Drones have much the subject of nearly relentless media speculation over the past year (or more). But while it’s easy to make bold predictions about the possibilities of widespread drone use, we wanted to highlight a few ways that these unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are actually being used right now. One of most obvious benefits of drones is their ability to easily go where humans can’t. This could have far-reaching implications for service companies, which often need to inspect difficult to reach buildings and assets.
Here are three organizations that recently started testing and employing drone inspectors.
Last week Allstate received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to continue their ongoing drone trials. Allstate has been conducting research with the Property Drone Consortium to evaluate the potential of drones to be used as remote insurance inspectors.
The hope is that drones will easily be able to inspect damaged roofs, collapsed buildings, and other difficult-to-reach places. This could prove especially valuable after severe storms, when technicians are often unable to assess damaged structures or evaluate claims. In a statement last year (when Allstate first announced the proposed study), they explained “Drones used in the claims process could provide faster payments to customers, especially in an area where widespread damage occurs quickly.”
Allstate’s FAA approval comes on the heals of a number of other insurance companies, such as AIG and USSA, that have sought commercial exemptions for drone use. With this approval, Allstate will now be able to fly drones over private property as long as they have a licensed pilot and the permission of the property owner.
The U.K.’s Royal Navy recently begun using drones to complete faster surveys of its ships. By using drones to carry out the inspections, the Royal Navy won’t have to turn around the vessels (which can be time consuming with a 500 ft long destroyer) and can conduct maintenance checks while at sea.
In many ways, the Navy is borrowing from the private sector with this new program. Lt Steve Lovatt, who initiated the trial, told Forces TV, “This is normal business in the oil and gas industries when they’re inspecting rig. It’s quick, cheap, you could do it wherever the ship is, the results are with you in minutes.”
The drones being used can reportedly withstand wind gusts of up to 40mph. Testing of the drone inspections is scheduled to continue (and be expanded) over the next 16 months.
Consumers Energy is the fourth energy company in the US to receive approval from the FAA to begin drone operations, and the first utility in Michigan to begin doing so. After receiving approval, they launched their first drone on Monday, June 22nd. Consumers Energy has traditionally used a helicopter to inspect power lines, but according a statement from their vice president of energy delivery, “Using a UAV in place of a helicopter could tremendously reduce fuel use and emissions, and our neighbors would experience a noise reduction in their environment.”
According to the terms of their exemption, they must keep drones within 400ft of the ground, and not exceed a flight speed of 100mph.
While the above organizations have copious resources (and in one case, government funding), drone inspections may not be out of reach for small businesses. In additional to the FAA’s recent exemptions for insurance and energy companies, they also approved the start-up Fly4Me to begin operating its “Uber for Drones” program. The platform helps local drone pilots connect with companies or individuals that need a temporary drone for mapping, private events, or – you guessed it – inspections.