By Paul Levin
ConstructionPro Week made a trip to the 3rd Annual Summer Construction Conference in Raleigh, N.C., Aug. 6, to listen in on the panel discussion on drones. The conference, graciously produced by Safran Law Offices and BB&T Construction Risk Services, provided a number of new perspectives on the expected upcoming use of drones in construction.
North Carolina, home of the first manned flight at Kitty Hawk, hopes to continue the tradition with firsts in unmanned flight, starting with recent legislation on drones, according to panelist Rep. Rick Glazier of the North Carolina General Assembly. The bill, H.B. 1099, lays out regulations on unmanned aircraft(s) and the potential for future regulations. This includes establishing licensing requirements for the state’s use and for the use of state law enforcement. The bill prohibits surveillance of private property and of individuals without consent except for newsgathering. The bill does not expand commercial use beyond or inconsistent with the requirements of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Leading up to the bill’s introduction, Glazier noted that stakeholders consulted included farm bureaus, agriculture, construction, law enforcement, and the American Civil Liberties Union; the last two entities expressed concerns over the handling, privacy issues, and admissibility as evidence of the data collected by drones.
The second panelist, business and government consultant Sean Moser, reaffirmed the issue of safety, both personal and of the aircraft itself. But, he pointed out how drones can help make construction safer by reducing risky activities. For example, if a person no longer needs to grab a ladder to climb up on a roof but does the inspection with a drone-mounted camera, the chance of a fall is eliminated.
Panelist Brad Clark, of BBT Insurance Services, concurs with the opportunity for risk reduction, noting that he fully expects claims adjusters will use drones as well. He sees the opportunity to reduce insurance risks such as water intrusion with the ability of drones to do a better job of finding the source of leaks (and perhaps do a better job of finding them before they happen).
Panelist Kyle Snyder, program director for Nextgen Air Transportation at North Carolina State University, definitely sees drones in our future. He should know, as he is working with the FAA on its standards development effort and helping North Carolina develop an Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Ecosystem.
Snyder introduced the audience to several interesting concepts, including “geo-fencing.” This is the ability of a drone’s onboard electronics to determine where it is in relation to a nearby airport and sense the boundaries or other areas where it is approved to fly. For example, a contractor may have approval to fly within a box around the sight defined by specific Global Positioning System coordinates.
Snyder has participated in DOT research projects for bridge inspections and surveys. Reflecting what the other panelists noted, he urged contractors to think about the risky things on their jobsite where a drone can be deployed to reduce risk. While FAA-approved drone use may still be one to five years down the road, he also suggested the audience begin having conversations about drones with their attorneys and insurance carriers.