September 01, 2015 8:15AM
Bill Strenth remembers full well how the construction industry operated before the advent of iPlan tables, simulators and laser levels.
“I did it the hard way,” said Strenth, assistant professor in Pittsburg State’s School of Construction. “I came up through the industry when the only real way to get anything done was getting your hands dirty. We didn’t have all of the gadgets and tools that we do today.”
That’s not to say, however, that he resents today’s technology. In fact, he embraces it and is often at the forefront of bringing that technology to Pittsburg State. One of his favorite gadgets lately has been the quadcopter, also commonly referred to as a drone.
By attaching a camera to the quadcopter, Strenth and industry professionals nationwide are capturing video and images of job sites that they never before could. And, in many cases, drones have eliminated the need to place humans in dangerous inspection situations.
“The quadcopter is one piece of technology that has drastically changed how the construction industry operates,” he said. “It has made the work safer, more efficient and has in many ways given us a whole new perspective on what we do. If we can get the visuals we need with a drone instead of asking a person to be placed in dangerous situations, we all win. Plus, with the drone, we can get images that no person could ever capture.”
Strenth has quickly become a leading expert in drone use in the construction field and has been asked to speak at several conferences on that topic. Most recently, he presented at the annual training meeting of the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters in Ann Arbor, Mich.
“They had sessions on ‘Job Sites of the Future,’ and they asked me to come up and talk about drones,” he said. “They knew how we’ve been using it here, and they wanted to hear about how it’s being used out in industry. I even got to fly it for them inside the conference venue.”
He’s also presented on drones to Kansas Leadership and at inner city school summer camps.
“This is a technology that is incredibly useful and beneficial, but it’s also fun to operate and to watch it being flown,” he said. “It can be fascinating to watch.”
More than just talk about the drone, however, Strenth is also often called upon to put it to good use. The city of Pittsburg recently asked Strenth to use the drone to capture aerial footage of certain roads the city was preparing to repair.
“By flying the drone just 30 feet over the roads, you can see all of the cracks and problem areas,” Strenth said. “You can see exactly where the roads need the most work, and that’s not a perspective you could easily get before this technology came along.”
Daron Hall, Pittsburg city manager, said Pitt State’s drone technology is valuable asset to the city’s projects.
“The city is fortunate to partner with Bill Strenth and PSU’s School of Construction to utilize drones to provide before and after views of our road and utility projects,” Hall said. “Drone technology provides us with a very detailed and specific record of existing conditions and marked utilities prior to construction. We plan to use the PSU drone for the 4th Street repaving project in September and as many utility line replacement projects as PSU can accommodate.”
Strenth has flown the drone over several area worksites, providing valuable images and information to companies and students alike.
“The best part about using our drone out in the field is that we can show that footage to students in class to show them a new perspective of a worksite,” he said. “It’s almost like a virtual field trip to these sites, and we can look at it and discuss it in ways we never could before.”
Strenth said he expects drones to continue to rise in importance within the construction industry.
“Not everyone is using it right now, because there are certain restrictions on how high you can fly and where you can fly,” he said. “However, there are major companies who are using this technology today, and I think we’ll continue to see more buy into it. So being able to have one here and begin to educate our students on how they are used is a great tool in our belts.”