Williams Scotsman

Drones: A New View on Construction

Did you receive a drone as a holiday gift? If so, you’re not alone. 

Last month, 1.2 million were bought as presents, a year after their sales jumped 445 percent during the prior holiday season. 

Drones, however, aren’t just for hobbyists. Companies from various industries are finding business applications for these “eyes in the sky” and the construction sector is no exception.

How Drones Will Impact Construction 

A drone, or unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), is an aircraft without a human pilot aboard, operated either by remote control or by on-board computers. The “drone” moniker can be linked back to male honeybees whose only role was to mate with the queen – who were seen as “idlers” because they did not have to gather pollen – or the sound they make. Historically, UAVs were often preferred for military missions that were considered too "dull, dirty or dangerous" for humans.

Today, their application has expanded into commercial, scientific, recreational, agricultural, law enforcement, product deliveries, aerial photography, mapping, agriculture and even racing. Civilian drones now vastly outnumber military drones, with estimates of more than one million sold in 2015. Sales are expected to grow from 2.5 million drones in 2016 to 7 million in 2020 – a 180 percent increase, according to a report from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Construction is an $8.5 trillion dollar global industry. Small gains in efficiency can translate into billions of savings, according to Tristan Randall of Autodesk, one of world’s largest makers of BIM software. He also believes there should be a drone on every construction site. Here are a few,areas where drones help save time, money, energy and people:

·        Surveying and building maps

·        Showing clients project progress or marketing a project/process

·        Monitoring job sites

·        Inspecting structures

·        Providing better safety records

·        Keeping projects on track and on budget


PricewaterhouseCooper estimates the current value of total labor and services to be conducted by drones to be $127.3 billion, one-third of which will be attributed to infrastructure and construction industries. Companies like NextEra Energy, Bechtel and Clayco are already using drones and Balfour Beatty even produced a video on how drones are benefiting their work.

What We're Doing to Keep Up

Williams Scotsman is also exploring the potential of drones. In the past, we utilized both aerial photography and Earthcam® to document project scope and progress. Drone footage delivers a “wow” factor to customers, as well as a multi-dimensional, yet economical documentation of a project. For example, our customer Erickson Living filmed the installation of mobile units at their Oak Crest retirement community in Perry Hall, Maryland. Josh Runkels, Oak Crest’s CTV and AV Manager, captured the installation process with a drone, using the footage to promote to residents on the community’s cable TV network. Watch it here.


Undoubtedly, drones can have a tremendous and positive impact on construction practices. However, UAVs are still in their infancy and there are a few things to consider before you jump on the trend. In the US, companies using drones for commercial purposes require a Section 333 exemption from the FAA. Privacy is another concern. Should you obtain permission from everyone involved on a site before filming? Lastly, commercial insurers have yet to review this new technology and clarify who is liable in the result of a drone-related accident.


Are you ready to take to the skies with drone technology?

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    Williams Scotsman