On Board with Technology: Drones

Special Report from United Contractors Magazine

Construction companies large and small that are not already on the technology bandwagon need to climb aboard as the future brings more work, longer backlogs and a continued shortage of skilled labor.

Read on to find out what Construction Executive’s panel of experts identified as key technologies to keep contractors working smarter and efficiently this year, and beyond.

Just as drones are gaining popularity among consumers, Dan Conery, Newforma’s vice president of business development, predicts, “Drones will be used in construction for visual inspections of dangerous or difficult places for humans to reach, such as bridge undersides and curtain walls.”

Other experts agree. However, recent developments suggest that you might want to rethink a new strategy involving Drones, as the FAA has strict guidelines.

Operation of drones in densely populated areas (Class B airspace for example) is forbidden by the FAA without their prior approval. This rules-out most of the anticipated Drone use for construction projects.

“Future” Contractors’ Options

  • FAA has issued a “notice of proposed rulemaking”
    • Final Rules will come out in next 12-18 months. (These rules could either broaden or narrow current status.)

“Current Contractors’ Options (for projects “not near populated areas”)

  • Contractor can hire a 3rd Party to operate a drone on the Contractor’s behalf
    • 3rd Party must have a licensed pilot operating drone and be FAA authorized
    • Obtain General Liability and Aircraft Liability Insurance from 3rd Party
  • If the Contractor does not want to go outside of company, they must:
    • Obtain an Operational Authority Exemption under Section 333 of the FAA (approximately 2,100 exemptions granted to date)
    • Contractor must use an employee who is a licensed pilot to operate the drone

FAA Section 333 Exemption Application Process
1. Contractor is required to apply for exemption 120 days in advance of when the Exemption is requested.
2. Currently takes 6-8 weeks for application to load into FAA application system
3. Therefore it could be a 6 month wait for exemption

Useful Links

“To ensure the health and safety of workers, wearable technologies will become more popular,” notes Conery. “Wearables can relay vital signs for people on remote or dangerous jobsites, alert supervisors if a diabetic’s blood sugar drops or heart rate accelerates, and enable injured workers in remote locations to signal for help.” Conery also predicts robotics will gain a foothold. “By robotics, think 3-D printing, with people or other machines feeding the bricks and mortar while a robot erects the wall.”

Steve Cowan, president of Jonas Construction Software, thinks using behavioral technology with wearable devices that track historical activities will increase productivity. “We expect more intelligence from technology and guidance in showing how to best perform work. People will expect their activities to be tracked and leveraged to work better and smarter.”

By Marla McIntyre for Construction Executive and
Tyler Kannon of Arthur J. Gallagher Insurance Brokers of California, Inc./Gallagher Construction Services, a UCON Member since 1977, www.ajg.com