Today when we hear about drones we are likely to think of military drones flying around the Middle-East, tracking down and taking out terrorists. Drones have just as many legitimate civilian uses. The explosion in the number of civilian drones started when photographers realized that drones could give them once-in-a-lifetime shots of famous landmarks. An amateur photographer might spend days trying to get just the right angle for a unique photograph of the Brooklyn Bridge or the Empire State Building, waiting for that brief moment when the lighting is just right! But once you’ve used a drone to zoom in from above, and circle around, you see all sorts of new possibilities, even for the most photographed subjects. Once you go drone, you just can’t go back!
It’s not that photos of building and landmarks have never been taken from above landmarks. Photographers have been taking aerial photographs since they could first get cameras into the air. However, until recently, aerial photography was almost exclusively the domain of the professional photographer, with an assignment that could pay to rent a plane or helicopter. Non-professionals could still take great aerial photos, but these were mostly happy accidents. A chance happening where a photographer was in just the right place at the right time. Cheap drones let every photographer take to the air, whenever they want. More recently, whenever you want… after you fill out some paperwork, and not near any public events.
Still, most of the time, most of the skies are open to the public. Even drone purists admit that an unlimited number of unidentified drones competing for space near national monuments is a bad idea. Drones can cheaply deliver new functions. For example, as the evidence for Global Warming continues to pile up, so too does storm damage to coastal cities and communities. Assessing the damage, so that victims can be quickly paid by their insurance company, is often time-consuming, delaying payments. Drones can help insurance companies speed up the process of assessing and paying for property damage.
In a storm-damaged area, property needs to be inspected at once. Foundations may be cracked, or roofs may be blown off. Walking abound on the ground some information, getting a clear top-down view of a home is vital. Going up and down on a ladder, or getting a full 360 view of the property is time-consuming. Careful assessment of moderate damage, especially to the roof, can make assessments dangerous. Damage to other parts of the building, partially uprooted trees, and other dangerous conditions make progress on the ground difficult. Owners may have evacuated a storm area, making it difficult for assessors to get access to multiple properties. The entire area may not be accessible from the ground if local roads are flooded or blocked. Drones can fly over these obstructions, and collect needed information.
Even without advanced robotics and artificial intelligence, simple remote controlled drones with high-resolution cameras can quickly and easily survey an entire neighborhood. HD video has given way to 4K (4 x HD resolution), and even higher 3D resolutions are available. Some systems put together 10 4K cameras into a ball-shaped holder, creating a 40K system that stitches together all of the images into a single nearly 360 3D stream of video. The resolution is so high that you can do a quick grid pattern fly over across a damaged area, and then sort out critical information later from the high-resolution images. Drones will revolutionize the work of the 300,000 claims adjusters, appraisers, examiners, and investigators employed in America today.
The idea of a claims adjustor in the sky isn’t just fantasy or a clever idea for some time in the future. Allstate insurance has started to use drones to examine property damage, outside of San Antonio, Texas. A recent storm did a lot of damage to the roofs of homes. Using a drone has proven to be faster, safer and more cost effective. As a bonus, the firms that manage the drones convert the images into 3D models that provide a better way for property owners and insurance companies to visualize the extent of the storm damage.
Getting to your home and accurately assessing the damage after a storm is time-consuming and sometimes risky. That delays the policyholder from getting paid and starting to rebuild their home. If we continue to see “storms of the century”, that cause unprecedented property damage, the insurance industry needs a more efficient way to quickly assess large numbers of houses. The combination of drones and high-resolution photography sounds like just the right solution. At least, that’s my Niccolls worth for today and I’m sticking with it!