Last reviewed 13 July 2016

The construction company Costain has been working with operators of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), known as drones, to develop innovative ways of using the advanced robots to avoid sending workers into hazardous locations.

The company says it has used drones on several contracts and is now looking at different ways in which drones can provide value, including in terms of safety.

Typical work for a UAV could include inspection of existing structures — particularly in hard-to-reach or hazardous locations.

Surveying large areas, either with standard cameras or more specialised measurement devices such as thermal imaging or light detection and ranging, which can be used for topographical surveys, is another major role.

Costain says it intends to work with industry leaders within the UAV technology space, rather than developing in-house operational expertise as a current priority, partly due to the speed at which UAVs are developing since the technologies involved can become obsolete quite quickly.

There are also important regulatory considerations, with the environment governing the operation of drones expected to undergo changes in future to prevent UAVs being unsafely flown by reckless individuals.

Nevertheless, drones have wide possible applications. In addition to the construction and engineering sectors, they have potential uses in mining and quarrying, as well as in the emergency services, where the robots can be sent into a dangerous area in the event of a fire, explosion, chemical spill or similar crisis.

Commenting on the use of drones by Costain, Peter Slater, Aerial Solutions Manager at the company, said, “We have been developing an understanding of how and where the technology can deliver projects more efficiently and safely. One of the main drivers of the work comes down to taking people out of hazardous environments. In addition, improvements in speed, efficiency and payload make this a technology with high potential.”