Interest in drones is rising for both consumer and commercial use. Sales of drones increased 33 percent in 2017 over the prior year, according to the market research firm NPD Group.
In 2016, the Federal Aviation Administration allowed commercial drone use for a broad range of businesses, but with restrictions: Pilots must be at least 16 years old and pass a written test.
On building sites, drones are saving money and time by providing digital images, maps and other files that can be shared in a matter of minutes, said Mike Winn, the chief executive of DroneDeploy, a company founded five years ago in San Francisco that creates software for, among other uses, operating drones with mobile apps.
Drones are reducing the travel time for busy executives, Mr. Winn said. “The head office can see what’s going on, and the safety team, the costing team, the designers — all of them can contribute to the project, share data and comment on it, without actually going to the job.”
They could also improve safety. In the days before drones, Mr. Winn said, measuring the roof of a house for solar panels would require “a guy with a tape measure to climb up there,” which often produced inaccurate results and, like anything involving heights, was dangerous.
Such peril is magnified in the construction of skyscrapers, said John Murphy Jr., a contractor on the Paramount Miami Worldcenter, a 58-story condominium tower being built in downtown Miami. Before drones, Mr. Murphy said, workers seeking access to the exterior of a high-rise were “dropped over the side” in so-called swing stages, small platforms that hang from cables. Often used by window cleaners, swing stages are precarious in high winds.
“No one wants to go out there,” he said. “It’s scary.”
Falls accounted for 384 of the 991 deaths in the construction industry in 2016, according to the latest figures from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. That number could be reduced over time by increasing the use of drones for quality-control inspections and similar missions.
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