Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Crossrail chief on the future of drones

A key technology figure at Crossrail has outlined ways drones could be used in the construction projects of the future.

Marie Gilmour, innovation programme manager at the project promoter behind the £15bn trans-London mega-scheme, said unmanned aircraft could have a range of benefits on building sites.

Crossrail owns two drones and has four members of staff fully trained in using them.

Recently released drone footage of completed tunnels deep below the capital is just the beginning of how they could be used, Gilmour said.

“We have formed a working group so we can evolve our use of the technology,” she said.

“We are assessing how we can use drones effectively for a number of applications such as site inspections, progress updates and site briefings.”

Drone technology has already had unexpected benefits on Crossrail.

“We had a crane that was being used for heavy lifting and the site team were concerned that a noise they heard may be caused by snagging in the pulley system,” said Gilmour.

“We flew a drone up and took footage of the crane in test mode, which provided reassurance to the site team that the pulley was operating correctly. This was quick, safe and had minimal cost, avoiding the need to run time-consuming test lifts or call out the crane supplier.”

Now the client hopes to encourage more ideas about how to use the technology.

“We believe drones could be used for many applications: site briefings of subcontractors, identifying hazards and setting out challenges; supporting assurance inspections during fit out stages; inspection of works in constricted or hazardous spaces; providing updates leading up to handover,” said Gilmour.

“The whole idea of the working group is to invite people to come up with suggestions of how we could make the most use of drones safely and efficiently.”

Crossrail has already received some interesting proposals.

“Some suggestions from the community we’ve already had include volumetrics – if there’s been a major excavation you could fly drones with suitable scanning cameras to work out how many vans you need to take material away; they could be used to scan concrete, looking for stresses or movement,” said Gilmour.

“We are planning trials incorporating a 360-degree camera and a thermal imagery camera. If we can demonstrate there is a value in a certain applications and share that knowledge, we believe the contractors will more quickly adopt these tools.”

Drone usage in construction will only increase from here, she predicted. 

“There is a lot of momentum behind the use of drones and I think they will become more commonplace.

“The role of the Innovate18 programme is to provide resources and support for some of that exploration. We have already developed guidelines about how to use them in a construction context, and we will publish this as part of our legacy.”  

Fran Rabuck, an independent consultant and previously director of technology research at Bentley Systems in the US, earlier this year said drones could one day be seen in site toolboxes.

Future Technology Forum

Marie Gilmour will be speaking at NCE’s Future Technology Forum in London on 1 October.

The one-day event, taking place at The Crystal, brings together the industry’s key decision-makers, innovators and technology leaders to share crucial insight on how emerging technologies can improve the design, delivery and maintenance of future structures and infrastructure. Find out more about the programme, which features exciting interactive formats such as World Café discussions and a live Next-Generation Dragons’ Den completion, here, and see who our speakers, dragons and advisory board are here.

Future Technology Forum brochure

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Please note comments made online may also be published in the print edition of New Civil Engineer. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.