Often construction CIOs and executives are leery of “shiny” toys that offer glitz, glam, and a lot of hype, but little tangible benefits and ROI (return on investment). Do drones fall in this category, or are they beginning to offer true benefits to construction beyond the cool factor?

Certainly, the forecast for commercial-drones market is on the rise, with many analysts predicting further growth. Technavio, for instance, predicts the global commercial drones market is anticipated to grow 36% between 2018 and 2022. Reasons for this include increased applicability of commercial drones in various verticals and access to better data insights using commercial drones.

It seems consumers agree, and are comfortable with, drones being used in industries such as construction. New research from the CTA (Consumer Technology Assn.) shows that 71% of Americans are comfortable with drones being used in utility and construction companies. Still, it is important to consumers that drones stay out of the way of emergency vehicles and operations and remain a safe distance away from people, aircrafts, and property.

Amid all this growth, do drones provide true value for use in the construction industry? PG&E is starting to discover the answer to this question. The company has a Community Wildfire Safety Program, which was implemented following the wildfires in 2017 and 2018 to provide precautionary measures intended to further reduce wildfire risk on its infrastructure.

Inspection work is being completed on nearly 750,000 transmission and distribution structures along more than 5,500 miles of transmission line and 25,200 miles of distribution line in high fire-threat areas. Roughly 2,000 people, both employees and contractors, have performed the inspection work and have been using new technologies as well.

PG&E and contract crews inspected electric towers and poles from top to bottom through ground, climbing, helicopter, or drone inspections. The process included reviewing millions of high-definition photographs taken from the ground, qualified personnel climbing towners, drones, and helicopters. Photos were evaluated and rated the condition of the structure.

The new technologies, including the use of drones, from the nearly completed Wildfire Safety Inspection Program are being incorporated into PG&E’s future inspection plans.

While this is one example, the use of drones is rising in construction businesses. And it will likely depend on the use cases and the needs of each business if the drones will provide tangible ROI and benefits for the business and the construction project.

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