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Taking Off: Commercial Drone Use in the Construction, Forestry and Agriculture Industries

November 18, 2019

Our series on drones, known formally as “unmanned aircraft systems” or “UAS,” addresses the growing use of drones in numerous industries across the United States. Many sectors in the United States have embraced drones due to their ability to significantly reduce costs, execute a variety of tasks traditionally performed by human labor, access places that humans and larger aircraft are incapable of reaching and provide enhanced reliability and accuracy of data.

Furthermore, commercial drone use in the U.S. is expected to become more prevalent as federal government decision-makers and industry stakeholders work together to encourage drone use in commercial operations and to foster the integration of drones into the nation’s airspace.

Here’s the third installment of our series, which focuses on the rapidly increasing integration of drones into the construction, forestry, and agriculture industries.

Construction

End users in the construction industry utilize drones for many tasks, including:

  • Surveying and plotting sites
  • Monitoring progress
  • Tracking and managing assets and materials
  • Performing inspections
  • Maintaining security

Drone use in the construction industry continues to skyrocket, with one study finding that drone use on construction sites rose by 239 % from 2017 to 2018.

In addition, data suggests that drones will be used by more than 25% of the construction industry as soon as 2020.

The increasing utilization of drones in the construction industry is not surprising, as one study found that using drones resulted in:

  • 5 to 20 times cost savings
  • 55% increased safety
  • 61% more accurate measurements
  • 65% improved communication and collaboration
  • 52% reduced time to data insights

Notably, within the past year, the construction industry has achieved significant advances in drone utilization, one example being Hensel Phelps’ historic waiver from the Federal Aviation Administration allowing the company to fly small drones over people.

Forestry

The forestry industry continues to find new ways to utilize drones to achieve maximum cost efficiency and streamlined operations.

One of the most prevalent uses of drones in this sector is orthomosaic mapping, a process by which a drone captures overlapping images of a specific area that are then “stitched” into a single photograph, thus resulting in a much higher resolution and detailed image.

Aerial imagery provided by drones can allow end users to:

  • Inspect areas that are difficult to reach
  • Assess plant health and damage issues
  • Obtain more accurate tree counts
  • Map harvest units
  • Identify canopy gaps
  • Monitor illegal quarrying
  • Locate hotspots from fires
  • View 3D images of forests and 3D mapping for carbon storage
  • Measure stockpiles
  • Identify the presence of wildlife through the use of thermal imaging

In addition, drones are able to spread fertilizer over areas that were once deemed inaccessible, distribute seedlings in difficult-to-reach areas and provide early detection of forest fires, thereby preventing the rapid loss of thousands of acres of forest.

Agriculture

In the agriculture industry, drones are used for various purposes, including:

  • Producing 3-D maps for soil and field analysis, which aid in planning seed planting patterns, increasing crop yield and managing irrigation and nitrogen levels
  • Utilizing topographical, thermal and spectral mapping to gauge and evaluate crop health more quickly, with more precision, and over a larger area of land
  • Uncovering crop disease, infestation and irrigation issues not visible during ground-level examinations
  • Dispersing seeds and nutrients into soil
  • Identifying dry areas of fields
  • Increasing the precision and efficiency of crop spraying; experts estimate that crop spraying through the use of drones can be executed up to five times faster than spraying performed utilizing traditional methods

While commercial drone operation in the United States continues to advance, obstacles remain that prohibit the commercial drone industry from reaching its full potential.

For example, public perception of drones, especially in areas of the country where commercial drone use has not gained sufficient exposure, needs to be modified so that the public will understand the numerous benefits drones can provide to various industries rather than viewing drones as voyeuristic devices that promote trespassing and invasions of privacy.

In addition, state and local government decision-makers across the country will need to work with federal government leaders and industry stakeholders to facilitate commercial drone operations and remove barriers that threaten to curtail the progression of the industry.

We will continue to share the latest developments and provide insights as we proceed to monitor the growing commercial drone industry.

Stay tuned for each installment of our special industry-by-industry forecast for drone usage in 2020 and beyond.