Drones are changing businesses left and right, and companies are racing to integrate them into new industries. The expression “the sky's the limit” doesn't seem to apply to drones. So far, their applications have been limited only by the imaginations of their operators.
Construction, in particular, has benefited immensely from the advent of drone technology, also known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). Mapping drones can conduct surveys of large job sites in a fraction of the time it takes a team of experts to do the same job.
The FAA takes an evolving stance on the use of drones for commercial means. The agency recently changed an important aspect of the law regarding who can pilot small drones. Those provisions could have significant impact on the way UAV technology progresses in the coming years. I connected with Dick Zhang, CEO of Identified Technologies, to find out more.
1. Part 107 reduces barrier to entry.
Until recently, a company needed to receive a Section 333 exemption from the FAA to apply any kind of drone toward commercial use. The FAA’s website says that 1,692 petitions have been denied as of July 2016. The staggeringly high volume of requests alone causes delays in processing.
“The petition process takes too long for most firms interested in using drones,” Zhang says. “We were one of the first companies to obtain an exemption for construction applications, and it wasn’t easy. I’ve found that many of our customers come to us specifically because they want to circumvent the costly petition process.”
The recently announced Part 107, also called the Small Unmanned Aircraft Rule, substantially reduces the barrier to entry for pilot drones. Now, an operator doesn't need a commercial pilot’s license to fly a drone for commercial purposes. Under the old rule, Zhang's company had to send a licensed pilot to every construction site it mapped even though its drones fly themselves. Construction companies now can operate one of Identified Technology's drones with very minimal training.
2. Part 107 increases agility.
Mapping a construction site with a drone is an enormous leap in efficiency and accuracy. A project that could take a team six weeks to complete can be done by a drone in minutes, and it can be repeated every day if necessary. Programmers can load drones with imaging technologies that produce incredibly detailed maps. This gives project managers groundbreaking insights into the finest details of their built environments.
Using a drone can save huge volumes of time, help to avoid costly mistakes and -- depending on the project's size -- save builders thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of dollars. A simple mistake that causes a week's delay could result in huge losses due to equipment-rental costs and payroll.
Part 107 makes drones more accessible than ever. Identified Technologies' blog recently included this game-changer: “The costs of paying for commercial pilots will be eliminated, which will dramatically reduce your drone mapping costs.”
3. Part 107 opens doors for innovation.
The future of commercial drone use is bright, even with continually evolving FAA regulations. Zhang points out that drones soon will be able to transform the development pipeline. In the near future, drones will be able to complete three-dimensional maps of an entire job site not only from above but also from within structures that are yet in progress. These types of changes will hasten the already rapid adoption rate, and drones might one day become as common to construction sites as bulldozers are today.