Virtual Claims Handling Quickly Delivers Accurate Results

Susan Egeland and Sara Inman | Faegre Drinker biddle & Reath

Property and casualty insurers are integrating drones and other means of virtual claims handling as part of their routine property inspections. But, in litigation, virtual claims handling is unfairly getting a bad rap from plaintiffs’ attorneys who try to pass it off as solely a cost-cutting measure by insurers.

In actuality, virtual claims handling works to the benefit of both insureds and insurers because it allows an insurer to handle a claim sooner without compromising accuracy. The current COVID-19 pandemic is proving the value of virtual claim handling capabilities. Major metropolitan areas have “shelter-at-home” policies in place to minimize in-person contact. Even where such policies are not in place, cities across the country are practicing social distancing. Under such circumstances, an insured may not want an adjuster to come to their property to handle a claim. But, an insurer that utilizes virtual claims handling can send a drone to a property, control it remotely and capture images of damages for an adjuster to review without any in-person contact.

Some plaintiffs’ attorneys may argue drone images are not fully capable of capturing damages present on a property. However, the accuracy of such images has already been established. A virtual imagery system known as Eagleview has long been the industry standard for measuring properties by both contractors and insurers. Eagleview takes aerial, high-resolution images of properties that are so comprehensive they can be used to measure the pitch of a roof and determine the exact number of squares on a roof.

Similarly, aerial images taken by Google are detailed enough to reflect the history of repairs to a property and the general condition of a property. Through such images, one can determine whether a roof has been replaced in subsequent years, the number of metal appurtenances on the roof, whether any appurtenances have been changed and whether any new construction has been completed at the property.

Now consider that, in virtual claims handling, the images are taken in much closer proximity than aerial images. The details of any existing damages are easy to see. The skepticism regarding virtual property inspections is simply unwarranted. Virtual claims handling is the claims handling of the future, and insureds are fortunate if their insurer is one of the carriers leading the transition. This has become even more apparent under recent circumstances such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

Drones Help Insurance Companies Check Damage in Cedar Rapids

Erin Jordan | Claims Journal

Insurance adjusters who descended on Cedar Rapids after the Aug. 10 derecho storm are using drones to check roofs and asking homeowners with less severe damage to take their own photos.

Some of this is due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has reduced the number of experienced adjusters willing to travel. But the changes also help speed up claims and get repairs done sooner, company representatives said.

“Drones or aerial imaging helps them estimate the claims,” said Scott Hauptman, vice president for claims for Grange Insurance, of Columbus, Ohio, which is working with Integrity Insurance, of Appleton, Wis., to handle at least 500 storm-related claims in Cedar Rapids. “It’s as efficient as possible and helps them (adjusters) safeguard their health.”

Cedar Rapids officials told The Gazette on Wednesday that 140 buildings are too damaged to be occupied. Several hundred more have non-structural or cosmetic damage.

Before buildings can be fixed and people can return to their homes, insurance companies must document the damage and determine how the loss will be covered.

Many insurance companies have sent catastrophic teams to Eastern Iowa. Nationwide Insurance, for example, stationed some at the Home Depot on First Avenue SE in Cedar Rapids.

“Really the biggest thing we’ve found in Cedar Rapids, due to lack of internet and power, is they (homeowners) weren’t sure if they had a claim filed or not,” said Courtney Kannas, property field claims manager for a Nationwide team that covers Iowa, Nebraska and parts of Kansas and Missouri. “If they didn’t have a claim filed, we could do that for them. We also could give them a high-level understanding of their policies.”

Integrity adjusters sent a drone Wednesday afternoon over the Wired Production Group’s building on N Towne Lane in Cedar Rapids to get a better look at a roof that was peeled off and a crumbled back wall.

“This 12,000-square-foot building is a total loss,” said Ron Rausch, Wired Production president and owner. “They (Integrity) brought a structural engineer in here to document that was the case.”

An adjuster also looked at millions of dollars in cameras and other equipment Wired Production uses to stage events for many Eastern Iowa companies, including The Gazette. When the roof was ripped off, rain and water from broken water mains flooded the offices and ruined much of the gear, Rausch said. The firm is setting up operations temporarily in Dubuque until the Cedar Rapids site is rebuilt.

“They were very amenable to letting us start the cleanup process and work with people we want to,” Rausch said of the insurance company.

State Farm, the first insurer to get Federal Aviation Administration approval to operate drones over people, has been using drones to gather information on Cedar Rapids claims, spokeswoman Tammi Estes said.

Nationwide hasn’t been using drones in Cedar Rapids because of the challenges of photographing around fallen trees, Kannas said, but the company is encouraging policy holders with minor damage to photograph the property and submit claims online.

“It gives us a better picture right away as to the extent of the damage they have to their home so we can get them emergency reimbursement or set them up with temporarily housing a little quicker,” she said.

A Washington, D.C., law firm said in a news release that homeowners and businesses hit by the derecho will face challenges in getting adequate reimbursement.

Weisbrod Matteis & Copley, which represents homeowners in lawsuits against insurers, pointed to an Aug. 4 webinar with insurance executives who said many older adjusters were reluctant to go out in the field because of risk of contracting coronavirus.

Some insurance companies also have struggled to get adjusters into states that require quarantines for visitors.

“After battling the insurance industry after Katrina, I fear that Iowans will be left at the mercy of a B team of insurance adjusters,” Jim Hood, a former Mississippi Attorney General who now works for the law firm, said in a statement. “Storm victims will need to quickly document their damages with drones, pictures and lists of damaged items.”

One insurance executive on the webinar said he thought fewer adjusters in the field would increase fraud.

“I do have some concerns we are going to have to do more virtual adjusting,” said Jed Rhoads, president and chief underwriting officer for Markel Global Reinsurance, based in Virginia. “If we’re adjusting claims through satellite imagery or drones or handheld devices, it could lead to new additional types of fraud.”

People could doctor drone or cellphone images or charge a company additional costs to procure the photos.

Integrity Insurance has been allowing virtual adjusting for several years, Hauptman said, and has developed strategies for detecting fraud.

“We have means on the back end to authenticate the pictures to make sure the time and location are appropriate,” he said. “The vast majority of our customers are great people. If there is fraud in an industry, that affects everyone’s rates.”

About the photo: Cleanup continues around the area in Cedar Rapids on Friday, Aug. 21, 2020 following the Aug. 10 derecho, which left hundreds of thousands of Iowans without power and displaced many whose homes were damaged or destroyed in the heavy winds. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette via AP)

Drone Operation in a Construction Zone

Mark R. Berry and Freddy X. Muñoz | Peckar & Abramson

The potential uses of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in the construction industry continue to expand as new technologies enter the market and construction companies realize UAS can perform unique tasks at tremendous cost savings. The full technological capabilities of UAS are, however, limited by law for public safety reasons. UAS share airspace with traditional passenger, military and cargo aircraft, and are potential hazards for humans below. The risk of potential catastrophic collisions has led to a careful approach to the adoption of this technology.

All U.S. airspace is exclusively regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and therefore, most drone regulation originates from this agency. Many states and localities have also enacted additional limits on UAS operations, and many of these nonfederal regulations are presently on unsure footing after a federal court ruling in Singer v. Newton invalidated a local regulation that conflicted with FAA regulations.

What is clear is that all commercial UAS operations must comply with FAA regulations. Any drone operation conducted by any private company, even through use of an employee’s personal drone, would constitute commercial operation subject to regulation.

Part 107 of the FAA Regulations is the body of authority which regulates commercial uses for drones weighing less than 55 pounds.  Part 107 sets forth clear operational rules that recognize that UAS are fundamentally different from other aircrafts. Almost all drone usage in the construction industry is conducted under this section. Key elements of the rules under Part 107 are as follow:

Piloting: All UAS must be operated by someone in possession of an FAA pilot license, or new “Remote Pilot Airmen Certificate.” This certificate requires that the operator:

  • Be age 16 years or older;
  • Pass a FAA administered aeronautical knowledge test;
  • Pass TSA security vetting; and
  • Complete testing to renew their certificate every two years. Due to COVID-19, FAA issued special regulations allowing testing to be conducted online as opposed to in testing centers.

Operation: The following restrictions are imposed on all flight operations:

  • The UAS must weigh less than 55 pounds;
  • Always be in visual sight (VLOS);
  • Fly in Class G airspace;
  • Fly under 400 feet (or 400 feet above structure);
  • Fly between sunrise and sunset;
  • Have an airspeed of 100 mph or less;
  • Must yield right of way to manned aircraft;
  • Must not fly over nonparticipating humans;
  • Must have minimum weather visibility of 3 miles from control station;
  • No operation is allowed from a moving aircraft;
  • Must not fly from a moving vehicle (except in sparsely populated area); and
  • Must not fly within five miles of an airport without prior approval.

Each of the above operation restrictions (but not piloting restrictions) may be waived by the FAA if a waiver is sought in advance by an operator who demonstrates a safe operation plan. Be aware, however, that waivers may take as long as six months to process. These waivers are not easy to obtain, and the vast majority are rejected by the FAA.

Can You Fly in Florida?

Given the Florida landscape, the biggest challenges for Florida construction companies flying drones at their project sites will likely be the prohibition of flying over nonparticipating humans, and the restriction on flights within five miles of airports.

The nonparticipating humans restriction is broadly construed. In fact, only the drone crew is considered a “participating human”. All members of the public and workers on the construction site-are considered “nonparticipating humans” and, therefore, sign a waiver for full compliance with FAA regulations.  Nevertheless, this is complicated by how the FAA defines “flying over” a nonparticipant. While flying directly overhead is clearly flying “over” a nonparticipant, the width of the path is largely viewed as a variable, depending on actual conditions, such as wind speed, height and speed of operation, size and type of drone, and other variable conditions. Accordingly, ensuring your drone is operated by a skilled pilot with current knowledge of FAA regulations, and flight risks, will minimize the risk that your drone is being flown illegally.

Most recently, a major contracting company using ParaZero’s Safe Air Parachute System, was able to obtain an FAA waiver allowing the operation of drones over nonparticipating humans. In securing the waiver, the contractor, in partnership with ParaZero, was able to demonstrate, through ParaZero’s testing data, the efficacy of ParaZero’s parachute system.  Although the FFA did not certify or approve a specific parachute system, it did state that this system is scalable and can be used by other applicants. Still, applicants seeking to acquire this waiver will be required to provide the testing data, documentation and a statement of compliance listed in ASTM3322-18 in their application using the same drone and parachute combination. This waiver represents the first time that the FAA has collaborated with the construction industry to develop a publicly available standard.

The requirement of notifying airports and air terminals when operating a drone within a five-mile radius also poses another logistical challenge. Fortunately, most commercial drone mapping systems will alert the pilot when an intended flight path will encroach on airport limits. Additionally, the FAA has launched a beta program, known as “LAANC,” which facilitates near real time automated processing of airspace notifications to airports of encroaching drone flight plans. This LAANC program has been rolled out in over 600 airports nationwide.  Currently, the following Florida airports are covered by LAANC: Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional, Daytona Beach Airport, Jacksonville International Airport, Orlando International Airport, Gainesville Regional Airport Treasure Coast International Airport , Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport, Miami International Airport, Ocala International Airport, Orlando Executive Airport, Palm Beach International Airport, Punta Gorda Airport, St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport, Pensacola International Airport, Southwest Florida International Airport, Sarasota/Bradenton International Airport, Tallahassee International Airport, Miami Executive Airport, Dade-Collier Training and Transition Airport, Tampa International Airport, Vero Beach Regional Airport, Orlando Sanford International, and Fort Lauderdale International.

Lastly, privacy concerns of construction employees should be considered when using drones in a work site. The recordings generated by drones create a significant concern relating to infringement of workers’ reasonable expectations of privacy.  It is recommended to provide notice and obtain written consent and releases from neighbors, site visitors, and workers when drone usage is planned at a work site.

Whether your construction enterprise has an ongoing UAS program, or is just getting started, operators must first become fully knowledgeable and compliant with the Part 107 Rules to avoid running afoul of FAA regulations.

Balancing New Technology and Privacy When Using Drones in Land Use and Construction

Virginia Trunkes | Construction Law Zone

The mixture of sheltering-in-place, warm weather, and increasing drone usage creates a combustible situation – literally. Drone shootings are on the rise as property owners seek to combat perceived trespass, nuisance and invasions of privacy.

These were some of the legal issues discussed during a webinar presented by the American Bar Association’s Section on Real Property Trusts and Estates (ABA RPTE) at its 32nd Annual Conference (held virtually for the first time) on May 15, 2020. The webinar focused on the legal landscape and issues to consider in counseling real estate and construction businesses on the commercial use of small unmanned aerial systems (sUAS). The panel included attorneys as well as an engineer, who presented drone video footage and computer graphics used to collect data more efficiently during land use evaluation, mid-construction and post-construction.

While legal issues abound in this flourishing industry, it was the topic of privacy that dominated the discussion in the RPTE program — just as it has throughout our Digital Age. Although the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulates sUAS, including restricting their flights over people and beyond the remote pilot’s line of vision, it stops short of getting involved with privacy matters. The FAA has consistently maintained that addressing privacy concerns is beyond the scope of its mission, stating; “Congress exclusively authorized the FAA to regulate aviation safety, the efficiency of navigable airspace, and air traffic control, among other things. … Laws traditionally related to state and local police power— including land use, zoning, privacy, and law enforcement operations—generally are not subject to federal regulation.”

The FAA has contended that the “unique characteristics and capabilities” of drones that present “uncertainties with regard to individual privacy” have no bearing on the safe operation of the aircraft. Instead, those attributes “are generally related to technology and equipment,” such as cameras and other sensors, which features may likewise be installed on manned aircraft like helicopters. Indeed, helicopters have long been used for aerial surveys, film/television production, law enforcement, and other varied purposes.

The FAA would prefer to wait for “insight” from the UAS Integration Pilot Program (IPP). Created in 2017, the IPP assembled state, local, and tribal governments together with private sector entities, such as UAS operators or manufacturers, to test and evaluate the integration of civil and public drone operations into the country’s national airspace system. The FAA is hopeful that the IPP will advise “on how best to involve local jurisdictions in the integration of UAS into the airspace while considering local interests in conjunction with aviation safety.”

Yet, much time has passed since the IPP began, while the rate of drone use has accelerated without the collective guidance. As of March 2020, the FAA listed over 1,563,000 UAS registered UAS, comprised of 443,000 for commercial use and approximately 1,120,000 for recreational use.

Perhaps yielding somewhat to privacy advocates, in late 2019, the FAA proposed amending  its regulations to require each UAS to continuously transmit their location and identification details to an online FAA tracking system. The purpose of that rule, if adopted, would be to provide “additional situational awareness to manned and unmanned aircraft,” and to allow regulators, law enforcement, and national security agencies to better and more fully monitor compliance with the existing rules and regulations governing UAS. The comments period closed on March 2, 2020, following the submission of more than 34,000 comments. (Ironically, in April, 2020, the Inspector General for the Department of Transportation issued a report finding that the FAA does not adequately secure the personally identifiable information submitted through its online UAS registration system.)

Meanwhile, several legal organizations have attempted to advocate for a formal regulatory arrangement that adequately balances the legal rights of drone users and those in their flying zone. In 2019, the American Law Institute’s (ALI) drafters of the Fourth Restatement of Property applied principles of trespass law in proposing § 1.2A – “Trespass by Overflight.” In the Comments to § 1.2A, the ALI focuses on the different levels of “possession” of airspace, acknowledging that “the protection of the right to possession attenuates the further one travels from the surface.” The Comments also note that “[t]respass and nuisance are not the only bodies of law that would address the harms caused by drone overflights … [as] statutes and case law directly addressing privacy may apply in the context of drone overflights as well.” The draft was on the agenda of the ALI’s 2020 Annual Meeting until it was cancelled, and is not subject to approval until the 2021 Annual Meeting.

The Uniform Law Commission (“ULC”) has also tried its hand in tackling drones and privacy. In 2019, it drafted a Uniform Tort Law Related to Drones Act. The proposed law focuses less on the altitude of airspace into which a drone enters, and more on whether the UAS is operated “in the airspace over the land possessor’s real property and causes substantial interference with the use and enjoyment of the property.” The drafted Act prescribes thirteen delineated factors to inform whether the operation of UAS caused the requisite “substantial interference,” and contains a rebuttable presumption that UAS do not substantially interfere with the use and enjoyment of property in certain instances. Following the receipt of numerous comments from industry stakeholders, legal scholars, and others, the ULC has postponed any action until the FAA provides further rule guidance related to UAS.

And on February 17, 2020, through the work of the ABA RPTE Section, the ABA’s House of Delegates adopted Resolution 111, by which it urged “federal, state, local, territorial, and tribal governments” to protect real property interests “with respect to any statute, ordinance, regulation, administrative rule, order, or guidance pertaining to the development and usage of unmanned aircraft systems over private property.”

Whether or not the FAA or other government entity moves forward in regulating drone privacy, commercial UAS operators can follow best practices to mitigate against a privacy invasion. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration recommends, for instance:

  • informing others of the planned use of UAS and, if flying over private property, minimize operations above or otherwise obtain owner consent;
  • creating and making public a privacy policy for “covered data,” e., information collected by a UAS that identifies a particular person, the individual’s name or other personally identifiable information;
  • avoiding the use of UAS for the specific purpose of intentionally collecting covered data where the operator knows the data subject has a reasonable expectation of privacy;
  • establishing a process for receiving privacy or security concerns, including requests to delete, deidentify, or obfuscate the data subject’s covered data, and make that process easily accessible to the public, such as by posting on the company website;
  • limiting the use and sharing of covered data, and securing what data is retained; and
  • monitoring and complying with “Evolving Federal, State, and Local UAS Laws.”

In the meantime, until the IPP releases recommendations that could allow for a comprehensive, unified framework in dealing with the seeming myriad of issues raised by drones, local governments, drone operators and the like will be left to their own devices.

Disruption: When Did It Start and Where Will It End?

Brian Gallagher | Construction Executive | April 24, 2019

If change is the only constant—as was famously observed by a Greek philosopher circa 500 B.C.—then why single out some changes as “disruption”?

Disruption is about more than just technology; it’s about more, even, than the rapid rollout and development of technology in the past couple of decades. The word disruption refers to processes or products that are fundamentally different from what is currently in use and that render unforeseen, large-scale changes. Early discussions of disruption (the term was coined by Harvard Business School professor Clayton M. Christensen in a 1995 Harvard Business Review article) compared incremental change in existing systems, which are usually supported by established corporations, to innovations that start out as something completely fresh, limited in their appeal and flawed in initial iterations.

The construction industry was—and still is—late to adopt most technologies and late in experiencing overall disruption. It also lags behind other industries when it comes to efficiency and productivity. McKinsey reported that construction is one of the “least digitized industries in the world,” despite employing approximately 7% of the world’s working-age population and representing one of the world economy’s largest sectors. Disruption is likely to be fast approaching now, even for the construction industry. But its delay may confer the benefit of allowing construction companies to learn from other industries’ mistakes.

WHAT’S HAPPENED SO FAR?

Some drivers of change, such as the pursuit of lower costs, aren’t new—they’re age-old. Lower costs, or at least a better value proposition for the customer, are at the root of most tech adoption success stories. Frequently, savings are associated with better use of assets. For example, app-based ride share services challenged the assumed necessity of car ownership and presented consumers with a completely new model for transportation. The same thing can apply to the construction industry, where idle construction equipment and wasted materials cost contractors enormous sums every year. Software-based sharing programs can dramatically reduce barriers to equipment rental and leasing. Similarly, GPS and industry-specific mobile components, such as barcode scanners and radio frequency identification readers, greatly improve accuracy in tracking shipments, equipment and material location and inventory.

When companies fail to quickly adopt new technologies or workflows, it is usually due to entrenched mindsets and failure to imagine sweeping change.

Established companies have repeatedly underestimated consumers’ willingness to alter behavior. Disruptive companies that start small (as Amazon did with books) often go unnoticed as they continue to add services and products (as Amazon did with streaming and electronic devices). By the time businesses notice their competition, it’s too late to catch up. Other examples include the entertainment industry, where video rental stores did not envision their service being supplanted by content streaming or rental kiosks, and the hotel industry, where consumer willingness to open properties they owned via Airbnb—and their willingness to stay in a stranger’s home—was unanticipated. The construction industry may be similarly shortsighted as it fails to see robotic construction, machine learning, modularization and other trends as game changers.

Often, however, even when industries do see change coming, they are unsure of how to meet it. This has created openings for small, agile start-ups to disrupt larger, established companies. These start-ups typically launch fundamentally new business models that are based on a new technology, which serves as an enabler. The new technologies are often computer-based (and, increasingly, mobile-based), but not always: improved battery technology has enabled better cars, and improved oil extraction technologies have enabled hydraulic fracturing.

WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT?

PwC Global defines five factors that can significantly alter an industry: 

  1. changes in customer behavior;
  2. new kinds of competition;
  3. shifting regulation;
  4. new methods of distribution; and 
  5. changes to a company’s core business.

Successful company response can include using detailed plans and specialization to guide growth; inviting more team involvement (not less, as is an all-too-common reaction); and instituting a global supply chain. It’s imperative that a company broadly identify what it is providing consumers; beyond the specific product or service being offered, there is always a basic problem being solved. For example, cars are a product; transporting people from one location to another solves a basic problem. Companies should also look at how and why people are using their products. For the construction industry, the question becomes, “how are people using the facilities the industry builds?” A timely example is warehouses, where traditional pick/pack/ship routines are giving way to the new single-item picking requirements of e-commerce as well as to automated equipment, which requires different floor layouts, ceiling clearances, etc.

Another strategy for success is being open to vertical integration—or in the construction industry, end-to-end construction. Design and construction companies need to better visualize how their business models can innovate in terms of where and how buildings, facilities and infrastructure are planned, designed, procured, constructed, operated and maintained. Investing in research and development, exploring new project delivery methods and remaining open to new materials and methods are all critical.

There are currently a few key ways in which technology can be leveraged to spur growth and efficiency in design, construction and engineering:

  • Productivity. Owners and contractors are increasingly using technology to benchmark productivity. This will serve as a driver to adopt improved methods. A recent McKinsey report, Imagining Construction’s Digital Future, identified the construction industry as being ripe for disruption. According to McKinsey, large construction projects take 20% longer than scheduled to complete and are up to 80% over budget. Overall, the construction industry has trailed other industries in the adoption of process and technology innovations. In addition, they struggle with the basics. Opportunities exist to improve project planning and coordination, develop contractual approaches for risk sharing and innovation, improve performance management and refine supply chain approaches. Moreover, construction R&D spending is less than 1%, well below the 3.5% to 4.5% for the aerospace and automotive sectors. 
  • Collaboration. Mobile devices and the apps created for them have improved collaboration among members of design and construction teams by allowing workers to quickly access, document, share and edit important project information. Cloud-based software and file storage extends that functionality. Heavy-duty hardware made specifically for field work (featuring rugged construction and screens that are better lit for viewing in bright daylight) has also entered the market. It is expected that wearables such as smart glasses and hardhats that can provide visualization, augmented and mixed reality will eventually replace handheld devices, further removing barriers to communication.
  • Building Information Modeling. BIM is now in wide use, with recent program versions broadening the range of information contained within a model. For example, conceptual models are created for use during early planning phases—even during capital appropriations—and are then built upon during the design phase. Models pull from historical or other databases to improve delivery of information on site conditions, scheduling, etc. and they can be connected to devices in the field, where real-time sharing enhances productivity. It is also becoming more common for an expanding range of team members to have simultaneous access to a project model, and for the model to be a required deliverable to the owner and operations team. Beyond the three spatial dimensions modeled in original iterations of BIM programs, 5D is the next generation of building modeling. It takes into account a project’s cost and schedule, as well as physical characteristics, such as acoustics and thermal performance, that don’t fit neatly onto a coordinate grid. Building models, therefore, increasingly resemble the real-world structures they are meant to represent.
  • Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality. VR is an interactive computer-simulated environment—more akin to walking through a space than viewing a model of it. AR, while similar, uses the real world as a visual backdrop and superimposes computer-generated information. Because these types of simulation can be quite realistic, they represent a new era in architecture, engineering and construction. In addition to improving clash detection and safety, these technologies show great promise in improving the accuracy of decisions made during project planning.
  •  Drones and Geolocation. Drones, which continue to become more proficient in communicating with software on the receiving end, can collect information in locations that are hard for humans to access. Captured images can support site assessment and inspections, as well as augment a project team’s understanding of project progress and as-built conditions. Drones can also be utilized to monitor logistics, deliveries and the workforce. Some companies are taking drone footage and converting it into three-dimensional pictures and videos that can be compared to architectural plans. Drones can work in conjunction with geolocation technology. They can be outfitted with GPS, take high-definition photos and/or generate images using light detection and ranging (LIDAR). Once incorporated into 3D models, this information can improve a project team’s understanding of ground conditions, which can be especially helpful during early planning. 
  • Laser Scanning. As many manufacturers and other industrial owners prefer to purchase existing facilities versus building a new greenfield facility, laser scanning is growing as a tool to get an accurate picture of as-built conditions, even those that are invisible to the naked eye. Field measurements performed with laser scanners capture very detailed geometric information in the form of point cloud data and can be fed into BIM or CAD files to generate highly detailed, accurate drawings. This reduces the number of clashes between existing conditions and renovated elements.
  •  Internet of Things. Process digitization will continue as the industry moves from paper to digital and online technologies. This will include real-time sharing of information to ensure collaboration; progress management and risk assessment; worker and safety management; quality control; document management; and more predictable project outcomes. Sensors and software now support building and infrastructure monitoring (such as tracking a building’s energy use or assessing bridge degradation) on an unprecedented scale. As the IoT develops, this trend will only continue. 

Some experts forecast that a new wave of fundamental changes is on the way and that it will be touched off by products that are able to “learn.” This seems a likely outcome in the construction industry. Current tech adoption has been used, for the most part, to augment existing workflows, as demonstrated by the above examples of asset management, scheduling and the assessment of building performance. But in the near future, a confluence of technologies such as IoT, application programming interface (API) and big data will become a fabric uniting and transforming other technologies. The amount of information that can be known, and the speed with which it can be known—not to mention the development of physical tools such as 3D printers that extrude concrete—will cause a sea change in the way construction activities are performed and the way business decisions are made. Ultimately, these investments must show an increase in productivity, efficiency and better project outcomes.

Companies that are agile, proactive and willing to embrace change will be the leaders – the question is, how many construction companies will be among them?