Unfortunately, the answer is not as simple as the question. The honest answer – it really depends on what you want to achieve. Drones are not yet able to perform tasks that humans can such as clearing blocked gutters, removing debris from a chimney stack, repairing fixings or replacing damaged parts of structures. I’m sure they will soon enough though! Additionally, they can’t just be flown anywhere, there are certain legalities around how and where they can be flown safely and its crucial to take this into consideration.
Many surveyors, building engineers, property managers and facilities professionals are turning to drones for closely analysing structures that may normally be inspected via typical means like a mobile cherry picker or access platform. In this short post, I’m going to provide a straight talking 4 pillar approach so you can decide which option would be best for the job.
Cost – Let’s talk money first… this is usually the first thing that springs to mind. Fundamentally drone operators should be cheaper than access platforms or at least in line with the market cost. It’s important that companies looking to adopt drones appreciate that there’s much more to an aerial inspection than just flying about; consider the skill involved, training, costs of equipment, insurance, software, image processing & desired data outputs. Also remember – unless someone needs to direct the flight to areas of interest – your business will be saving additional time and money on labour as nobody is required onsite. If you are quoted a relatively comparable price then you should take note of the points below before making a final decision.
Accessibility – This is currently the biggest selling point for drones – they can access areas that are normally dangerous or just completely unreachable. In, over, around and even inside on some instances. Kind of comparable to a bird? Vertical take-off in congested or tight spaces is another bonus, this further limits any disruption to the surrounding environments or business operations. As the industry grows most people have now seen drones operating in some capacity (even if on tv!), so you can probably imagine how flexible they are when compared to manned access platforms that provide very limited viewpoints. Remember though, drones can’t just be flown anywhere, some locations might simply be better suited for an access tower due to current CAA legislation.
Efficiency – Quick is the key word here. If the location and weather is permitting then drones can be deployed within hours and likewise with delivering the corresponding data. Ground coverage is significantly larger and greater detail is often achieved. Teams can view live streams on the ground for instant decision making if required, ideal for emergency repairs, reactive maintenance or the vendor that’s desperate to sell.
Analysis – Now this is where the real value lies… post inspection analysis. Drones can provide multiple formats of imagery; nadir, oblique and orthomosaics for full property overview alongside video (HD/4K). Cloud based photogrammetry software can provide inspection viewpoints that can be used to closely analyse, print and annotate areas of interest then generate detailed reports to share with colleagues or 3rd parties.
Hopefully this gives you a better idea of how drones compare to mobile access platforms for evaluating properties & structures. Drones provide much more value than just images, nevertheless each job is different and it’s certainly not a one size fits all. ALWAYS check pilot certification & insurance paperwork before hiring!
Check out my previous blog HERE for a more detailed report on the benefits of drones for asset inspections.
Let me know your feedback in the comments below – If you have any questions or additional points you would like to add please go ahead!