Drone Construction DJI Mavic 2 drone UAV (airborne)

Introducing Construction and Property Management at Westminster Business School

Within the School of Applied Management, part of Westminster Business School, we offer a number of Undergraduate degree programmes especially within the Construction department. The development of these degree courses gives the student every opportunity to gain real life experiences and to be able to engage with employers from the industry. The modules are designed to allow students to gain skills towards their employability goals, assisting with the student’s personal outcomes the construction teaching team, including myself, normally arrange visits throughout the year to various construction sites, giving students a fabulous opportunity to see how it all works. The visits are embedded into modules so that the students can consider the complexity of projects which neatly links to their studies and enhances their employability skills for securing a professional career pathway.

At the tail end of March 2020, the Government lockdown sanctions were imposed on the country, which restricted the department’s movements to enable such visits. Therefore, the team had to think through carefully the best way to tackle the problem, so as not to disadvantage our learners from visiting suitable sites within their study programme. The solution eventually arrived at was to think digital filming: “Let’s make it a virtual visit, bring the visit to the lecture”. We have the digital rooms so we can try to make a film from a construction site and screen it in the lecture. Our Head of School helped the construction department by purchasing photographic pieces of equipment.  These devices are used for capturing digital video images which also included a drone.

What is a ‘Drone’?

You may have heard in the news about drones, the potential problem of flying objects piloted by hobbyists shutting down airports or being a nuisance to the public, but if used in the proper way that they were intended, then the drone, known as a UAV (unmanned aircraft vehicle) is a dynamic piece of digital filming equipment capable of reaching heights of 400 feet and places which would otherwise be hard to get to. The overall flying range of a UAV is 7.5KM but legislation emphasises that a line of sight is always required from the pilot to the drone. Flights can last up to 30 minutes per battery.

Drone Construction DJI Mavic 2 drone UAV
The DJI Mavic 2: used by Construction teaching staff at the University of Westminster

On the ground the pilot flies the drone using remote controls or virtual reality goggles (A.K.A. VR wearables), these controls also operate the digital camera, which is attached to the underside of the drone. The drone is powered with electric motors which drive four propellors allowing the drone to take flight. The images are streamed back to either a tablet, phone or the VR goggles to give the pilot vision and to record the video footage.

The Construction Site

To enable the construction team to capture footage of a construction site in preparation for the students benefits a suitable location was found for the filming process. The construction manager was proactive towards enhancing the students learning journey and allowed the filming to take place on their site. They also gave a brief interview relating to the new construction methods that had been employed with the project.

With the permission for flying granted, I managed to fly the drone around the site boundary, capturing aspects of the construction methods and materials being used. The video footage was then downloaded from the drone to a laptop, the images were uploaded onto the module Blackboard site. The students could then access and view the video, but the process lacked the live interaction from a normal site visit, so I then conducted research into locating a platform to enable streaming of live footage into the virtual lecture room.

Live Streaming Test Flight

This chapter was revolutionary for the department, so we advertised through Blackboard announcements asking students to participate in this event. We required the students to give feedback on their own thoughts about the live streaming event: “would it be beneficial to enhance their learning?” – we thought so. We managed to recruit a student seminar group who kindly volunteered to assist the department with conducting an experimental live streaming drone flight. They waited with anticipation in the virtual lecture room. A suitable flight location was found, after the pre-flight checks the drone was airborne. Assisted with the streaming, one of the construction team operated their laptop and could monitor the virtual lecture room at the same time. The streaming platform was now live, views from the Kent countryside popped up onto the laptop screen, it was working, our students could now take note of the types of trees in the Garden of England. The students viewed the footage from the virtual lecture room, one student was viewing from Portugal.

Student feedback was positive, good experience was received by all that were present, this included captured audio with the visual display within the virtual lecture room. The time lag between the drone and the lecture room was the only slight niggle but it proved that the equipment worked, opening up an array of new ventures into the virtual class.

The Future

More live streaming flights will start soon, the latest news from the construction team is the site that we have managed to secure access to large residential building site located in Oxford. We will stream live footage into the lecture from the start of the construction project and cover at least two years of development.

With new software Apps being developed to assist with drone flights, we can now use the drone for supply chain information to project managers, the App allows the operator to track areas and different stages of a project in real time and map the data to a three-dimensional digital image of the project. We can also start to implement surveying techniques to monitor land use and take land measurement data. All of the above can be streamed directly into the lecture room.

Nicholas Vosper profile portrait picture bylineNicholas Vosper is a Senior Lecturer within the WBS School of Applied Management and Course Leader on our Real Estate BSc (Hons) programme. He holds a BSc (Hons) in Building Surveying, an HNC in Construction Management, an Electrical Commissioning Engineer and Postgraduate Certificate in Education, having worked as a professional building surveyor and building control surveyor in the property and construction industry for 22 years.

Nicholas teaches at undergraduate and postgraduate levels in the areas of construction technology, building services, sustainability and surveying.

Read more from our Academic Minds blog column as well as this feature on the 2019 Construction and Property Careers Fair which Nicholas helped to organise.

Please browse our full range of Undergraduate and Postgraduate Construction and Property Management degree programmes taught at the University of Westminster to find the right course for your.

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