Droning On

About 18 months ago we brought you some news about calls within the industry to use toy drones like quadcopters to replace work at height inspection activities. As with all new ideas in this age of rapidly developing technology, things have moved forward at a pace we could never have dreamed of thirty years ago and using drones to replace cherry pickers or scaffolding when carrying out inspection work has increased exponentially since then. Today we're going to take a look at how drones are being used to avoid the risks involved with working at height.

Drones are also known as Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAVs) and are legally able to fly up to 400 feet high and up to 55 metres from the pilot. This has led to huge changes when it comes to the inspection and surveying of large buildings and tall structures here in the UK and in many other parts of the world. However, it's not a simple matter - if you work as a roofer, you can't just go and buy a drone and start using it for roof inspections willy-nilly! There are strict regulations governing the use of UAVs and it's essential to hire a licenced drone company or become licensed and approved yourself in UAV operation.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) oversees the commercial use of UAVs here in the UK and requires that pilots hold a licence and that companies providing this type of service need to be approved for commercial aerial work.

Drone technology has improved significantly in recent years - drones can transmit live video in high definition to monitors on the ground, allowing a fully live survey to be undertaken. The video feed can be studied in detail and recorded so that a comprehensive view of the condition and maintenance of a building can be built over time.

One of the main advantages when using drones for inspection at height purposes is the reduction in risk. There's no need to personnel to work at height, an important consideration, especially during windy conditions. An experience drone pilot is able to fly safely in winds of up to 20 mph when it would be too dangerous to operate a cherry picker or use scaffolding. Professional drones are equipped with an electronic flight control system which uses GPS and an electronic compass and Lidar (Light Detection and Ranging , similar in principle to radar but using light from a laser) ensuring safe flight at all times.

UAV surveying takes much less time than other inspection methods and also leads to a significant reduction in the downtime for the building's occupants and its surrounding area, meaning that disruption is kept to a minimum, leading to increased productivity.

We're sure to see the use of UAVs increasing in the future, not just within the construction industry, but in other sectors as well. Next week we'll put together some tips and advice for those who are thinking of employing the services of a drone pilot to avoid the risks associated with working at height.