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Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Applications and Issues for Construction

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Construction Materials and Technologies

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

24.1302.1 - 24.1302.16



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Paper Authors


Neil D. Opfer University of Nevada, Las Vegas

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UNLV Associate Professor
Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering & Construction

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David R. Shields P.E. University of Nevada, Las Vegas

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David R. Shields, Ph.D., P.E. Dr. Shields is an Associate Professor in Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Construction in the Howard R. Hughes College of Engineering at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He has received two outstanding faculty awards and two service awards at UNLV. He has over 25 years of industry and government experience in construction, engineering, and research and eight years of academic experience. He was Co-Chair of the ASCE Civil Engineering in the Oceans V conference. He was the only manager in the 55-year history of the Naval Civil Engineering Laboratory ever to win the Employee-of-the-Year Award. He has won numerous awards for project management. He has conducted research for the Construction Industry Institute, Center for Construction Industry Studies, U.S. Navy, U.S. Army, OSHA and other organizations. He has published 45 journal and conference papers. He holds a Ph.D. in Civil Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin and the M.S. and B.S. in Ocean Engineering from Texas A&M University.

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ASEE Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Applications And Issues For ConstructionAbstract 10-2013Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) besides military uses have seen increasing prevalencein the U.S. for law enforcement and border enforcement applications. While currentlyfacing certain restrictions by the Federal Aviation Administration for general utilization,UAVs have a number of potential applications in the construction. A number ofcontractors were surveyed as to their utilization of UAVs and a small number were foundto be using these platforms for a variety of work. UAVs can replace other techniques incertain construction applications. In other instances, it was found that more conventionaltechniques such as web cams are a better application than UAVs. The most obviousapplication for UAVs is as a camera platform. Aerial photography of a projectaccomplished by conventional plane or helicopter means carries a significant expense.UAVs can provide high-quality photographs and video for significantly less cost.Remote-controlled (RC) planes and helicopters in the past were typically gas-enginepowered or some variant. The advent of lithium-polymer batteries has meant substitutionof electric motors with weight savings and or-equal flight times compared to engine units.Battery power makes these units quieter and easier to operate. With this, increasingly-light-weight cameras are now offering high-quality photo and video capabilities thatmakes these units when paired with a UAV very useful in construction. Mostconstruction photographic applications require a steady platform that has hover-ability toachieve quality results. These applications mean that an RC helicopter will be thepreferred choice versus a plane. In the past, RC helicopters presented users with asignificant learning curve. The advent of multi-rotor helicopter units with three to eightseparate propellers as compared to the single standard-helicopter rotor has yielded unitsthat are significantly easier to fly and to easily achieve solid results.UAVs for construction applications can range from hobby-grade remote-control planesand helicopters to units that can best be categorized as industrial-grade units. Theseshould be differentiated from toy models that while flight-capable suffer from a numberof problems including the ability to work in outdoor conditions, flight times, andcapabilities to do actual work. With UAVs, in general, one gets what they pay for. Abattery-operated hobby-grade RC helicopter including high-quality camera with cameraremote-control can be purchased together for less than $1,000. More capable units arepriced in the $1,000-$5,000 range. Given the high value of tools and equipmentinvestment by contractors, these costs are relatively minor. Typical RC helicopter flighttimes range from less than ten minutes to twenty minutes. These flight times seem shortbut with RC helicopters operating at air speeds in excess of 45 mph, a great deal can beaccomplished in a short period.Applications besides standard aerial photography can include inspection tasks,productivity surveys and interference documentation related to construction claims. Afew contractors have used stable multi-rotor units to deliver additional fasteners to crewsup on tower work saving labor time. Outfitted with thermographic cameras these RCunits can "see" roof leaks or electrical hot spots on transformer installations not ground-visible.

Opfer, N. D., & Shields, D. R. (2014, June), Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Applications and Issues for Construction Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--23235

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