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William Reddaway, Innovation & Reporting Consultant at Crossrail, tells us about his team’s work exploring the use of unmanned aerial vehicles – aka drones – in construction
In recent years, we have seen the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – also known as drones – grow rapidly across industry and society. Previously only commonly used in the military, we now see them providing footage at sporting events and concerts, and for films and advertisements. They are used in agriculture to monitor crops and animal herds, and in search and rescue for locating missing persons. Many sectors have identified ways to improve their working practices through drone use.
The construction sector is no different. Drones can assist with a range of activities including site inspection, planning and health and safety. Our team at Crossrail has worked on a project exploring current and possible future uses of drones in construction.
Crossrail’s innovation programme, Innovate18, hopes to raise the bar in the industry by creating a collaborative culture and bringing in new innovative processes and technology. Innovate18 aims to enhance cooperation between Crossrail’s many different contractors, whose common objective is not only the successful delivery a world-class railway, but one delivered safely, efficiently and sustainably.
One of Innovate18’s projects is around the use of drones in a construction environment, exploring how they can support field engineers performing site inspections, especially through automating surveys on large sites and on sites with restricted access.
We put together a “drone team” consisting of media, field engineering, innovation and health and safety professionals. All team members were trained to Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) standards for operating UAVs safely and we created an operations manual and a safe method of working.
Drones are already in regular use at Crossrail. Our team visited several of the project sites to understand the activities they are supporting:
Our site teams have identified a number of other potential uses, which we are hoping to trial and measure:
There is a lot more scope to investigate as UAV technology is constantly changing. The model of the drone we use is a DJI Inspire 1 (we have two), which receives regular firmware updates to unlock new features, such as waypoint route flying, 3D modelling, and automatic panorama creation – with many more to come.
Our drone team meets regularly to practice our skills and investigate possible future uses, such as:
Watch drones being operated at a Crossrail site and take a fly-through tour of the completed tunnels (filmed by the BBC).
Find out more about innovation strategies at Crossrail in our new free-to-download journal paper.
Find out more about how drones help in construction with our event