Beyond the Build

Construction Trends

Are Drones the Next Step In Site Documentation?

For us, monitoring and documenting jobsite progress is important for a number of reasons. Being able to see a job’s development is a value-add for the customer, giving them peace of mind when it’s not easy to visit the site. Our project managers have an easier time overseeing jobs in a wide geographic area when they can call up images as needed. Finally, at job close, we like the visual documentation of the stages of our work.

There are several ways we keep visuals: 

1. 2-D photography. We have a solid relationship with a photographer and work with him regularly. For larger jobs, we have the site superintendent shoot progress weekly, then hire the professional photographer to come out once a month or so, or as needed for specialized installations like this one. We use the images for client communication, blog posts and to provide samples of our work. We post many of our photos to a FlickR account, which I find myself referencing frequently.

2. Aerial photography. Perhaps considered a little “old school,” aerial photography is still a solid tool for scouting job sites. We have several owners who like to monitor job progress this way. On a couple of our current jobs, we send a pilot out monthly to get a few shots from above. It’s basically an updated Google Earth image, and provides a great reference of scope and progress.

3. Live feed construction camera. One major client requires that we keep a live feed on every jobsite–one interior camera and one exterior. They use this for quality control, and it helps all catch mistakes before they happen. We also find the live feeds useful for our own monitoring, and as a communication tool between in-office PMs and on-site project superintendents. Ox BlueEarthCam and ibeam are all companies we’ve used in the past with success. Right now we are experimenting with GO PRO as well. Here is a sample of a live feed in progress now. We’ve also used the live feeds to produce a time lapse video at job close. Cool stuff.

4. Remote-controlled helicopter. More and more frequently, we are seeing DSLR cameras mounted on a multi-rotor RC helicopter used for site documentation. Employing this “drone” technology instead of aerial photography offers a number of advantages, cost being foremost. The equipment is less expensive, and so are the operating costs. Much smaller than a full size chopper, RC helicopters offer freedom of positioning and can be flown in much closer to desired areas. Given proper set up, they can be flown through Google Earth.

Are any of these methods working for you?

Merrill Stewart Jr.

Merrill Stewart is Founder and CEO of The Stewart/Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham.