Building the Healing City
Last month saw Leeds University winning £4.2m of funding to develop a program where robotic autonomous drones could be used to monitor the city’s highways. They would identify faulty street lights, pipes and roads and make repairs to turn Leeds into a ‘self-healing’ city.
Phil Purnell, professor of materials and structures at Leeds University, explained: “This is about creating systems that can repair themselves. Often people talk about the city as an organism, but what is missing is the ability to heal itself. We are taking the next step towards making this possible.”
The ‘self-healing’ city concept has a long term goal of removing disruption from street works in the city by 2035.
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Current Construction Applications
Recently drones were used in the construction of the new $448m Sacramento Kings stadium in California to monitor worker productivity on site. Video footage was collected and converted into a 3D image of the site that was analysed against existing design and construction models to see how elements should be looking at their current stage. This allows project managers to highlight parts of the build that are not progressing on schedule, possibly due to materials not arriving on time.
Lincoln Ford of Turner Construction, which is running the Sacramento project, says that “the near-real-time aerial images and software analysis being used there provides a more comprehensive picture of what’s going on, and can highlight how a slowdown in one area may affect the entire project.”
Going Where Workers Can’t Go
One of the key benefits of drones is their ability to enter into places and situations that would be too dangerous or impractical for a human to do so. In Australia, Soto Consulting Engineers used drones on mining sites to identify structural problems in skyline conveyers.
Their Chief Operating Officer explains: "The main benefit is the cost saving. It alleviates the need for cages and harnesses and safety requirements are reduced."
In Japan, multinational machinery maker Komatsu has launched a new service called ‘Smart Construction’ that includes a platform called KomConnect that connects machinery and workers to the cloud to improve efficiency, artificial intelligence-assisted controls for operating machinery and drones.
Working with San Francisco-based drone provide Skycatch, they intend to deploy drones to conduct surveys, produce 3D models and live interactive maps of job sites. Clients can use these maps and impose overlays of plans onto what has been built, calculate volumetric measurements and add annotations to share with workers.
In Austria, Siemens has spent the last 3 years using drones to conduct surveys of the Urban Lakeside project (one of the largest in Europe). This data has now been combined with image processing software to visualise energy losses across whole neighbourhoods.
The data is presented as thermal maps which can then be used to identify buildings that could be renovated or made more energy efficient.
Back in the UK
Crossrail already has drones in regular use across several sites undertaking duties such as:
● Site inspections: examination of high risk areas and speedy overviews of large sites
● H&S induction – Site plans can be quickly and efficiently updated to show where different works are taking place (such as lifts and excavations), ensuring that operatives stay safe.
● Crane/tower/scaffolding inspections – Much easier method of inspecting high-up structures, providing real time footage to spot anomalies. Reduces site downtime and mitigates risks of personnel having to work at height.
● Site planning – Overviews can be obtained quickly to inform planning sessions.
● 360 degree panoramas – A more immersive experience to enhance appreciation of potential hazards and site orientation. They have also identified other potential uses – including logistics planning, where drones provide dynamic visualisation of rapidly-changing sites and thermal imaging to identify hotspots in substations.
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Many new and exciting innovations, methods and materials are being developed to improve how we build – and here at Benfield ATT we are always on the lookout for ones that can benefit our clients and save them money. Perhaps we will see Benfield brand drones buzzing around old buildings conducting timber surveys without the need for scaffolding or H&S equipment?
For now, if you have a project that could benefit from current modern methods of construction, please get in touch.