July 6, 2020
A post by Jackie Bellicent exploring the topic of virtual inspections for construction sites.
When we think about the people battling on the frontlines, inspectors are probably the last professionals we think about. However, that doesn’t change the fact that they’re out there risking their lives to keep things moving. And by things, we mean literal people moving about to get entire places built. After all, every contractor requires a go signal to start the next phase of construction, but that’s hard to do with today’s limitations.
Enter virtual inspections—the modern alternative to the physical, in-house inspections carried out by certified inspectors whenever a space is up for lease, and periodically when new sites are being constructed. Using a video tool, the inspector can connect with the contractor without the need for both to be onsite. This practice has become more common now that it’s near impossible to do physical inspections. Essential construction work is still being allowed to continue despite these turbulent times, but there have been a lot of delays in getting the necessary inspectors—whether it’s because of the tight state rules or fear for their health. As such, many contractors and construction sites have ended up off-schedule. But with virtual inspections, projects are able to proceed as planned.
To give you an idea of how it works, below are some ways inspectors are conducting their visits.
This is the most common software being used to conduct virtual inspections. While everyday apps like Zoom and GoToMeeting are often used, many prefer more secure apps like WhatsApp and Signal. With lots of potentially sensitive information being traded between contractor and inspector, they will need an option that keeps their data secure. Moreover, they will sometimes require that a video be recorded onsite for future review and reference. Depending on what the inspector needs to see, the contractor may even need to perform basic measurements and field tests on screen, which video conferencing apps easily allow for. However, in order for a video inspection to be able to go ahead, the video conferencing tools needs to be of a certain quality so that the footage can be studied remotely.
While many virtual inspections are being done via video conferencing software, the option for drone-driven building inspections is now becoming more widely used. Advancements in the design of metal-core PCBs have addressed issues like thermal dissipation, performance, as well as increasing their lifespan, allowing drones to operate for longer and in more adverse conditions. This makes them ideal for inspecting lonely homes found in remote locations that aren’t easily accessible to building inspectors. They can also be used to inspect hard-to-reach parts, like the roof or ceiling of old and ruined buildings. Since they’re equipped with a good quality camera, drones can produce higher quality images compared to live footage recorded on a mobile device.
Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) is one of the greatest achievements of the drone industry to date. Unlike the usual Visual Line of Sight flights, BVLOS is able to cover more distance. For remote inspections, this could be a very useful feature—especially for bigger sites or taller buildings. This way, the inspector and the pilot assisting them don’t have to move their setup around the vicinity, allowing for a faster inspection process.
Then again, despite these benefits, BVLOS flights still aren’t considered legal in many states. The first BVLOS drone permitted to fly over the country was only allowed last August. The University of Alaska Fairbanks, in collaboration with the Federal Aviation Administration, pushed for the project since the state’s more remote areas lacked the proper roads to allow businesses to carry out their jobs. This includes but is not limited to couriers like Amazon, plumbers, and more. Inspectors can also be included in this list as their task normally requires them to be on-site. Once BVLOS is permitted in most areas (and though it’s a slow process, we’re hopeful that they will be), inspection work can more easily be conducted in hard-to-reach locations, too.
Not every residential area will have public internet, and, as mentioned, the video quality from a live conferencing app isn’t always the best. Fortunately, tech start-ups have a solution. Companies like VuSpex or Inspected.com have created software that is allowing contractors to perform onsite self-inspections, complete with the ability to upload photos, videos, and notes. On the same platform, they can later send the files to an inspector, who then gives their approval remotely.
With strict distancing rules across the country, virtual inspections have become commonplace. But will they continue to be as popular once the situation calms down? The answer is yes. A virtual inspection is more efficient, as they are conducted in less time, giving contractors the opportunity to accept more jobs. Using virtual inspection technology, you even have the advantage of features like x-ray vision and AI analysis for more accurate results. It’s also a more accessible and sustainable way of conducting your inspections since you won’t need to travel to the construction site itself.
Indeed, virtual inspections are the future. Inspectors have a lot to gain by adopting this technology into their practices.
Exclusively written for Scopito.
by Jackie Bellicent
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