Night shift: Extending daylight in the new decade of infrastructure
By Melinda Zimmerman-BoehlerMay 11, 2023
The United States has entered into what is being called the “Decade of Infrastructure.” There will be over $110 billion in funding for over 4,300 specific projects, touching over 3,200 communities across all 50 states, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico.
The plan is for roads and bridges to be rebuilt, ports and airports modernized, lead pipes replaced to deliver clean water, and high-speed internet reaching more homes and areas.
“I don’t think people have gotten their arms around just how much is going to be happening,” said Brady Markell, director of marketing and business development, Street Smart Rental, Columbus, MN-based rental outfit specializing in traffic safety products and solutions for the U.S. and Canada. “There’s going to be a need to do more work, and more of that work will need to be performed at night just to get all the projects done.”
The American construction industry has been somewhat slower to adopt high-tech solutions than other industries, but that’s beginning to change. With the promise of an infrastructure transformation approaching, a new era of construction will require a fresh approach, including an increase of nighttime work. New high-tech tools that extend the daylight hours allowing for more nighttime construction could become more commonplace.
Romancing the drone
Drone technology has taken the world by storm, transforming many ways we live and work. While the construction industry tends to keep some technologies at arms-length, drones appear to be different, and have already been given the collective nod of approval.
According to Dodge Data and Analytics, drones are being utilized on 55% of construction projects, up from 48% in 2021 and 36% in 2022, with usage higher among large contractors (67%) compared with small contractors (9%). The newest application of drone technology in the construction industry has been applied to an unusual
candidate: the light tower.
At CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2023 in Las Vegas in March, start up Blue Vigil made its debut by previewing an entirely new product concept in the traditional towable light tower category. Called an Aerial LED “ALED,” the drone-powered, portable light aims at making nighttime sites safer and more productive.
“We are bringing major technological innovation to the $4.5-billion global light tower category,” said Robert Schumann, CEO, Blue Vigil. “Currently, towed light towers are the de-facto standard for a majority of nighttime roadside, bridge, overpass and other horizontal construction sites. However, they do a poor job of illuminating work scenes due to the inherent limitation in the tower height and lack of flexibility in placement. We have a better solution.”
The “flying light tower” innovation
Since the 1990s, the light tower category has seen little innovation.
“Over the past 30 years, manufacturers added LEDs, made them a little bit smaller and made them mobile. It’s fundamentally a very mature technology,” said Schumann. “They can’t make the masts any higher because of basic physics. If you make the mast taller, you have to increase the footprint and the weight to counter-balance the added height. Today’s light towers are already maxed out from a practical perspective.”
Blue Vigil decided to make the old-fashioned light tower take flight. The company’s ALED is a compact area lighting system that mounts a high-intensity LED array on a tethered Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), also known as a drone, positioning the light up to 100 feet above a job site. Using the tether for power allows the light to remain in position for as long as needed.
The drone light puts over 8,000 square feet of five-foot-candle, OSHA-quality light on the ground, providing nearly twice as much useable light coverage as traditional towed light towers.
“Illuminating a work area from directly above eliminates dangerous shadows and glare that create hazardous conditions for workers and motorists,” said Schumann. “The ALED portable light will dramatically improve work zone safety and operational efficiency by putting more usable light on the ground where it’s needed.”
The all-weather light is enclosed in a rugged, person-portable wheeled case that can be positioned wherever illumination is needed. Because it can be easily moved and positioned, it reduces the need to have heavy light towers stationed in areas where they aren’t always needed.
“It weighs only 75 pounds and fits into a pickup or SUV. It doesn’t require a trailer or towing, and that makes it easy to position and store,” said Schumann. “Set-up is really simple. You position the unit, open the case and push one-button to raise the light into position. The direction and brightness can be adjusted via the controller while the light is in the air.”
Street Smart aims to give its customers fast, easy access to the most technologically advanced, reliable and cost-effective equipment. Some 24 years ago, the company
began supplying equipment such as solar-powered portable changeable message signs, radar speed feedback trailers, portable traffic signals, arrow boards, crash attenuators, and other niche products used in highway construction zones projects.
“We find best-in-class products to put into our fleet, and we are always looking for ancillary products to add into our product offering,” Markell said.
Street Smart is one of the companies who will be beta testing Blue Vigil’s ALED light this summer, hoping to add the product to its line-up in the future. Markell said this will help Street Smart diversify their customer base, similar to how they added security camera trailers to their lineup a few years ago.
“95% of our camera rentals are to people outside of the traffic control industry,” he said, noting the new drone light is ideal for general contractors. “The appetite will be there for the contractor because it’s a better quality of light, so they won’t need to use as many traditional light towers. It’s also a small footprint that takes up less space, making it very agile and you can bring it anywhere.”
Markell pointed out the contractor will have multiple options for powering the light - by either plugging it in or powering it through wall/shore power; a smaller, quieter portable 3000 W generator; or a common vehicle inverter – whichever best meets the needs of the job site.
“The need for lighting on construction sites is going to increase, and this product has checked a lot of the boxes that light towers traditionally do not. It offers a bigger, higher-quality light field, less noise, an ease of powering, and due to the fact this isn’t on a trailer; it’s highly portable. You can more easily get it to remote locations so the concept of ‘use it anywhere’ is actually real,” he said. “I’m excited to see where this goes.”
Commercial availability is planned for the first quarter of 2024.