Drones in Construction

Haboubi ... need to lay the groundwork for automation now.

Haboubi ... need to lay the groundwork for automation now.

Sector to benefit from drone tech

LAITH HABOUBI, associate director, building structures of WSP Middle East*, tells Gulf Construction the use of drones is inevitable in every sphere. In the construction sector in particular, these can significantly reduce costs and improve quality.

August 2019

Projects can take a long time to complete and can be complex; hence, people have been looking for new ways to cut costs, timeframe and improve the end product. Engineering is no different, and indeed is an integral part of ensuring the project is designed, optimised and delivered properly. 

Take the development of a new dam, for example. Once designed, you have to survey, map and continuously monitor ground conditions, the structure and building process – providing data that takes a lot of time and coordination to collate.

Such projects are often in difficult or even dangerous terrain, and accurate design and construction requires a bird’s-eye view or input that is not constrained by manual labour.

So, it’s no surprise that drones are steadily becoming essential on construction sites and a time saver for developers.

Despite their expensive, amateur and unreliable beginnings, drones have seen rapid growth in recent years. They will soon be bringing us our deliveries, looking after our crops and assisting police. The construction industry, however, might be the sector that benefits most from drones as they offer faster and more reliable options across a broader spectrum.

So just what can drones do for a development?

Currently, drones can produce accurate land surveys, collect and report data as well as detect wells, pipes or weak spots in the ground. Drones can offer significant advantages in health and safety by reducing the need for scaffolding and temporary access routes.

Drones are just as useful after construction too. They can detect cracks and imperfections in finished projects, can do immediate stock takes, and by using building information modelling (BIM), they can accurately ensure projects are built exactly as designed –something that rarely happens using conventional methods. Of course, these are all things that would traditionally take a lot of time and result in errors.

WSP in the Middle East has used drones for documenting progress on projects like Ain Dubai and to inspect facades on huge buildings such as the Atlantis – where, in both instances, the said processes would have usually taken experts hours whilst navigating challenging access requirements.

But we are still only getting to know drones, and in many ways we aren’t ready for what they can practically do for us. It’s not unrealistic to anticipate a future of tools and materials being transported around sites by drones, or, one day, replacing cranes altogether. This would save time and money for investors, be safer and easier for construction workers and ultimately enable us to continuously ensure our built environment is safe and secure. But to get there, we must prepare for it now.

Currently, in the Middle East, acquiring drones is not as simple as buying them from the local mall and turning up at a building site. Legislation can be a significant stumbling block for all sectors. Worries over privacy, security and safety often mean the use of drones is tightly licensed and, in many cases, you can’t use a drone at all, therefore, leaving us behind the rest of the world, which is thriving on- and off-site, thanks to the ever-improving technology.

To be ready for the future is to anticipate the future. We can expect that automation in all forms will become a part of our everyday lives. If we lay the groundwork for it now, we will give ourselves the best chance to thrive in the extraordinary era.


* WSP is a globally recognised professional services firm which develops creative, comprehensive and sustainable engineering solutions.

More Stories