Will drones replace cranes?

When you think construction, you think cranes. From the time of ancient Greeks till today, cranes have been at the limelight of the construction stage.  As new technologies arise, old ones become obsolete. Many technologies have disappeared with rapid modern day progress. Recently, drones have been climbing up the technology ladder and with it comes new possibilities for applications in a wide array of fields. This includes construction. So the question is – will drones replace cranes?

The Plus

will drones replace cranes

Drones are incredibly versatile and can be used not only in the main building process, but also as an ancillary. It can be used for delivering food, tools and other equipment to aid the construction team.

They have the ability to work in unison and cooperate with each other to compound their effects.  Ever wished you had two or multiple bodies that you could utilize together? Drones can do exactly that. Swarm intelligence is a sub field of Artificial intelligence that focus on studying and applying this.

The other major benefit is that they can be completely automated. With the level of advancement within artificial intelligence today, achieving 100% automation will not be surprising in the near future. With cranes, this potential is fairly limited.

Drones are already used in mapping out and monitoring construction sites. Imagine this in unison with drones that perform the actual physical labour!

Compare this to your average crane. They can be used to lift things and drop it off. They lack the versatility that drones possess. Drones with their incredible potential for range of motion, versatility and speed can easily outdo the crane as an overall construction equipment.

Autonomous drones also mean reduced costs for construction firms. Not only from the change of equipment itself, but from elimination of human labour (losing jobs much?)

Add to this the time and costs of setting up, installing drones and the speed at which they could potentially operate, as opposed to cranes.  Cranes are difficult to setup and take up a lot of space.

As you can imagine, the potential is vast here.

Check out the following videos for a glimpse of the potential of drones:



The Minus

will drones replace cranes

Despite all the possible pros, engineers still struggle with building a working model at real time construction scale. Drones capable of lifting large loads are still in the developing stage.

Drones are also noisy, even at small scale. Your average quadrotor drone may sound cute and cool but buzzing noise at the large scale? Not very musical.

Cranes still have the best load capacity and the ability to stay stable at large loads. Drones? Not quite. The carrying capacity of drones may be ultimately limited forever by external influences (laws of physics) other than the structure of the drones themselves.

Drones, while already widely adapted in aerial mapping and surveying, are not going to be used in construction as a primary load lifter anytime soon.

As with most modern day technologies, private companies have to lead, to make the change. The first question to ask is if it is really necessary for such a substitute? Will adaptation of drones actually be beneficial in terms of costs savings? (think labour costs, costs of operating cranes etc.)

The bottom line

Drones are incredibly useful for construction today and have a vast potential in the future. However, disrupting the industry enough to replace one of its primary tool of trade – the crane, is highly unlikely.

It seems more likely and feasible to have autonomous drones perform and improve upon their existing ancillary functions, like lifting lighter equipment to otherwise inaccessible spaces. Aerial mapping construction sites has been the greatest use of drones till date.

Drones can survey a project and build 3D models of a construction site in hours that would otherwise take workers weeks!

It also seems more feasible and reasonable to implement a system by which both the drones and cranes are autonomous. If we indeed want full automation, we shouldn’t focus our thinking on the equipment at hand. Instead, we should focus on how to make the equipment that works into an autonomous one.

In closing

That’s all folks! Hope that was an interesting read. But what do you think? Will cranes be gone for good? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!