Drones are not exactly new. They’ve gone from being used by the military, to being given at Christmas. However, their commercial potential has only recently started to be seen. RICS has compiled a report on the potential uses of drones for surveyors.
Here is an edited extract from RICS: applications and compliance for surveyors
Six potential uses for drones
1. Cameras. Drone-mounted cameras can be used for monitoring physical assets and infrastructure, inspecting buildings and bridges for maintenance purposes, railways, roads, mines and oil and gas facilities. On construction sites, the use of drones has increased as the benefits of drone data are realised, potentially suitable for input into BIM. In addition, estate agents now include an overhead photograph, taken by drone, in the particulars of a property. Advances in artificial intelligence and machine-based learning will see automated approaches to analysing gigabytes of imagery.
2. LiDAR. Airborne laser scanning is a technology used for topographical surveying and mapping, for example hydrological mapping, construction and forestry. This method employs a light detection and ranging scanner and is based on time of flight measurements of emitted laser pulses from surfaces on or near ground, measuring the distance to the object from the sensor.
The main output from a LiDAR survey is a 3D point cloud. LiDAR surveys are capable of mapping extremely narrow objects, such as overhead electricity lines.
3. Thermal sensors. Thermal or heat detection sensors are easy to use, and the data images collected straightforward to understand. However, depending on the end use, a qualified thermographer may be required to interpret the results as they will understand the thermal radiation spectrum. There are two types of thermal data: radiometric and non-radiometric. Radiometric data means that a specific temperature is provided for each pixel or point of data; non-radiometric data shows more general temperature differences and changes in an area.
Some examples of thermal sensor use include utility inspections, solar farm inspections, construction site and roofing inspections, and land contamination monitoring.
4. Gas imaging. Special cameras using something known as optical gas imaging can pinpoint gas leaks invisible to the naked eye. With an OGI camera it is easy to continuously scan installations in areas that are remote or difficult to access. OGI cameras are widely used in industrial settings, such as oil refineries, natural gas processing plants, offshore platforms, chemical/petrochemical complexes, and biogas and power generation plants.
5. Transport. In some cities, where drones are faster for deliveries than current transport methods, this may offer an additional advantage of a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. Wing Aviation, a subsidiary of Google parent Alphabet, recently become the first drone delivery company to receive approval from the US Government.
6. Connectivity. The World Bank Group, one of the largest sources of funding and knowledge for developing countries, has identified the potential for drone use to assist in Internet connectivity in rural areas through a perpetually airborne network of drones.
The key to drone integration in day-to-day living will be the development of an ecosystem that ensures safety, reliability and accountability. Development of this ecosystem is rapidly expanding through improved technologies and a stronger regulatory environment.
If you are planning to use drones in the future, then be aware this is an area with many moving parts that requires dedicated focus. Keep abreast of changes to the regulations, improvements in technology and advances in data collection methodologies and analysis.
As the industry continues to grow, the ‘drones for good’ story needs to be highlighted to the public to ensure full appreciation of the benefits – not just to the surveying profession, but to society as a whole. Public buy-in will be essential if the drone industry is to reach its full potential. There is, however, an onus on commercial drone operators to act responsibly and ensure compliance with all regulations.