How Drones help prevent conflict in construction

DJI M300 with Zenmuse H20 camera for Drone Survey
DJI M300 flight – Drone Scotland

Most organisations don’t publicly discuss conflict they have on projects. Yet, conflicts are an inherent part of the project lifecycle be it a minor verbal matter or large scale litigation. These disagreements aren’t published on linkedin, facebook or on any promotional material. Conflict can occur between the contractor, the client, the sub-contractor. the supplier and even third parties not directly involved in the project. We know this because one of the biggest use cases for the intelligence we provide is to help prevent, manage and resolve conflict. Visual and measurable timestamped evidence can be a vital resource when it comes to prevention or resolution of conflict. Construction photo documentation is key.

Every year, Data provided by Drone Scotland, is captured as insurance for tens of millions of £’s projects. Recent examples, where our deliverables have been used as evidence include a £1m land litigation, £400K of earthworks disagreement and £180K of excess soil. In addition to this our data has been used to support asset insurance claims, environmental challenges and the impact of piling in surrounding infrastructure and structures. These are just a few of many conflicts that our data has been used to protect our clients from financial and reputational damage. Sadly many of the requests for our data come to us after ‘the milk’s been spilled’. That’s why we find an ever increasing number of our existing clients engaging our services from the pre-works stage to help them document their site(s) throughout the lifecycle. By doing so, they generate historical evidence that can be used to help avoid costly litigation, build delays and wasted man hours when conflict arises.

Our data is impartial as we simply document the ‘as is’ at any specific date and time. What the sensor sees is what produces the output and the sensors don’t lie, interpret or produce subjective opinions. Drone data is captured in very short timescales and even the largest of sites, can be recorded in a matter of hours. The data capture aspect of our work is the fastest part of our entire workflow. As we can capture sites quickly, the likelihood of the data being inaccurate is substantially reduced. Compared with traditional survey methods where a single survey can take days to even weeks to complete. A site can change a lot in a few days but not a lot in 30 minutes. Hence, why rapid data collection really does produce a snapshot of a site at any given time.

The data we provide is independent and can’t be manipulated as we don’t know nor do we want to know what the data ought to show. By being independent, we can ensure that we show the site as it is rather than how our customer may hope it is or isn’t. This is fundamentally important if our data is to be used to prevent or resolve conflict.

Drones in construction

Drones are used in construction in a variety of ways. As the industry evolves, drones and sensors are being produced that are task specific. At Drone Scotland, we have a range of industry leading equipment which enables us to be involved in different projects including land surveying, photogrammetry, lidar surveys, construction progress reporting, condition surveying and construction photo documentation. Our services are used at different stages throughout the lifecycle of the project.

Some customers engage Drone Scotland to work on one off projects, others deploy us at critical stages in the project whilst others engage us throughout the lifecycle of their projects. We like to call the later ‘Concept2Completion’ and often involves us collaborating with different divisions within the company at different stages of the lifecycle. Without doubt the most commonly requested stages are pre and post works. At these stages, our customers want evidence of the site prior to them commencing their works and then evidence of the site after they have completed their works. In such instances, our visual and measurable documented data is kept on file as an insurance type record.

With customers becoming more aware of the benefits of drone data, we are witnessing a substantial uptake in requests for data capture at intervals throughout the lifecycle. Some of the projects we are working on have an expected 10 year build. It is guaranteed that a substantial number of disagreements will occur within this timeframe and our data is frequently used to monitor the site, track invoices vs work complete, prevent build errors (or at least spot them early), forecast, support H&S, manage deliveries and stop conflict.

Whilst this blog is directed towards construction, we deliver these outputs to a whole host of clients including estate/facility management, forestry, infrastructure, listed buildings and so on.

Soil Management

3D model of stockpile which includes accurate measurement of volume, area and perimeter – construction photo documentation

A primary purpose of our surveys is used to support technical functions within our customer base. This includes measuring elevations, tracking cut/fill, calculating volumetrics of bunds as well as helping our clients plan ahead.

Most sites generally subcontract the earthworks to an external company. By doing so, the contractor relies on the earthworks company’s surveys and data. Contractors either don’t have the equipment, resources or time to oversee and verify earthwork numbers. Thus, when something does go wrong, and they do go wrong, it leads to conflict.

A great example would be an over estimation of top soil. When this does occur, who carries the costs for rectifying the difference in ‘as is’ Vs expected volumes? Neither the contractor nor the subcontractor want to pay £20 per cubic metre when there is a 15,000 cubic metre difference. When this is discovered, its often at a critical stage. Changing the whole site elevations isn’t an option and the excess soil has to go somewhere. Late requirements normally mean that a fee has to be paid to remove the soil. 15,000 cubic metres x £20 per cubic metre is a £300,000 unexpected cost.

However, if you can identify the error early on, you can plan around it. Lets face it, errors occur. When they do, its about creating a workflow that helps mitigate the negative impact of the error as well as removing the conflict that will almost certainly arise. Excess soil, identified at an early stage can allow for site level redesign to help compensate, it can enable soil to be transferred to another internal site that has a shortage or it could even be sold to another contractor who may pay for the soil and its haulage. All better options than a last minute need to pay for the soil to be removed.

Dilapidation surveys

Condition survey 3D model of city building

Many of our clients engage our services to conduct dilapidation surveys of surrounding buildings and infrastructure prior to construction starting. This use of construction photo documentation can be vital. It ensures they can document evidence of the condition of buildings prior to and after works are complete. A common dispute is where cracks appear on buildings or roads close to constructions works. The question is whether the damage is a result of construction works taking place or were the cracks there beforehand? The evidence recorded by dilapidation surveys can be used to record evidence and settle disputes.

Progress reporting

Georeferenced orthomosaic map of earthworks and roads

Drones can be used to record construction progress, documenting weekly or monthly progress on site. This can be very useful to provide information to stakeholders who are not on-site. Having recorded information enables the contractor to communicate more effectively with the stakeholders. Drone videos and images can explain what’s happening on site and generate a better understanding of challenges and timescales – helping avoid conflict.

By regularly monitoring your site and by sharing data with all involved parties, construction becomes more efficient. Increased efficiency helps reduce delays in construction. And, as we all know, delays = increased costs. Who pays these costs? Who/what caused the delay? Has a subcontractor been late completing their aspect of the project? Were there logistical delays? Without documented evidence, it’s not always clear where the responsibility sits. This again, leads to costly conflict.

Regular site progress monitoring not only helps you maintain a visual diary of your site but it also acts as a reminder, to all those working on the site, that records are being maintained. In our experience, accurate and timely records are difficult to dispute. Therefore construction photo documentation is effective evidence in the battle to prevent conflict.


Adoptions survey including design overlay

One of the final stages of many construction projects is the adoption of surrounding roads, sewers, road lighting, etc to the council. This can also be a costly stage for the builder as the council needs to be satisfied that all the infrastructure has been built to design and is as approved at the initial planning stage. If not, the council won’t adopt and the continued management sits with the builder.

Errors throughout the build or alterations made after the build can stop the adoptions from being completed. At this stage, errors can become hard or impossible to fix. When we look at the housebuilding sector, it isn’t uncommon for disagreements to become legal disputes. The council won’t adopt the land whilst legal proceedings are underway. The builder can therefore be left with a challenge – does the builder pay to rectify the matter, does the subcontractor return to rectify the problem, does the householder demolish the extension that was not approved??? Every dispute simply incurs more costs.

Our adoption surveys help the builder identify such issues in advance. Design plans can overlay maps that we produces to help compare design Vs ‘as is’. By identifying problems earlier or even preventing problems arising, costly disputes and be resolved and even avoided.

Written by Michele Aaen

For more information on Drone Scotland Construction Services contact our team at  0131 203 3077 or

PWC Skies without limits report

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