Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are becoming increasingly used in construction, with 17% of enterprises reporting that they have used flying robots to scope out projects and monitor progress, according to the UK Drone Usage Report 2016. Fluxx Engineering’s founding partner, Gary Wilson, talks about the development of digital technology.
WE think of drones as largely a visual tool, a mobile instrument with the ability to go further than we dare and capture what it sees, either as photography or film. But drones are also a terrific example of how digital innovation, along with Internet of Things can be both threat and opportunity to a corporation.
Drones are the new “app” – everybody thinks they need one and they are the answer for everything. But like applications, they radically alter our expectations. Everyone is suddenly convinced that they need one and should take action with it.
Drones, on the other hand, pose a significant challenge to many current business structures, and those who are sluggish to adapt risk being left behind.
In the engineering and construction industry, there are many firms that have been quick to recognise the potential advantages of the drone but I imagine that many were slower to realise the potential threat this eye in the sky is to their business.
Companies in this area have historically had a nice source of revenue from surveying. A surveyor can be charged out a day rate to survey a location which could take days if not weeks. A drone on the other hand may do the same thing in minutes and hours. The benefit to the client is evident but what about firms who may see a drop in revenue as a result?
Exploring alternative approaches
Stopping there, on the other hand, means missing out on a significant chance. As we know drones are not just about the images.
If you spend extra, you’ll get instruments that can gather a huge amount of data about your subject matter in a short period of time, as well as the ability to deploy them swiftly.
Drones are being used by a US start-up business, Skycatch, to provide a bird’s-eye view of construction sites and provide progress reports, speed up construction logistics by monitoring deliveries, and provide real-time updates on any changes that may be required, according to BBC News’ reports.
Another example is quarrying. Traditionally, surveys of quarries are conducted once a year, and judgments are taken at the end of the year. However, the state of quarries changes on a daily basis. Within days of a survey being completed it will have changed again.
At the moment portions of the quarry are left fallow when the machinery goes on and the wait between quarrying being done and the site being signed off for disposal can be months, even years. During that period the space is not generating revenue.
More regular surveys could imply that the time to convert an area from one revenue generating activity, to the other, could be cut substantially, meaning money can be collected from the conversion to landfill much faster.
So in the case of the quarry, while the survey business may struggle to retain its usual revenue stream, what the drone has done is provide the chance to develop others, in the form of consultation around how the sites might be managed more profitably.
The number of people out of work vs the number of people getting hired
This may seem like a pretty specific example but the reality is that the same notion applies to practically any component of the physical infrastructure of this country.
Drone technology, for example, could readily replace engineers walking the lines in our railway infrastructure. Because it’s more secure for engineers, yet it’s possible that this particular position will go away in the future.
A benefit of this interruption is that problems and difficulties will be identified and dealt with much more quickly, resulting in less disruption to travel as well as decreased maintenance expenses for the company now providing the engineers.
For the firm able to get ahead of that curve there is huge competitive advantage and other employment can be generated around analytics and business advising services, to replace those lost on the surveying front.
In fact, the threat to the revenue stream applies to pretty much any business that sells a service. The combination of digital tools and the Internet of Things is likely to have a substantial influence on any firm that sells time since it is going to make a broad range of jobs significantly quicker to do.
Architects, engineers, and surveyors may be the first to feel the impact of drone technology and its impact on surveying in terms of job losses, but engineering consultancies of all sizes and shapes will have to re-engineer themselves and think of ways to monetise data from drones to ensure they are an opportunity rather than a threat.