Modified from Simon Frasier Univ

Our sister magazine, Architect, recently ran an in-depth look at the state of the use of drones in the design and construction industries. Here's a little of the top-line info from Hallie Busta's article:

There is more than one way for architecture firms to enlist a drone—some with the government’s blessing and many more without. In the category of small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which weigh less than 55 pounds, drones offer immense potential for capturing data, images, and videos, and inspecting inaccessible and hazardous areas. But a lack of clear regulations here in the U.S. (other countries, like Canada, offer more clear-cut terms) has led to confusion as to who’s accountable for what and to whom. Such ambiguity threatens the usefulness of the technology in the AEC sector. In 2012, Congress tasked the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) with developing regulations that would ease the then-nascent technology’s entry into the commercial and consumer sectors while preventing its operators from going rogue. But the FAA has been slow to act.

The FAA is expected to deliver final rules on the use of drones weighing less than 55 pounds by 2017. In the meantime, the agency has created a path for firms that want to keep kosher. Last summer, it began permitting companies seeking to use the technology for tasks ranging from inspecting flare stacks in oil fields to shooting aerial video to carry out that work on a case-by-case basis. However, the process can be costly and take months. At press time, the FAA had issued 246 exemptions, under Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, with hundreds more in the queue. In short, until the FAA’s rules are finalized, it’s (more or less) open season for firms that want to use drones now.

The most popular application for small drones is aerial photography and video capture.
Seattle-based SRG Partnership recently used the technology to document its new Center for Student Success (CSS) at South Puget Sound Community College in Olympia, Wash. There, an atrium running the full length of the building is daylit with skylights and clerestory windows. Using a small UAV (DJI's S1000 fitted with a Panasonic Lumix GH4 camera), the team was able to capture the daylighting feature as well as highlight key building elements from various angles and elevations. SRG worked with the Altanta-based FlyWorx, an aerial video and imaging service, to capture CSS. Working with third-party drone specialists such as FlyWorx can be an efficient option for smaller firms that want to use UAVs for aerial photo, video, and data gathering but don’t want to invest heavily in resources and training, or navigate the exemptions process solo.

Other firms are able to direct internal resources to explore the use of drones in architecture and construction. Ross Wimer, FAIA, who leads AECOM’s architecture practice in the Americas, says the company has pulled employees with experience gathering and analyzing drone data on the firm’s government projects for use in its commercial work. The company has also partnered with third-party service providers that have FAA Section 333 exemptions and has applied for an exemption of its own. So far, AECOM’s use of small drones has included capturing views at specific elevations on the site of a proposed project to optimize a building’s design; monitoring manatees in shark-infested waters rather than flying a disruptive helicopter overhead; and inspecting the interior of an industrial smokestack, in which toxins are present, for structural integrity.

The FAA’s proposed regulations estimated for 2017 stand to limit the use of drones in the AEC industry.
Those limitations include flying after dark, out of the operator’s line of sight, above certain altitudes and in select airspaces, and near structures or above crowds of people. Plus, depending on the exemption, an operator would need to be a licensed pilot. There is hope: Earlier this month, the FAA announced a new research initiative to explore potential for flying drones beyond an operator's line of sight and in densely populated urban areas.

Moving objects around a jobsite—to transport tools or assemble components, for example—could also be forbidden because the FAA in its proposed rules views items affixed to a drone as an external load. Even if the FAA permits this use in the final version—don’t hold your breath—project teams would likely be limited to moving small tools and parts, or taking an inefficient number of trips to move, say, a pile of bricks or stack of lumber. Advocates for the use of small UAVs think that one way to improve the technology’s value proposition is to separate the smallest of the small drones in a category with fewer restrictions to encourage their adoption by small and midsize firms that are unable to invest heavily in the technology.

Wanna learn more about drones, including a video of a fly-through of Peter Eisenman, FAIA's, City of Culture, in Spain? Then click here to read Hallie's full article on Architect.