uses of drones ferrovial business lines

Flying over infrastructures

08 of May of 2017

For most of us, our first experience of drones was as a small, remotely controlled aeroplane fitted with a video camera, which could fly. And then suddenly everybody had one and everybody’s dream hobby was “flying up to the highest point of the city, or the top of a mountain, to take photographs from the air”.

In less than 5 years, legislation requirements for use and the reasons for using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have changed radically. For a start, only pilots with a UAV license are authorised to fly them. Additionally, they can only be flown in the daytime and under optimal weather conditions; away from buildings in cities, villages or any inhabited places, and in open areas. Moreover, the pilot cannot be more than 500m away (for optimal pilot visibility), and they cannot fly more than 120m above the ground. And they are no longer simply a hobby: for many, a drone is now a work tool for simplifying procedures which were previously complex and required time and resources.


Use of drones

Given the limitations imposed on drones since they first appeared, events such as The Drone Show, one of the major congresses in Europe on unmanned aerial vehicles, are helping to reinforce the professional side of such devices and showcase their versatility.

According to the report Clarity from above, published by PwC, the sectors which can most benefit from the application of drone technology are infrastructure, agriculture and transport, which could generate business opportunities to the value of over 127 billion dollars per year.

Drones in infrastructures

This same study goes on to state that key applications are monitoring, maintenance and asset inventory, and puts a figure of 45.2 billion dollars on the value of the potential market for drone powered solutions in infrastructure projects. The PwC Drone Powered Solutions team also points to other applications such as detection and prevention of intruders and site security, as well as the safety of work operations. Estimates are that the number of potentially life-threatening accidents in the average construction site were reduced by 91% when drone monitoring was used.

Ferrovial and drone technology

Innovation and technology is part of the company’s DNA. The Digital Hub department was created within the innovation division with the aim of converting initiatives into actual products where these are viable and could lead to improvements in efficiency.  The Digital Hub works collaboratively across departments to provide support and create synergies between the company’s different business areas. Moreover, teamwork aims to standardise the use of such technology as much as possible.

uses of drones

Transmitting and sharing experiences

We currently have 16 drones within the Company in different countries, including Spain, the UK, Australia and the United States. Working remotely, in different teams with unique needs, it is generally difficult to standardise the use of drones.  The Digital Hub believes it is important to transmit and share experiences and information from the different projects where these unmanned vehicles have been used.

By sharing knowledge, we can assess what solution is most appropriate for each project. This, together with the information on the state of the art and current market trends from providers, enables us to offer objective advice.

Large companies increasingly opt for outsourcing the service rather than creating a specific department for dealing with drones. This has its advantages, such as time savings or availability of the most appropriate RPA (remotely piloted aircraft) for each task, but it also presents certain disadvantages, such as dependency on the provider or higher costs.

The Ferrovial Digital Hub has purchased its own drone for showing what this technology can achieve for the different business areas and providing specific demonstrations. In this way, our clients (the different business areas) have more information available for taking the decision of whether to buy a drone and manage it themselves, or outsource to a specialised company.

uses of drones ferrovial digital hub

The use of drones in infrastructure

Given the diverse nature of Ferrovial’s businesses, there are multiple applications in the area of infrastructures.

Construction infrastructures

Drones have been used in construction for around 4 years, and our construction business area currently has 5 RPAs for site monitoring and control in several countries, as mentioned before. Complications arise due to the different country legislations, which are sometimes not compatible, so we must be fully aware of requirements for flying drones in each country.

The main application for drones in construction sites is photogrammetry, which allows us to take measurements through photographs made by an RPA at a much lower cost than by using traditional methods with helicopters. However, today’s technology does not yet allow for very precise measurements in specific cases, whether due to the level of detail required or the site location. However, they are extremely useful and efficient for site monitoring and supervision, allowing for greater control of the project and a streamlining of site operations.

Roads and motorways

In most cases, this involves linear infrastructures which need to be monitored. On roads, potential applications are very diverse: supervision, inspection, security, maintenance or even equipment control.

Two projects are currently being developed to carry out supervisory tasks with fixed-wing drones, i.e. drones which look very much like a model aeroplane, but are highly sophisticated. Such drones have a range of several hours, and are therefore perfect for tasks involving large areas. This is highly efficient for detecting road incidents and collecting real time information, without having to wait for inspectors to arrive on site.

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Infrastructure maintenance

The use of RPAs has also had a significant impact in improving the management of different services such as street lighting, road conservation, infrastructure inspections or building management. In this respect, the use of drones allows us to reduce response times quickly and safely, in addition to increasing efficiency and automation of operations. For example, in maintenance and construction of water treatment and waste treatment plants, with sensitive materials, control is of the essence. Monitoring levels in landfill, for instance, can be done quickly from the air using a drone.

In the UK, a hybrid drone is being developed by subsidiary Amey and drone technology experts VTOL Technologies, to provide a precision, long-range device which will transform asset management inspections, making it safer, quicker and easier to assess vital infrastructures such as bridges or railway lines. The drone will be equipped with sensors for the transmission of HD photos and videos, thermal imaging, infrared sensors, Lidar and obstacle avoidance technology, amongst others.

uses of drones amey bridge inspection

The future for monitoring in cities

As we have already pointed out, current legislation does not allow drones to be flown within cities, but the sector expects future legislation to be less rigid and allow professional use. There are different projects underway, from the maintenance of parks and gardens to the management of hospitals or iconic buildings, projects where drones could very well be introduced as a new quick, safe and efficient way of inspecting and maintaining such assets.

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