Fin24.com | Gauteng turns to drone technology to monitor construction projects

Ekurhuleni – The Gauteng Department of Infrastructure Development launched a drone on Monday to monitor and collect data in a bid to improve inefficiencies and reduce on project delays.

A drone was modelled for the media and departmental officials at the Phillip Moyo Community Health Centre in Etwatwa outside Benoni, east of Johannesburg, where the department is building an extension to the clinic.

The construction began in July 2017 and was supposed to have been completed 12 months later but the project had to be extended to 15 March 2019 as it is only 45% complete.

The costs of the delays – partially caused by community protests demanding local procurement – have not yet been calculated and the small clinic on the East Rand is a microcosm of a much larger problem in public infrastructure programmes where projects frequently run over time and budget.

The Gauteng Department of Infrastructure Development has 340 projects in the pipeline over the next 3 years, mainly in education and health, with a total budget of R4.5bn.

MEC for Infrastructure Development Jacob Mamabolo told Fin24 that he came across the use of drones to monitor public build projects at a dinner attended by technology experts.

“I was explaining to them, my frustration with officials… the officials still lie to me, how can I get to know what’s happening on site and I got an advice to try drones.”

The drone launched on Monday cost approximately R20 000 and is the size of a 500ml water bottle, weighing 700g. It has the ability to fly out to a distance of 7km, with obstacle sensors. Interns are being trained in the department to operate them and officials estimate five drones will be needed to monitor the numerous construction sites across Gauteng.

It was piloted between January and March at 63 projects around the province to monitor and collect data.

No value for money

According to National Treasury, between 1998/99 and 2016/17, the public sector spent more than R2.7 trillion on infrastructure. Mamabolo believes the considerable spend has not made as large an impact as expected.

“The reason why our country is not getting value for money from massive, massive investments we have made is because the data for decision making, for trouble shooting, for intervention, for good decision making – the data is not available”

“So we work in the dark, we roam like…lost people in the dark corners, we don’t know where we are going.”

Mamabolo added that suppliers and contractors also undermine public infrastructure projects as the department finds it difficult to hold them accountable, without sufficient data as evidence.

A March 2016 report by investment bank Goldman Sachs predicted that the largest use for commercial drones in the immediate future will be in construction.

The bank said that drones in all industries, including construction and agriculture can offer improved accuracy, frequency and turnaround time.

Depressed construction industry

Mamabolo is grappling with the state of the construction sector experiencing a record low level of confidence.

“Government doesn’t have clear projects that it can present to this sector. We need a list of projects, where they are, how they are performing, when they will be completed…there’s no transparency about the portfolio, there’s just money being dropped.”

The FNB/BER Civil Confidence Index fell to a record low of 12 in the first quarter of 2018. The current index level means that close to 90% of respondents are dissatisfied with prevailing business conditions.

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