Conference PaperPDF Available

Site inspection drone: A solution for inspecting and regulating construction sites

Authors:
  • Dubai Futue Labs
Site Inspection Drone: A Solution for Inspecting and
Regulating Construction Sites
Reem Ashour, Tarek Taha, Fahad Mohamed, Eman Hableel, Yasmeen Abu Kheil,
Malak Elsalamouny, Maha Kadadha, Kasturi Rangan, Jorge Dias, Lakmal Seneviratne, Guowei Cai
Khalifa University Robotics Institute, Khalifa University of Science, Technology and Research, Abu Dhabi, UAE
Abstract—Motivated by the need to regulate and regularly
inspect construction sites, we developed a real-time robust drone
system that performs site inspection and violation detection
in construction sites. The proposed system uses the drone to
inspect and monitor numerous types of construction sites remotely
from any control station or a nearby locations. Our drone
system was developed as an entry to participate in ”Drones
For Good” 2015 competition, and qualified to the finals. Our
proposed technological solution presented in this paper introduces
the possible utilization of drone technology in the construction
industry. We will first introduce the motivation and benefits of
using this system, and how it’s usage will increase the ability
to control the health and safety, efficiency, and cost of the site
inspection process. We will then detail the technical components of
the drone, and present the results of experiments and evaluations
conducted in realistic scenarios.
I. INT ROD UC TI ON
United Arab Emirates is one of the most developed and
competitive countries in the construction business in the world.
While aiming to maintain sustainable development, the boom
in the construction sector across the country is increasing
the challenges faced by local municipalities to control, reg-
ulate and monitor these construction sites. These challenges
are mainly concerned with Preventing Labor force abuse,
Monitoring health and safety standards of construction sites,
and Stopping unlicensed constructions. Therefore, utilizing
and implementing new technologies such as ”Drones” can be
useful in this sector to: insure safety of workers, improve time
efficiency; reduce paper work; and automate the entire process.
Various applications of using drones to inspect different
structures were proposed in the literature. In [1], Secutronic
INSPIRE drones were used by Nokia to inspect towers, test
line of sight and plan radio sites in order to optimize the
telecommunication networks. Drones were also used by San
Diego Gas and Electric Company to inspect power lines and
pipelines [2]. In this case, drones will fly over difficult to
reach areas and stream images that show the condition of
power lines and pipelines. Boeing also investigated the usage
of drone platforms to inspect aircraft for lightning scratches
and burn [3].
To assess the benefits of utilizing drones for site in-
spections, five different criteria were selected to evaluate the
benefits of our drone solution and compare it to the current
existing methods. Each criterion is then weighted according
to its overall contribution to the system. For each criteria a
score out of 10 is given for both solutions, where 10 indicates
less processing time, less labor, more coverage areas, less
operational cost and more environmental protection. Table I,
which has been developed in collaboration with Abu Dhabi
Municipality (ADM), shows the cost benefit analysis of using
drones compared to the existing methods. It’s clearly evident
from our informative estimates that the introduction of drones
will produce great benefits for the construction sector, even
with the most conservative estimates.
Our proposed technological solution, using the Site Inspec-
tion Drone (SID), provides a utilization of drone technology
in the construction industry. This paper is organized as follow:
Section II presents the typical work flow of the site inspection
and the proposed work flow via SID. Section III describes the
SID system architecture, component diagram, and the drone
hardware. Section IV describes the conducted experiment and
shows the efficiency of the results. Finally, Section V concludes
the paper, and highlights some future work to improve the
current system.
II. WORK FLOW OF T HE IN SP EC TI ON DRO NE
A. Current Inspection Scenario
According to the current ADM workflow, the inspection
is performed at different stages of the construction process
and at various time intervals. The current workflow, used
by the municipality for violation detection is displayed in
Fig. 1. Initially, all construction data and permits are stored in
the database of the Community Development Partners (CDP)
system. When the inspection schedule is due, the inspector
develops a site inspection plan based on the information stored
in the CDP system. Then, the inspector visits the site, collect
images and update the CDP system with the inspection details.
The inspector uses the collected images and data from the site
to detect violations. If a violation is detected, the inspector
issues warning/fines via the mobile application and update the
CDP system.
B. Proposed Inspection using Drones
Based on ADM regulations, three main inspection pro-
cedures have been identified: violation inspections, progress
of works inspections, and complaints assistance. The work
presented here will demonstrate only the first type of inspection
procedures, the violation inspections. Our new proposed drone
system will aid in detecting violations in the construction
process around the UAE.
A detailed description of how our system is used to check
violations is illustrated in Fig. 2 and Fig. 3. Initially, the drone
directly communicates with the municipality’s databases. The
system then creates schedules and timelines for the inspecting
drone. When the inspection time is due, the system sends an
2016 IEEE 59th International Midwest Symposium on Circuits and Systems (MWSCAS), 16-19 October 2016, Abu Dhabi, UAE
978-1-5090-0916-9/16/$31.00 ©2016 IEEE
TABLE I: Cost Benefit Analysis Developed with ADM
Criteria Criteria Weight Current Traditional Scenario Proposed Drone Scenario
Score (out of 10) Weighted Score Score (out of 10) Weighted Score
Processing Time 30% 4 1.2 8 2.4
Labors Required 10% 4 0.4 8 0.8
Coverage Area 20% 3 0.6 9 1.8
Operational & Maintenance Cost 20% 5 1 4 0.8
Environmental Protection 20% 5 1 8 1.6
Total 100% 21 4.2 37 7.4
Fig. 1: Current Inspection Scenario of ADM
Fig. 2: Drone scenario 1: Violation Inspection Diagram
Fig. 3: Drone Scenario 1: Violation Inspection Flow Chart
alert to an officer asking him to approve the inspection flight
using a drone. At that stage, the officer has to decide whether
the drone will perform the mission alone or be accompanied
by an inspector officer. If the officer approves the flight, the
drone will access the permits database to retrieve the GPS
Fig. 4: Component Diagram
coordinates of the construction site. After that, a flight route
will then be generated specific to that site, and the drone will
autonomously fly to the site, collect the required data, such
as live feed, panoramic images and in some cases 3D scans
of certain areas. The drone will then return to the take-off
position and will start recharging itself at the charging station
in preparation for another flight. Meanwhile, the drone will
upload all captured data to the database so that the officer at the
server station can remotely access the information. The officer
can then quickly review the data and decide if a violation
fine should be issued or not. The drone will be also sending
data periodically while on the mission, this will enable the
officer to view the live information from their smart mobiles
application or desktop computers. The inspection officer also
has the authority to send drones to a specific site at their own
will if needed, even if the scheduled time has not arrived.
III. SID SYS TE M ARC HI TE CT URE
A. Component Diagram
Fig. 4 illustrates the components diagram of our proposed
system. The system consists of three main components: the
municipality database, the server station and the drone. The
database information is sent wirelessly to the base station,
responsible for scheduling inspections, and defining the site
location and building codes that should be uploaded to the
drone before each inspection mission.
The drone system consists of four main blocks: the on-
board processor, on-board sensors, the autopilot system and the
2016 IEEE 59th International Midwest Symposium on Circuits and Systems (MWSCAS), 16-19 October 2016, Abu Dhabi, UAE
drone’s hardware. The on-board processor in the drones will re-
ceive the location information of the scheduled inspection visit.
Then, it will send this information to the autopilot system via
”Mavlink” [4] protocol to navigate to the desired destination.
Mavlink is a communication protocol developed specifically
for communicating with micro arterial vehicles. When the
drones reach the construction site, the on-board processor
will read the on-board sensors data, perform online analysis
on the images, store the results and sent them back to the
server station. The inspector at the server station then updates
the municipality database based on the requested mission. In
the current version of our drone, four on-board sensors are
used which are: RGB camera for capturing images/videos,
depth sensor for capturing 3D data of construction sites, laser
range finders for obstacle avoidance, and IR camera for night
inspection. All of the on-board sensors are USB connected
with the on-board processor.
B. System Architecture
Our proposed system architecture is shown in Fig. 5. The
monitoring ground station will communicate wirelessly with
both the municipality database and the drone’s on-board pro-
cessor. The monitoring ground station has server software that
includes: control panel, status panel, camera view and multi-
layer map. The drones is equipped with PIXHAWK autopilot
system that receives the desired drone location, reads and fuses
linear accelerations, angular velocities, earth magnetic fields
and barometric pressure to allow flight control. The autopilot
communicates with the on-board processor via ’Mavlink’. The
on-board processor is also connected to on-board sensors by
USB ports. The on board processor also includes a local path
planner that can assist in autonomous navigation, take-off and
landing.
Fig. 5: System Architecture
C. Drone Hardware
The frame of the drone is Flame Wheel ARF Kit [5]
where the propeller used in our drone is APC 10x4.7 Slo-
Flyer Pusher Propeller [6]. The drive motors that are used
to activate drone propellers are NTM Prop Drive motors [7]
and the battery system consists of a standard LiPo Battery
and a power regulator [8]. The drone uses ODROID-U3 for
processing sensor information and controlling output devices.
The processor is also connected to the Autopilot system via
MAVLINK protocol.
D. Ground Station Interface
In order to control the drone and monitor it’s activities, we
developed a web interfaces that runs on the on-board computer
and is served via an Apache web server [9] on the wireless
link as shown in Fig. 6. The web interface allows the inspector
to use any smart device (like a phone, tablet or computer) to
access the drone, control it’s mission, and monitor it’s progress
if needed.
Fig. 6: A Snapshot of our Developed Web Interface
E. Total Cost and System Limitations
The estimated cost of the proposed solution including
hardware cost, maintenance cost and operational cost is sum-
marized in Table II. Flight time duration is the main limitation
of our system. Due to our payload and power consumption (live
streaming of images, onboard image processing, ...), the flight
time of our drone is limited to 20 minutes. In addition, due to
the time constrain, inspecting multiple building would require
buildings being in a close proximity to each other.
IV. FLI GH T EXP ER IM EN T AN D PER FO RM AN CE ANALYS IS
A. Experiment Description
The live-demo conducted in ”Dubai Internet City”, an
outdoor area where the competition was being held, will be
used to demonstrate the capabilities of the proposed system.
A mockup construction site environment was developed by
the competition organization based on our request, and several
violations were embedded deliberately in order to test the SID
system’s ability to detect these violations live.
The SID starts by taking off from start position. It flies
autonomously to the inspection site. It then follows a prede-
fined set of GPS waypoints, uploaded to the drone as part of
the inspection mission. During the inspection process, images
are collected for offline 3D map reconstruction using Pix4D
2016 IEEE 59th International Midwest Symposium on Circuits and Systems (MWSCAS), 16-19 October 2016, Abu Dhabi, UAE
TABLE II: Total cost of the proposed solution
No. Item Cost (US)
1
Operational Cost:
- Charging stations cost
- Training cost
272
2
Maintenance Cost:
- Replacement of damaged parts
- Maintenance of mechanical parts
545
3
Hardware Cost: 3893
- Frame + Landing gears 353
- Propeller system 139
- Drive motors 82
- Power supply 19
- On-board processor 65
- Autopilot system + radio kit + GPS 476
- Ground Station open source
- RGB camera 293
- Depth Sensor 377
- Laser Finder 1491
- IR sensor 29
- Communication system 297
Other parts 272
Total Cost 4710
program and online violation detection. In addition, the system
onboard computer is connected with a database containing a
list of the violations to be detected. Moreover, using a web
interface, an observer in the ground station will monitor the
inspection process and will check and verify the highlighted
violation once detected. Finally, when the inspection process
is done, the drone flies back to its starting point and land. A
video of this work is available at [10].
B. Experiment Analysis
The position of the SID was recorded using the on-
board GPS unit, and the trajectory that the SID followed
during the inspection process from the takeoff position to the
landing position was shown in Fig. 7. Another example is
the online detected violation reported in the web interface as
demonstrated in Fig. 8. The officer can visualize the violation
via the web interface which as reported ”existing of worker
out of the working time”. Finally, using the collected images
during the inspection process, a 3D model of ”Dubai Internet
City” is generated offline using Pix4D program as shown in
Fig. 9. The green line shown in the 3D reconstructed images
shows the path of the Drone while taking images. The position
information was collected form the images where each image
has a GPS position stamp.
Fig. 7: Path of the Drone for Inspection Test
V. CON CL US IO N AN D FUT UR E WOR K
In this paper, the motivation, challenges and benefits of
the proposed SID were presented. A demonstration on how
Fig. 8: Detected Violation
Fig. 9: 3D Reconstructed Map of the Site being Inspected
the SID system can be integrated into the current workflow
of the ADM was presented. A comprehensive cost-benefit
analysis in collaboration with ADM that demonstrated how the
proposed SID system will present a cheap solution that vastly
increases efficiency, safety and practicality of the inspection
process was conducted. In future work, the flight time could
be significantly improved if high standard batteries are used. In
addition, although all the inspection scenarios proposed by our
system were performed during the day, our drone is equipped
with an infra-red camera that allows for the possibility of
performing the site inspection during the night time. Finally, a
list of the violations that should be detected could be provided
along with the qualitative and quantitative results based on
tests for each violation.
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2016 IEEE 59th International Midwest Symposium on Circuits and Systems (MWSCAS), 16-19 October 2016, Abu Dhabi, UAE
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Utilities turn to drones to inspect power lines and pipelines
  • R Smith
R. Smith. Utilities turn to drones to inspect power lines and pipelines. [Online]. Available: http://www.wsj.com/articles/ utilities-turn-to-drones-to-inspect-power-lines-and-pipelines-1430881491
Boeing uses drones for inspection
  • V Khumalo
V. Khumalo. Boeing uses drones for inspection. [Online]. Available: http://www.rocketmine.com/boeing-uses-drones-for-inspection/
Nokia puts telco drones to work inspecting cell towers
  • L Tung
L. Tung. Nokia puts telco drones to work inspecting cell towers. [Online]. Available: http://www.zdnet.com/article/ nokia-puts-telco-drones-to-work-inspecting-cell-towers/
Available: http://wiki.ros.org/mavlink [5] Flame wheel arf kit-features-dji
  • L Meier
  • Mavlink
L. Meier. mavlink. [Online]. Available: http://wiki.ros.org/mavlink [5] Flame wheel arf kit-features-dji. [Online]. Available: http: //www.dji.com/product/flame-wheel-arf/feature
com -apc 10x4.7 slow flyer pusher propeller
  • Towerhobbies
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Site inspection drone
  • Sidteam
SIDTeam. Site inspection drone. [Online]. Available: https://www. youtube.com/watch?v=jZS7cfHcJvY&feature=youtu.be