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Josef Hargrave

Global foresight manager

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Use of drones in façade inspection and design

Use of drones in façade inspection and design

Focus Area



BIM, Digital Services, Façades, Global Research Challenge 2016


Americas, Global



Use of drones in façade inspection and design

Façade inspection using traditional techniques is lengthy and involves disruption to the area around the building. Access platforms must be set up, remain in place during the inspection, and then be removed, causing inconvenience on adjacent roads and the sidewalk during set-up and take down. Drone technology offers a course of investigation that has the potential to reduce the amount of time to complete and to limit the disturbance to the adjacent areas. Drone inspections might not fully replace traditional inspection methods (inspections out from cradles), but might significantly reduce inspection times by allowing direct inspections to be focused on areas of concern pre-selected through drone inspection.

This project is funded under Arup’s Global Research Challenge 2016-17.

Key Findings

This research will investigate the opportunities and challenges of the use of drones for façade inspections, relative to existing practices in the industry.

This is applied research using real project sites. The aim is to develop first-hand experience of drone-based data collection processes (planning sorties, implementation, interpreting acquired data) to better understand the dynamics of the method.

We will focus on several key aspects:

  • inspection: data capture techniques to inspect, document and analyse existing buildings, including visual methods, thermal imaging and 3D scanning techniques;
  • dimensional surveying: quantitative survey methods that can generate highly accurate 3D models of existing conditions, and inform the façade design process;
  • flight path automation: integration of BIM data to create automated flight paths for process optimization, fight path documentation and data display;
  • restrictions: conformance with regulations on use of drones, particularly in relation to safety in urban settings.

Based on information from the case study sites, we will assess the applicability of drones for façade inspection, compared with traditional methods, and identify areas where drone technology offers benefits over existing approaches


Applied research on a real project will develop practical knowledge of the opportunities, issues, and workflow implications of using drones in facade inspections.

A detailed comparative analysis of drone-based performance versus traditional practice will inform our perspective on the benefits and drawbacks of drone-based work for future projects. As the regulatory landscape catches up with the technology, the spectrum of drone applications in the built environment will grow. This research will help us to support our clients to take better advantage of these new applications