartBid, “With this technology needing to be readily available, there is good news for those who want a drone quickly. 3D printers are now manufacturing UAVs in as little time as one day.”

Just like drones themselves, the cost of 3D printing in technology is dropping by the minute, which quickly translates to pervasive use of them in building. Over the next decade or two, we can expect drones in construction to be another common line item on a project budget, as normal as human labor, heavy machinery and materials.

Other ways drones in construction can help save money include:

  • Reducing pitfalls by enabling faster communication
  • Providing ongoing visual imagery to allow for speedier correction of errors and site surveillance
  • Enabling better workforce planning on job sites
  • Mapping sites before, during and after projects without the substantial costs associated with other technologies, such as satellite imagery
  • Increasing compliance with regulations through safety checks

Only time will tell how prevalent drones will become on job sites, but we’re betting the answer is “very.”

Drone-y Dangers

Although drones provide many cost-saving benefits, safety remains a critical issue in construction. Not only do contractors and builders have to ensure the well-being of their own workers, but they also must ensure that the site remains safe and in operation long after the project is delivered.

Throughout the years, construction personnel have developed numerous workflow strategies to help manage this risk. In the modern age, however, it has become easier to safeguard against dangers from the beginning of a project through the building stages and its completion. Some of the best strategies include multilingual materials to reduce language barriers, proper labor projections (made easier with easy access to analytics and project management software), personal protective equipment and electronic documentation simplify the whole process.

Nevertheless, drones in construction bring with them new concerns. Although the risk is low, it’s now possible to hack drones, taking them over mid-flight, which could mean bad news for construction companies at the mercy of black hat drone thieves. Other challenges include privacy violations, security violations and dangers to other aircrafts. The truth is, drones are sophisticated devices, so if you plan to use them on the job site, hire an experienced drone pilot or invest in the training to get your staff up to speed. Despite the safety concerns, efficiency and innovation are likely to outweigh the risks, but be aware of the baggage they come with before you invest.

Invest in Cutting Edge Technology for Your Job Site

The construction industry is catching up (slowly) to the digital age with robots and other innovative technology on the cusp of creating an industry-wide transformation. With drones within easy reach, this technology only becomes more accessible and more useful. If you want to stay on top of the competition, invest in cutting-edge technology, like drones, to improve your overall productivity on the job. So, let go of your nightmarish apocalyptic robot scenarios, and put drones to use for your projects today. The time has come to bring drones into the workforce, and while we’re at it, thank them frequently.


Grace Ellis

As a Content Marketing Manager at PlanGrid, Grace is the managing editor for the PlanGrid Construction Productivity Blog. With over eight years of experience in marketing, communications and PR for technology companies, she is specialized in high-quality content creation across both traditional and digital media platforms.


Leave a Reply to Russell Gauss Cancel reply

  • Its a shame that PlanGrid which seems to be a great application and platform believes the rest of the construction and work world revolve around Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn & Instagram for sharing information.

    I wanted to share the article on use of Drones with several colleagues who are in my firm and working toward implementation of a Drone Inspection team. However most of us don’t use Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and even if some not all of us have accounts with LinkedIn and besides when we are busy at work during the day we ignore most LinkedIn email.
    Why not offer to allow the article to be shared by Gmail or Outlook which are the 2 most major email platforms around. Not everyone is into social media as the means of communication…

  • never mind my last comment input on sharing methods being so limited to social media sites as I was only viewing the top right corner of the open page. Later I saw the “+” bot with the many choices from print to email, etc for sharing that I am used to…

    Sorry for any confusion

    • Thanks for reaching out and sharing your thoughts, Russell! We’re glad you found the share button. Let us know if there’s anything else we can help you out with.