Building companies turn to drones to catch construction-site thieves

drones construction sites thieves

To many people, the pilfering of building areas is a quasi-victimless crime: goods are boosted, businesses file claims, insurance pays up. But that illegal activity costs affected companies hundreds of millions each year, which is why some are now relying on drones to patrol construction sites to battle thieves.

Building site theft costs businesses up to $1 billion annually

Use of drones to police construction sites against thieves is just getting started, but almost certain to take off, given the stakes involved. According to wide-ranging estimates, the cost of theft from building projects costs between $300 million to $1 billion per year. Goods stolen range from simple lumber to power tools to heavy-duty trucks, with the average loss per criminal hit being a painful $42,000. Just as bad, many items thieves prize most aren’t readily available in even specialized retail outlets, and can require weeks or months of work-impeding wait to be replaced.

Use of cameras monitored by guards have helped limit the damage, but has also proven far from perfect. Waning human attention spans (or sudden snoring) can create sufficient opportunity for raiders to act. Many prowlers, moreover, case targets beforehand to locate cameras, then spray paint their lenses or shoot them out before striking. Which is why Newark, California-based Nightingale Security is deploying drones to construction site clients as an extra means of thwarting thieves.

Nightingale – which offers what it says is the world’s first robotic aerial security service for building customers – provides an all-in-one uncrewed aerial vehicle (UAV) docking and charging platform for policing purposes. Those base stations can be towed and positioned on protected sites, and their drones can be programmed to fly regular missions – primarily at night – either individually or in rotating groups. 

Automated drones police construction sites for thieves

Their Blackbird craft have maximal flight times of half an hour, and require 35 to 45 minutes to recharge. Nightingale says two docking units can cover 100 acres in a single paired flight, though a typical drone mission over construction sites in search of thieves takes around 15 minutes. With three units in place, a good-sized building project can have eyes in the skies almost constantly.

 “There is a lot of incentive to using drones,” said Nightingale CEO Jack Wu in an article using the company as a case study in UAV construction site security. “They have the ability to monitor vast areas very easily, doing it cheaper, better, and faster than traditional options. They can see better, using thermal cameras, and so can operate anytime, anywhere, day or night, rain or shine.”

The Blackbird UAVs are equipped with multiple sensors, and their Robotic AI Intrusion Detection application sends immediate alerts to an onsite guard as soon as anything suspicious is detected. That chain of command gives human appreciation the opportunity to evaluate what’s actually going on, and calibrate intervention accordingly (thereby avoiding ugly confrontations – or unnecessary calls to overworked police – when it turns out nefarious-looking figures were just a few kids stealing a smoke).

The base stations can be programmed to provide a full range of flight options. Drones can be scheduled to fly regular rounds of construction sites to identify potential thieves, or be set to scramble only when on-ground sensors are tripped and emit an alert. The docking units contain network and computer capacities to provide situational information and mission objectives to craft flown, and machine-learning abilities to the overall system. 

Wu says there’s a double advantage of using UAV platforms to secure building sites when work crews are off. They greatly decrease the ability of crooks to haul loot away, and in so doing virtually eliminate the risk of return visits that successful thieves habitually make.

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