Put aside any preconceived notions you have about drones. These unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are chock full of potential for cost and time savings in the AEC industry.

Whether you call them “drones” or “UAVs,” one thing is certain: This technology is set to revolutionize the way the industry does business, using a variety of mechanisms to capture project data related to terrain, equipment details, transmission line rights-of-way, transportation inspections, site vegetation and more.

Our team is taking full advantage of implementing this new technology in the commercial sector, particularly for utilities in the United States and Canada, using them to inspect transmission lines and other hard-to-access areas. In fact, we’re among the first engineering firms in the country to earn FAA certification for commercial UAV use. But the question remains: How significant are the cost and time savings?

The answer may seem obvious when you consider that traditional methods of collecting data include permitting processes and costs, significant labor-intensive man-hours, and typically can’t capture the rich quality of detail or high quantity of information a UAV can. But any successful data-driven project comes down to the number crunching.

To gather these numbers, we’re partnering with UAV researchers at various academic institutions to explore the rate of improved efficiency in capturing data for utilities. The teams of  UAV researchers and Burns & McDonnell engineers and data specialists will use UAVs in lieu of the traditional methods to investigate specified areas of utilities including transmission and distribution infrastructure, electric substations, power plant boilers and landfill areas.

Stay tuned as we share our first findings, which will surely be telling of this new service for the AEC industry! In the meantime, if you’re interested in learning more about how UAVs are innovating project data collection across the industry, be sure to download our white paper, "UAVs Take Flight for A/E Industry."

Laron Evans, PE, is an electrical engineer and diverse business manager at Burns & McDonnell. He is responsible for strengthening and expanding business diversity efforts among the firm’s power and energy clients, including fostering relationships and developing opportunities for diverse firms to contribute to utility projects.