ARTICLE

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (Drones) Take Off in the Construction Industry

by: Smith and Howard

January 15, 2016

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A midsize concrete contractor recently found a new way to combine pleasure with business. Growing up, he’d often enjoyed flying remote-controlled model airplanes. So you can imagine his excitement when his wife bought him an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) as a Father’s Day gift. He could control the quadricopter (a small aircraft with four rotors) with his smartphone or tablet, and it came equipped with a video camera.

For a few weeks, he had fun playing with his new “toy.” (Note: UAVs are commonly referred to as “drones,” but actual drones fly without human control.) Then it dawned on him that he might be able to use the UAV at work! He mentioned the idea to his financial advisor, who had some insights.

View from above

Indeed, his advisor began, a number of contractors were already using UAVs. In particular, bigger companies performing on larger scale projects were deploying them to:

  • Survey job sites,
  • Assess the condition of existing and partially built structures, and
  • Monitor and document construction progress.

Construction businesses of all sizes, however, can use UAVs to produce videos for marketing purposes. His advisor pointed out that, whether on websites or social media platforms, people love videos. The contractor could show customers and prospects sweeping, high-flying footage of his work on pools, patios, driveways and other “hardscapes.”

Grounded in reality

Because the contractor’s wife had graciously given him a UAV, procurement costs weren’t an immediate issue here. Still, the advisor said, professional grade UAVs with the best video functionality generally run from $700 to more than $2,000, depending on bells and whistles.

From there, the advisor continued, operational costs tend to take a turn toward the legal. That is, the contractor will have to investigate the Federal Aviation Administration regulations and requirements for operating a UAV commercially. What’s more, he’ll need to consult his attorney on other legal matters — particularly privacy issues related to job sites and clients’ property.

The advisor further noted that he should check with his insurer regarding coverage for damages or injuries involving a UAV. Liability insurance typically doesn’t cover these units, so a special policy may be necessary.

Liftoff

Ultimately, this contractor decided to start small by using his UAV in carefully selected, small areas to survey job sites and view progress. But he was already planning to engage a consultant to help develop a marketing video, and he intended to revisit the subject with his financial advisor when he was ready to upgrade to a more sophisticated model.

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