There is a lot of drones available on the market today, which makes it difficult to work out which are the best drones for construction.
We compared the best and most popular drones on the market and identified the top 6 for construction, based on their features, appearance, performance and battery life.
So what did we find…
1. DJI Phantom 3 Professional
The Phantom 3 Professional is a top of the range professional UAV with great flying capabilities and an onboard 4K camera for shooting high-quality images and video.
The onboard camera comes pre-installed with this model onwards, meaning there is no messing about with having to buy additional cameras. The onboard camera shoots and impressive 4K Video and takes 12 Megapixel photos.
The Professional uses DJI’s new lightbridge (FPV) technology which functions using the DJI pilot app allowing for a 720p HD real-time view of everything the camera sees as it fly’s. The DJI pilot app gives lots of control over camera settings allowing the user to change features like exposure, light balance and speed etc. Also, these features can be locked in an automated mode depending on what is being recorded.
The Phantom 3 Professional also has the return-to-home feature meaning the drone will return back to the point which it took off if the pilot gets into any trouble.
It is worth noting that flying and trying to record at the same time can be difficult, even for more skilled pilots. With the Phantom 3 and Phantom 2 you have to manoeuvre the aircraft in order to point the camera in the direction you are looking to film, something which can be tricky for less advanced pilots.
2. DJI Inspire 1 Pro
The DJI Inspire 1 Pro is DJI’s most advanced professional drone package which packs all the advanced UAV technology into one aircraft.
The DJI Inspire 1 Pro has Dual-User functionality which allows two people to operate the aircraft at the same time. One person controls the flying while the other person controls the camera. This dual person set up allows for better quality video creation and more accurate flying when operating in the more tricky areas.
This aircraft also has a return-to-home feature but with an impressive twist, the return to home button on the controller triggers the drone to return to the control itself rather than where it took off. So if you’re moving around controlling the drone, for instance walking around a building, the aircraft can fly itself back to the pilot if there are any problems.
The Inspire 1 Pro controller also has an HDMI output so that the view of the aircraft’s camera can be connected to an external monitor such as a TV or computer screen, or even some FPV (First Person View) glasses.
This drone is also capable of capturing high-quality 4K video and transmitting in a HD video signal to multiple devices. This aircraft also features the Lightbridge HD downlink which functions with the DJI pilot app allowing for a 720p HD real-time view of everything the camera sees as it flies. This ultra long range wireless system allows for a range of around one mile with minimal lag.
The Inspire 1 Pro has full 360° camera rotation giving ultimate control over the camera allowing the camera operator to move as fast or as slow as they want.
For uses in construction, it is hard to find fault with the Inspire 1 Pro.
But if we were going to be picky, we could say that DJI pilot doesn’t support point of interest where you can lock in a position and it will circle it, nor does it support waypoint GPS navigation where you can set an area and the altitude where you would like the drone to fly and the drone would fly to these locations and take images and return to home.
3. Phantom 4
The Phantom 4 is the latest version of DJI’s professional drone range and it has many impressive improvements on its predecessors!
- Obstacle avoidance.
- TapFly lets you fly with a tap of the finger.
- Track moving subjects automatically using ActiveTrack.
- Smart Return Home allows the Phantom to avoid obstacles as it returns home.
- 28 minute maximum flight time, (maximum control range of 3.1mi (5km))
- Integrated gimbals and camera for high-quality HD footage.
Although the Phantom 4 has a similar design to its predecessors it comes packed with a number of advanced flying features which make it super easy to fly! With features such as obstacle avoidance, tap to fly, and visual tracking, this drone is harder to crash than ever before!
The Phantom 4 comes fitted with 2 front facing cameras which detect obstacles as far as 50ft away, meaning if the drone flies too close to an obstacle it can automatically stop itself before colliding with whatever is in its way.
The tap to fly feature allows the user to tap a location they want to fly too on the smart device and the drone will automatically fly to that location for filming – Combining this with the obstacle avoidance feature and it is as close to automated flying as it gets!
Similar to previous Phantoms this drone also comes with a great flying and recording capabilities. It has an incredibly large operating range with 720p Live View and impressive return-to-home features. The camera also features 4K video capture from a 20mm wide-angle lens.
Battery Life for this model can also get up to an estimated 28 minutes.
Obstacle avoidance only works when flying forwards because the cameras are only on the front of the drone, meaning that if you’re flying backwards or sideward’s the drone will collide with the obstacle.
Quadcopters are limited in terms of redundancy, meaning if a propeller is lost during flight then the aircraft could come crashing to the ground. This makes them less suitable for more challenging and risky flights which fly close to buildings and people.
4. DJI Spread Wings s1000+
The DJI Spread Wings 1000+ (S1000+) is part of DJI’s Industrial drone range. The industrial drones have a distinctive design with heavy lifting capabilities for more commercial and industrial uses.
This S1000‘s main features include:
- Large Carrying capacity.
- Foldable flight arms (making it highly portable).
- New power distribution system.
- Wide range of shooting angles
- Reduced vibrations (making clearer footage).
- Greater power.
The S1000+ has a more stripped back design to its other professional drones (Phantoms). The lack of smooth finish and rounded plastic body fully represents its industrial purpose.
Due to the increase in power, the S1000+ can carry up to around 11kg, which is perfect for the transportation of larger equipment and cinematic cameras. The S1000+ can be used with any of the DJI Zenmuse gimbals, meaning it can carry heavy duty DSLR cameras such as the Canon 5D Mark III and more.
Important features of a commercial drone are safety and reliability when flying around buildings or people. The new power distribution system in this drone drastically improves the safety and reliability of the aircraft ensuring that if a rotor is lost during flight then the drone can still fly to safety. This feature is very important for pilots wishing to fly in congested areas or close (withing 5/10 meters) of building or structure – City of London as an example.
The retractable landing gear makes the drone extremely portable and can be useful for professionals travelling to multiple sites, the drone can easily be packed up and placed in the back of a car.
The increased reliability, redundancy and stability of this industrial drone make it a better and safer aircraft for construction and should improve the chances of getting CAA approval for flights in more challenging and risky environments.
The large carrying capacity means that the S1000+ only gets around 15 minutes of flying time when using the 65 15000mah battery, giving the pilot limited time to get the right shots when flying.
Although this drone does have a larger carry capacity it is questionable whether this drone is powerful enough for carrying laser scanning and thermal imaging equipment.
Also, When combining the add-ons required for certain flight requirements to create high-quality professional recording then the price be a lot higher than other models.
This drone can be used for:
- Visual inspections of smaller properties.
- Commercial flights and inspections.
- Industrial flights and Inspections
5. Matrice 600 (M600)
The Matrice 600 is DJI’s latest and most impressive industrial drone, although this model has a similar aesthetic design to the S1000+, it has a number of new impressive features which improve flight performance.
- Smart flight safety
- Extended Flight Time and transmission range
- Professional HD Transmission
- Powerful app control
- Open to development
Using a list of cutting edge features the M600 has improved massively on the S1000+ allowing for more power; control, reliability and better footage, making this drone the most suited drone for industrial applications such as surveying buildings and structures.
The S1000+ comes compatible with:
Utilising the above add-ons means the M600 supports up to 1080p HD quality live feeds and the retractable landing gear allows for a full 360° rotation of the camera and gimbal.
As well as this, the advanced DJI GO app allows for advanced control of camera settings as well as photography. Some cameras even allow you to adjust camera focus for the perfect shot or circle around a specific point identified on the screen… perfect for surveying certain areas of a building – a roof for example.
This model has a maximum takeoff weight of 15kg allowing for the transportation of much heavier loads and cameras, especially as it come compatible with the ability to carry the Ronin-MX, which allows for the transportation of much heavier and advanced cameras such as the Red Dragon. The Ronin gimbal also allows for full 360° continuous camera rotation with tilt axis ranges from 90° straight down and beyond to 135°.
The ability to carry such heavy loads also makes this the best-suited drone for carrying larger equipment such as laser scanning and thermal imaging equipment.
The M600 uses 6 Intelligent Batteries for its large power output, these batteries are constantly trying to identify a failure during a flight, seamlessly switching to another unit if one fails to maintain the reliability and precision of the drone.
When harnessing the Zenmuse X5 this drone has flight times of up to 35 minutes! Although with the larger cameras and gimbals such as the Ronin flight times come to about 16 minutes.
SDK Compatibility is also enabled meaning developers can run their own software through this drone, meaning anyone from any industry can customise their very own flight platform to meets their specific needs.
This drone combined with add-ons can prove to be expensive.
The best drone for your organisations heavily depends on your budget and type of use. For the organisations who will be carrying out less challenging and risky flights the Phantom and Inspire drones should be more than suitable.
For the more challenging and risky commercial flights which fly close to buildings or busy areas then the industrial range of drones is definitely the best way forwards. Choosing either the S1000+ and the M600 would allow for more control and larger carrying capacity but would also improve the chance of getting CAA Approval for tricky flights.
Whichever drone you decide to go for, remember that before you fly the drone commercially you need to complete your pilot training! Gaining your certification from the CAA will allow you to start using drones for construction purposes!
Author: Martin Watson
Lead Editor at Construct Digital – As lead editor Martin reports on topics specifically relating to BIM, digital software and physical technologies which are revolutionising the Architecture, Engineering and Construction Industry.