CORRECTION: This story has been updated to show that Turner Construction is using the drones in the Kings arena project to monitor overall work progress, not the activities of individual workers.
The general contractor running the construction of the new Sacramento Kings basketball arena in California is using drones to monitor the progress of work.
Several drones — or small, automated, unmanned aircrafts — fly over the work site once a week to collect video footage. The images are converted into a 3-D picture of the site, which managers can compare with a work plan that shows how far along each part of the project should be at that time.
Lincoln Wood, an executive for Turner Construction, which is in charge of the project, told MIT Technology Review that the aerial images can show where work slowdowns are occurring and how a lapse in one area is affecting the overall project. The information can spur the contractor to root out the cause of the delay — like a missed materials delivery, for example.
It’s not unusual for contractors to monitor the progress of jobs, which often are observed by supervisors or even by fixed cameras. But the use of drones for that purpose is brand new.
Turner Construction is not using drones to monitor progress of individual workers. But recently, drones overall have raised issues of privacy and concerns that workers will feel pressure to work excessive hours to keep progress on track.
Mani Golparvar-Fard, a University of Illinois assistant professor who worked on the software used at the Kings' stadium, said the devices aren’t intended as spies. “Yes, making this autonomous has a different feeling for the workers,” he told the publication. “But you have to keep in mind that it’s not really questioning the efficiency of the workers, it’s questioning what resources these guys need to be more efficient.”
The scrutiny is likely to intensify as the technology advances and the price drops. The university is also testing a next generation system that will enable drones to attach cameras all over a construction site, which will allow continuous monitoring.