Boyi Hu, Ph.D., Explores Impacts of the Use of Drones on Construction Sites

Boyi Hu, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Industrial & Systems Engineering (ISE) at the University of Florida (UF) has received funding from the National Science Foundation in support of his research to explore potential safety and health implications of construction crews working alongside collaborative drones (co-drones) on construction job sites.

The construction industry is known to be one of the most challenging industries for efficiency leading to productivity, and is also particularly dangerous for construction workers. As a result,, there has been a recent deployment of drones at construction sites to increase operations productivity and reduce possible safety risks to which workers might be exposed on the job.

With the increased use of drones for various applications, there is an expected increase in interaction between humans and co-drones. This collaboration can pose occupational safety and health questions and could ultimately lead to more dangerous work environments.

Dr. Hu is a co-principal investigator of an interdisciplinary research team including Masoud Gheisari, Ph.D., and Idris Jeelani, Ph.D., who are both assistant professors of the UF M.E. Rinker, Sr. School of Construction Management.

Together, the team will study the health and safety challenges that construction workers may encounter when working collaboratively with drones. The project will specifically examine fatal and non-fatal physical risks, any cognitive resource demands for users in perceiving motion of drones as well as inferring intent, and any psychological impacts on workers. The project will utilize simulation and virtual reality techniques to achieve these three research objectives. A combination of quantitative and qualitative measures obtained from interviews with construction workers, wearable sensing methods and ground reaction force measurement systems will all be used to identify health and safety impacts of co-drones in construction.

With this new data, the goal of the research is to develop comprehensive guidelines for the use of drones in a construction environment, and to support effective design of co-drones to satisfy construction-specific needs.

“Commercial drones have seen tremendous growth in adoption in the past few years, ever since the FAA granted exemptions to US companies that operate drones. Although there is an increase in drone adoption, there are still major barriers that prevent widespread adoption. Beyond some fundamental challenges such as regulation development and overall profitability in use, another barrier that is less discussed, but not necessarily less important, is the safety of passive agents or bystanders. Through this project, we are hoping to provide a partial solution to this important issue and shed light on future human-drone interaction design,” said Dr. Hu.

Broader impacts of this research include expanding the knowledge of co-drones beyond the construction industry and gaining an understanding of safe human work behaviors that could be adopted in any drone-work context.