Come fly with me
Drones are fast becoming a common part of the surveyor's tool kit. So, what does it take to fly one? We sent novice pilot Evan Owen-Powell MRICS to find out.
1 NOV 2018
With drone use becoming increasingly prevalent across the surveying profession, we asked three drone-flying professionals to share their experiences.
Drones are incredible for use in situations where we don’t want to put people in danger, or previously had to rely on using elevated platforms – I’ve never been a fan of heights. A lot of our work involves inspections for building insurance claims, for example, in the aftermath of fires and floods.
Early on we used relatively affordable drones made by DJI, but we quickly realised we needed to up the ante to perform our services on a highly professional level. It’s about finding the right drone suitable for an individual job – alongside multi-rotors, we also use fixed-wing drones, which fly like small planes and cover vast distances. And not just in the air, too – we’ve had some situations where we have used a drone to fly through underground tunnels. We get some weird and wonderful requests to survey some pretty awkward spaces.
Buying the equipment is just a small part of starting out – the big investment comes in flight training and data processing. Ultimately, the drone is just a device for capturing data – where we add value for our clients is in how we process and analyse it, and ready it for use with software such as BIM.
The tech has transformed the industry – drones are now giving clients unprecedented levels of detail and access to sites.
Using drones has been totally transformative for our business. Not only need we no longer worry about staff working at height, but the strength of our client relationships has also increased because the imagery we capture is incredibly easy to understand.
Using drones has been totally transformative for our business. Not only need we no longer worry about staff working at height, but the strength of our client relationships has also increased because the imagery we capture from them is incredibly easy for everyone to understand. Our reports are often lengthy, clients are busy people, and, for some, English may not be their first language; but everyone can quickly and clearly watch high-resolution footage filmed from a drone.
We use DJI drones fitted with high-resolution cameras, which cost us around NZ$3,000 [£1,550]. We found that going for the mid-range option was better than investing in the super-expensive range, because the technology is updated so quickly, we’ll likely have to replace them in a year.
Regulations in New Zealand stipulate that you cannot fly in controlled airspace unless the operation is “shielded” by a higher structure that is less than 100m away. Restricted air space locations can take you by surprise, too – you may think you are a safe distance from an airport, but there might be an unseen helipad or police station close by. So we use an app called Airmap for Drones, which shows us exactly where we can and can’t fly. It takes away the worry.
Last year, I was tasked with piecing together site images to help solve a construction dispute. I figured that if we could just use aerial images from a UAV to create a 3D model of the built asset, then we would be able to provide a more accurate opinion on the state of the works carried out. It made me realise there was a gap in the market for providers of this service. So earlier this year I set up Prospero.
Our current assignments include capturing images for site inspections, topographic surveys, and even air quality monitoring using the drone’s air pollution sensors.
To fly a drone in Hong Kong, first you must apply to the Civil Aviation Department for a permit. The regulations also require that operators keep visual line of sight of the UAV at all times, keep to a maximum altitude of 90m and generally not to fly within 50m of any structure or person not under the control of the UAV operator. This is hugely challenging in as dense a city as Hong Kong, and involves a time-consuming process to get permission from landlords to fly around them.
Nevertheless, growing a business in this nascent industry is incredibly exciting. We are looking forward to seeing what exciting UAV hardware comes out in the future, and expanding our services across Asia.
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