Automation in the Age of COVID-19

April 3, 2020

COVID-19 has upended industries across the world, and construction is no exception. Across the board, construction and engineering companies are scrambling to keep their employees, clients, subcontractors, inspectors, and other key stakeholders safe.

But the other business challenges construction companies face largely depend on the segments they serve. Contractors and firms that build hospitals, utilities, and other essential infrastructure are struggling to fast-track existing hospital projects and ramp up new projects to meet the projected demand for new hospital beds.


Other firms, however, are witnessing delays or cancellations resulting from local, state, and federal restrictions on construction, particularly in geographies hit hard by the pandemic. Engineering and construction companies that serve energy and chemical companies must also contend with the aftermath of the collapse in oil prices. They must manage operations impacted by postponed capital projects in exploration, production, and refining. Long-term revenue contraction is forcing these construction companies to minimize capital and operating costs into the foreseeable future.


In this environment, automation serves a crucial role in mitigating the challenges that construction and engineering firms face. Drone data, in particular, fill essential needs throughout the construction lifecycle.

Ensuring Social Distance While Promoting Collaboration

By design, drones reduce or eliminate the number of employees required to complete an activity. Companies can replace teams of people inspecting structures or buildings on foot or via helicopter with a single drone pilot. That pilot can fly the drone, map terrain, and develop models — completely alone. Built into this technology is a degree of social distancing.


While the physical act of collecting the data requires fewer people, more people can review the data generated through drone software than data gathered through traditional methods. Drone data will never go missing in a physical file folder or get stuck in an email inbox.


DroneDeploy, for instance, enables customers to share aerial images and other data with users to conduct further analysis and modeling. They can annotate — and comment on — the data directly in the platform, promoting cross-team knowledge sharing and collaboration. And because the information is available in real-time, users can address issues proactively.

Risk Mitigation from Accuracy, Precision, and Documentation

Accuracy and precision are critical for any construction project. Mistakes in measurement can result in rework and budget overruns. And when construction and engineering companies are working with fewer people or at an accelerated pace, any mistake can be catastrophic.


Drone data mitigates risk by eliminating the guesswork and human error that can result in rework and lost productivity. As an example, Brasfield & Gorie used DroneDeploy to map a construction site to quickly measure the earthworks completed by a subcontractor against what had been designed to pinpoint potential issues, before they could impact the budget, scope, and schedule.


The data from drones also serves as visual documentation of project progress. Data has helped resolve subcontractor, client, and insurance disputes without the need for protracted litigation. There’s a maxim that pictures are worth a thousand words; drone data is worth thousands of dollars in saved litigation fees.

Finally, in instances when a firm must delay a project, drone data serves as documentation of project and site status at the time of demobilization. When the project resumes, the data can be used as the basis to reassess the site and the project.

Volatility Favors Agility

Volatile times make time a precious commodity. Construction companies on accelerated project timelines cannot sacrifice quality for speed. Fortunately, drone data can expedite time-consuming activities, like surveying and other pre-build activities. An inspector at Jones|Carter, who uses DroneDeploy, reported, “I use a map and model to help visualize the site, which makes planning more efficient and accurate. This new way of surveying has saved us hours of time each time we go out and capture data.”

With better data, engineering and construction companies can pinpoint issues, respond to challenges, and go after opportunities much more effectively. As Key Construction built a $10-million outdoor swimming and recreational facility, it used drone data to stay ahead of emerging issues.

The path ahead is fraught of uncertainty. While technology is no panacea for COVID-19 or the oil price wars, it can help construction companies to mitigate issues related to safety, productivity, and risk mitigation. Learn more about DroneDeploy’s solutions for construction, or watch our webinar on documenting your job site in the midst of the pandemic.

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