High-flying birds: making best use of drones in property

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Emma Gordon

From inspecting hard-to-reach spots and confined spaces, to showcasing properties in a way that simply wouldn’t have been possible before without a small fortune, drones are becoming more commonplace across the property industry.

Here, we take a look at the technology, and its significance for the sector.

What are drones?

Carrying video and static cameras for high definition aerial photography and videography, drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) are small aircraft that can be controlled with a handset much like a game console handset, or even with a smartphone.

They’re becoming more compact – one or two models are small enough to fit into the palm of your hand – and some can be programmed to fly over a particular area using autonomous GPS waypoint navigation to provide accurate 3D models of buildings and landscapes.

Why are drones important for property?

Drones can be useful for surveyors and construction firms right from the design phase through the actual build to asset management, with claimed benefits including reduced health and safety risk and site congestion, as well as the ability to offer real-time project updates.

For example, on-site data can feed into building information modelling, and can be imported into various platforms such as AutoCad to create an intelligent 3D model.

For construction, drones are capable of reaching areas that humans and machinery simply can’t easily or safely: enabling accurate close-ups of buildings, confined spaces and structures without the cost, and associated risks, of using scaffolding or machinery like cherry pickers.

Other applications include warranty inspections for new build projects, as well as thermal imagery for heat loss assessments.

For estate agents, and particularly when combined with 36-degree video and virtual reality, they’re heralded as an invaluable way of giving keen buyers and renters — residential and commercial — a bird’s eye view of a property: lending a whole new sense of perspective and space.

And of course, with basic drone footage packages starting around £150, the cost to an agent is a far cry from the outlay on aerial shots taken from a helicopter: previously the standard approach.

But using a drone for business isn’t as straightforward as buying online and downloading an app.

Commercial drone operators in the UK must apply for permission from the Civil Aviation Authority, and, as you’d expect, a raft of rules covers how and where these aircraft should be flown. So it’s important to check licenses and insurance before instructing a pilot or drone company.

Drones Battersea Skyvantage

Skyvantage’s view of Battersea Power Station in redevelopment

Who’s working in this area now and what are they doing?

Skyvantage | Provides aerial filming and photography for sectors including estate agents and construction companies with, its website says, clients including Carter Jonas, Strutt + Parker and Taylor Wimpey.

Cyclops UAV | Offers drone services to the property and commercial sectors across the UK, including marketing, inspection and asset maintenance. Engineers and surveyors can view the drone’s live data feed and instruct pilots, with data uploaded to the cloud.

DJI | This drone manufacturer combines its Phantom 4 or Matrice 200 series aircraft with cloud software platform Skycatch for inspections and 3D aerial mapping.

Neurala | With autonomous flights the long-term goal, the Boston-based firm’s Brains for Bots software learns on the fly, and identifies targets for inspection, with the software taught to locate and focus on issues such as damage, corrosion and cracks. This, the company says, helps pilots guide drones and gather extra information for further diagnosis, while inspectors spend less time examining footage, only needing to focus on these identified areas of interest.

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