Sundt Virtual Construction Engineer Frank Garcia is one of our company’s first employee-owners to earn his commercial license for drone operations. Using drones at job sites enables us to provide better client value by more efficiently capturing project information.
How important are drones to the construction industry?
Drones are another tool we can use to solve challenges. While we are figuring out new uses for this technology all the time, every tool has its use. Drones, robotics and technology in general are changing the way we build and think about construction.
In what ways is Sundt using drones to provide client value?
The drones allow us to produce some of the same things we are doing now, just more efficiently. One example is the use of “photogrammetry,” where we take a variety of pictures with the drone from different angles and put them together to generate 3D models. So for a 3D site logistics plan, we can fly the drone and generate 3D models of the surrounding buildings, existing conditions, calculate the grade of the site, etc.
Why is it important for us to operate drones instead of having a vendor do it?
While flying drones is fun, we are flying them for a purpose. We are collecting data that allows us to produce a variety of deliverables. When we fly ourselves, we know what data is critical to capture in the development of our deliverables. There is nothing wrong with using a vendor to operate the drone. We just need to make sure the data we are receiving is viable for our intended use.
How hard are they to fly?
As with anything, there is a bit of a learning curve. Once you get over that it’s fairly easy, depending on the type of weather you are flying in. Some of the drones practically fly themselves. I recommend everyone give it a try; I find it to be really fun. The real challenge is in the preflight work. If you are flying for commercial use (not just for fun) you have to be aware of the airspace you are flying in and, in some cases, need to get Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) clearance. You need to be aware of the type of weather you are flying in as it can affect flight characteristics. Really, you are getting your ducks in a row to fly safely.
What was involved in becoming licensed to operate drones?
Studying! The main hurdle to get over in earning your drone license is passing the FAA written test. The test covers basic drone flight operations, loading and performance, laws and regulations, etc. What I found to be slightly challenging were the questions related to interpreting National Airspace System information (airspace maps), and weather and micrometeorology.
What do you need to do to remain licensed?
I need to pass an aeronautical knowledge test every 24 months.