While drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have been around for more than two decades, their commercial use has exploded in the last few years as different industries have come to understand how drone use can benefit their day-to-day operations.
Drones have become a valuable resource to not only increase efficiency, but to also keep employees from needing to complete dangerous tasks and out of harm’s way.
That’s never been more critical than during the current COVID-19 pandemic, where drones have become a vital resource that allow companies to continue operating while facing disruptions to their labor force as well as observing the need for social distancing amongst their employees.
And in many applications, drones can become a secondary layer of safety equipment by allowing the operator to map or scan large areas without the need to put first responders at risk of injury or great bodily harm.
While drones may not always get the credit they deserve, there are plenty of examples where drones have provided social good by keeping employees and workers out of harm’s way.
Examples of Drones Used For Social Good
In Florida, the Daytona Beach Police Department is using drones with audio systems to discourage gatherings at closed city-owned parks.
“They look up at the drone startled for a second that they're hearing someone from the air talking to them. They then wave to it, leave the property,” Sgt. Tim Ehrenkaufer, who runs the drone unit, told FOX35.
The drones are helping to keep officers safe by limiting their need for face-to-face contact, reducing their chance of exposure to the virus.
Battling a series of wildfires, the Los Angeles Fire Department used drones to quickly and accurately identify “hotspots” that needed to be extinguished without having to put lives at risk or lose valuable time.
Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Ralph Terrazas stated “The drone will fly over, locate hotspots, and then we’ll dispatch our firefighters to get final extinguishment in that area. We’re very, very proud of that new technology.”
And after Hurricane Florence made landfall in North Carolina in 2018, the North Carolina Department of Transportation flew more than 260 drone missions, capturing more than 8,000 videos and images. Using the videos and images allowed state agencies to deploy emergency responders to areas most in need and divert people away from risky areas.
And that’s not all. Several industries have been early adopters of drone technology to streamline and improve safety precautions for their employees. Here are some examples of how drones are used for employee social distancing and overall safety.
How Drones Are Keeping Employees Safe
Here are other ways that drones are being used in different industries to keep employees safe and business operating during these challenging times.
Drones in Construction
Construction sites quickly adapted to the use of drones to complete site surveys, verify grading and earthmoving work, building progress, material count, equipment location and many other uses.
These tasks can be completed by drones without the need for personnel to be on-site. By providing high-resolution images or videos that various stakeholders can review offsite, drones allow companies to stay compliant with social distancing mandates and keep workers safe.
Drones for Roofing Inspections
By using a drone to complete a roof inspection, employees remain on the ground and safe from all risks associated with climbing on the roof. Removing this risk from hundreds or thousands of roof inspections per year means a safer work environment for all parties.
As an example, The University of Texas needed a roof inspection done at night, adding to the risk of injury. Using a drone equipped with thermal imagery, The Beck Group was able to complete the task and provide a much more detailed and accurate picture of the roof in less time and at a lower cost than a traditional inspection, all while keeping employees off the roof and out of harm’s way.
Solar Panel/Solar Array Inspections
Solar panel or solar array inspections are typically completed manually. For utility-scale solar farms, this means either traversing hundreds of acres and conducting the painstaking process of inspecting thousands of panels by hand, or, more commonly, inspecting only a sampling of panels in an effort to identify systemic issues. In some cases, high-cost inspections by small plane may a
be used. Inspecting rooftop systems, of course, involves the hazards of sending workers onto rooftops.
With drones, you can complete inspections in a fraction of the time, saving costs while avoiding hazardous man-hours and get better data.
Power Line Inspections
Without drones, line inspections are typically completed manually, using climbing, bucket trucks, long-range photography; or helicopter. By using a drone, manual inspections involving climbing or using buckets introduce hazards can be avoided, all while completing the same inspection in a matter of minutes.
Often, ground-based data collection lacks the detail and flexibility that a drone can provide. Helicopters can capture data quickly and over large areas of land, but they are expensive, can’t operate near residential areas, and often miss finer defects (missing cotter pins, for example).
Not only can drones make inspections faster and safer, they can also capture close-up, detailed imagery of potential defects that enable maintenance personnel to really see what’s going on – is the apparent damage at the surface level, or is it structural?
Measure has conducted inspections for a variety of electric utilities, including companies such as Indianapolis Power & Light, a subsidiary of our partner, AES, a global Fortune 500 energy company.
“Every time we fly, we're literally saving 2-3 days of work,” Stephen Dorsett, Contract Coordinator and Journeyman Lineman at Indiana Power & Light (IPL) explains.
“For a lot of flights, we’re looking for one thing and finding something else,” explains Jessica Franklin, Transmissions Operations Engineer at IPL. “When you have a knowledgeable operator, you can do a flight, find the problem, find the second problem, and order a resolution all in the same day.”
Drones can complete detailed inspections of up to 5-6 miles of transmission/distribution poles per day capturing both thermal and RGB imagery, while substation inspections can be completed within an hour.
Best of all, drones help avoid hazardous man- hours; reduce costs for maintenance, inspections, and repairs; and minimize downtime.
Real Estate Marketing
Drone photography has already become important to the real estate industry by allowing agents to get aerial images of homes and properties. Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down the ability for realtors to host open houses or do in-person showings, drones can fill the gap by flying the property and allowing agents to provide “virtual showings” of the home while still adhering to social distancing mandates and keeping both realtors and clients safe.
Drones In Commercial Real Estate
Similar to residential real estate, drone photography has become a preferred way to showcase a property. And when there is a need for an inspection on the property, using a drone has numerous benefits. They can conduct inspections much more quickly, since all it needs to do is fly over the building and either take the desired photos, or focus on the required inspection, either a roofing, electrical, HVAC, etc.. Using a drone also eliminates the danger of having an inspector climb onto the roof of a building.
Drones are giving the agriculture industry the ability to optimize all aspects from seed planting to harvesting. They can provide mapping of the field to optimize planting patterns, soil analysis, crop spraying and monitoring, and with special sensors, even the ability to diagnose irrigation needs and crop health.
The Future of Drones for Employee Safety
Perhaps no single product has been able to adapt to such diverse industries and quickly provide value like drones have over the last few years. With drone technology and management software constantly providing additional capabilities, drones will continue to find new and interesting applications over the coming years.
Drones deliver the unique technological benefit of allowing employees to observe, map, and record critical information from long distances. Instead of having several employees inspecting panels together, a single drone can sweep a solar field in minutes. A drone pilot from the ground can send flight data and footage hundreds of miles away in a secure digital format.
As such, drones have become a valuable tool for a number of industries to continue business as usual while keeping employees both distanced and safe - without compromising on quality or information inputs.
To find out more about drone programs or starting your own drone services business, review our guide.