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The Rise of Drone Technology in Construction & Real Estate

POSTED BY   Michele Baker
July 5, 2016

Drone Technology


Goldman Sachs recently predicted the top ten (actually, eleven) ways that drone technology is about to change the world:


Real Estate comes in at a respectable number six on the list. However, it’s important to note that there is a significant interrelationship between Real Estate and other industries, and this is what I will elaborate on in this post.

Drones in Planning and Construction

Construction is intimately related to the Real Estate industry for obvious reasons. From the property planning perspective, drone use could become integral, making it easier for site managers to affect more accurate and sophisticated planning of structures.

Mainly, the value of drones in the Construction industry is related to their ability to reach areas that humans and heavy machinery cannot. With their small size, physical agility and minimal payload, a drone with a high-res on board camera, relaying progress shots and aerial surveys to construction teams on the ground, will be very useful.

One San Francisco-based drone service provider, Skycatch, uses its drones to conduct surveys and to produce 3D models of construction sites, thus producing live interactive maps. These maps can then be viewed by the client, who can then impose overlays of plans onto what’s actually been built so far. Data can be gathered with ease on an ongoing basis, allowing highly quantitative measurement, which may improve site safety records, and bring down the proportion of projects that go over budget, or exceed time constraints. Basically, the process of development as a construction project progresses could be revolutionised by drone technology in this way.

Drone Technology

A lot of drone use is about the ability for them to fly and record land or buildings for observation purposes, which ties in with the most widespread use of drone technology in property marketing. However, this observation aspect is not limited to property marketing, as it will also have an impact on how properties are surveyed, and also for insurance.

It’s worth noting that, in the title of Goldman Sachs’ list, as noted by The Independent in the tweet above, Delivery doesn’t feature. However, there is a lot to be said for the possibilities for drone use in this area, which is not altogether separate from the drone’s use in Construction.

I wrote recently about how drones are being used as an aid to providing information, as well as 3D printed shelter in disaster areas, but the further help drones can provide in this area could be life-saving. Brand new drone technology, in the form of Matternet’s ONE drone has already delivered medicines and relief supplies in Haiti following the catastrophic earthquake. This is just the beginning. The potential uses in the area of humanitarian aid with drones could be a real game-changer, and tech wizards are already on top of it.

Drone Technology

If drone delivery takes off (no pun intended), then there is the possibility of delivery of materials, and even assistance in the actual construction process via both the placing of bricks, and directly through 3D printing technology.

According to Ammar Mirjan, a researcher at the Chair of Architecture and Digital Fabrication, “Aerial robots … can be equipped with different tools to transport and manipulate material in different ways.” He goes on to say that “since it will be difficult to imitate existing construction processes because the tools are so radically different, it is likely that the conditions of how things are designed and built will be altered and hence resulting in new forms of architectural materialisation … History suggests that new tools and technologies often shift existing processes. Drones in Construction will enable architectural materialisation in ways we cannot imagine.”

Drone Technology in Utilities

When it comes to Utilities, too, drones will feature heavily. Already, Siemens has been using drones to conduct surveying work to gather data on energy losses across entire neighbourhoods in Austria. Producing thermal maps from the data the drones gather, combined with image processing software, allows Siemens to identify buildings where renovation could increase energy efficiency.

Drone Technology in Real Estate Marketing

The use of drones is increasing in popularity in Real Estate marketing. The ability to provide aerial photography of listed properties is a feature plenty of property marketers want to be involved in, and with good reason.

Up until recently, the only real way to take aerial photographs of a property would have been by helicopter, which is – of course – cost prohibitive in almost all cases. However, the emergence of drone technology is opening the door to many new possibilities in this area.

It’s not just the creation of great photography, either. Drones can film. Rather than simply providing aerial stills of a property, property marketers can produce films that give a thorough and engaging experience for property viewers. It’s a technique that widens the possibilities for really showing off the beauty of a property and its grounds, and will be particularly successful in high end properties, particularly as 360 degree video and virtual reality takes off.

Drone Technology

The films that can be produced with drones have the potential to give a great sense of space and perspective, especially where the property is surrounded by a lot of land. This is not just limited to the residential market, either. Drones can be used in this way to market commercial property, too.

With video becoming an increasingly popular medium in the marketer’s arsenal, drone use in this way is likely to be extremely popular with property marketers.

Drone Technology and the Law

In the US, there is a new industry being born right now. Expert drone operators are springing up all over the place, offering their services, not just in Real Estate, but in a range of industries.

At the 2015 International Drone Expo in Los Angeles, about a third of the booths were of small startups offering to help existing companies with FAA reporting requirements, image analysis needs, and consulting services.

Yes, there are even ‘drone consultants’ who will put businesses in touch with qualified drone experts in their field. This is because not just anybody can simply start calling themselves a drone photographer. There are airspace laws that must be considered.

Drone Technology

In the US, companies offering drone services must have a Section 333 from the FAA. They are prohibited from flying higher than 400 feet, or within 5 miles of an airport. Some areas have increased the limits, prohibiting drones from flying without authorisation within 50 feet of a school, house of worship, county jail, or other government facilities. Unregistered commercial drone operators could face fines of up to $25,000 and imprisonment.

In the UK, too, there are restrictions in place limiting the use of drones. Private users are permitted to fly drones that weigh under 20kg. However, even with this, there are still rules. Private drone users are prohibited from flying their drone within 150 metres of a congested area, and within 50 metres of a person, vessel, vehicle or structure not under control of the pilot.

In terms of commercial use, drone operators must apply for a licence from the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority), for which you must prove that you are sufficiently competent, and even then, the drone must be under 20kg. Any drone larger than this can only legally be used within certified areas, such as Parc Aberporth aerodrome in Wales.

As with lots of the new technology currently on the rise, rules governing the use of drones is still evolving. There is discussion within the House of Lords suggesting that commercial drone operators may have to register their drones on an online database in the near future. A sensible recommendation, perhaps, in light of some of the safety and privacy issues that drone technology raises.

Back to Drone Technology in Real Estate

Aside from the current ambiguity around how the commercial use of drones will be policed and monitored as the industry grows, a 2015 report by The House of Lords EU Committee has claimed that the drone industry could create as many as 150,000 jobs in the EU by 2050.

Drone Technology

Goldman Sachs’ list suggests that a significant proportion of these could be linked to Property. Not just in Real Estate marketing, but through Planning and Construction where, as Goldman Sachs notes, the real fruit of drone technology potential lies.

In short, observation and photography are just a very small part of the way that drone technology could add a real helping hand in many aspects of the Planning, Construction and Marketing of Property in the future. One thing’s for certain, those who thought drones were just a fad were very much mistaken.



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