Self-Taught MBA: Drones for Homebuilders
In this column we have often dealt with business technology for your home-building and remodeling company–technology such as estimating and accounting software. But since we’re on the eve of a holiday, I thought it more fun to help you find a “business purpose” for a purchase you may be considering–just because it looks like a lot of fun: a drone! Let’s explore how you might use one in your business and then write-off the holiday gift on April 15th 2016.
Drones in the Heartland
In the United States, widespread use of drones awaits final FAA regulations due in mid to late 2016. But small, hobby drones of exceptional flight capability and high-definition photography are readily available and thousands are in use every day for both hobby and light commercial use, despite regulatory ambiguity.
Imagine using one to scope out a roof job, inspect a chimney, or to check on your sider, or painter’s work in those spots hard to inspect from ground level.
In Lincoln, Neb., Luke Hansen, of White Castle Roofing, uses a hobby drone to obtain a birds-eye view for roofing estimates, claiming the drone means an easier, safer job. A lot quicker, too. On one housing complex Hansen says he shaved four hours off a five-hour estimate by flying over the roofing project rather than lugging ladders from slope to slope. If you click on the link to Hansen’s website, you’ll see he uses drone video as a promotiional tool as well.
To give you a sense of how accurate drone imagery has become, an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) flying at 200 ft. can easily provide images of an area as small as 3/4 in. This allows you to inspect detailed workmanship, or troubleshoot construction defects on an entire structure without climbing at all.
Allstate has been conducting research with the Property Drone Consortium to evaluate the potential of drones to be used as remote insurance inspectors, able to inspect damaged roofs, collapsed buildings, and difficult-to-reach places immediately after a major storm.
While in the United States, we are still waiting for the FAA to allow widespread use of drones, overseas drones are becoming as commonplace as cell phones. Contractors are using them not only to monitor structures, but to monitor workers. Laborers at a construction site in Australia were spied on slaking off by a drone used as a means of recording daily productivity on building sites. The boss quietly monitored his building site using a drone for about two hours and recorded the “poor behavior” of his workers, according to the Daily Mail.
The sophisticated, long-range and high-flying drones available overseas today will remain out of reach until FAA approval, but you can purchase inexpensive, low-flying drones that take stable, very high-definition video and photos. A good one, such as the AEE AP11+ (a drone with 4K camera and touchscreen) sells for about $800, or a semiprofessional drone, such as the vaunted Phantom 3 from DJI, can be had before Christmas for about $1300. Industrial quality drones, such as the AEE F50 can range from $25,000-to-$50,000, but still–it’s a lot less than a helicopter.
Drones are relatively inexpensive and very useful. They are the emerging, cool-tools of today, and you should learn about them to keep up with evolving technology as they become more widely available. Or pay someone else to do the flying for you.
Subcontract the Flying
Aerial photography and videography remain the primary uses from drones in architecture and construction. If you’re a spec builder, just picture selling a home, and instead of posting five-to-ten still snapshots on your realtor’s website, you have a three-minute video of a flyover showing all of the elevations, and the yard, the driveway, the neighborhood, the golf course and school, and of course that brand new roof–all for about $400 to $1000 for aerial videography and editing.
Since many companies don’t have the expertise to own and pilot drones, companies such as Atlanta-based FlyWorx have appeared to offer aerial video and imaging services. Working with third-party UAV pilot offers an efficient option if you want to obtain video and data, but don’t want to invest in a drone and learning to fly it.
Surveys and topography have always been an expensive affair, especially on large or complex sites. But now drones, such as those developed by Trimble, offer a powerful unmanned alternative that can do large tracts and complex tracts, such as hillsides and coastlines more accurately and for a whole lot less than the traditional story pole and theodolite method.
Drone photography, videos, and inspections will not remain out of reach for small builders. In addition to the FAA’s recent exemptions for insurance and civil-engineering firms, the agency also approved the start-up Fly4Me to begin operating its “Uber for Drones” program. The platform helps local drone pilots connect with companies or individuals that need a temporary drone for architectural imaging, mapping, and inspections.
The AEE AP11 Pro drone features 3-axis gimbal and full HD for about $600.00.
Trimble drones developed specifically for topographic surveying in locations that are often remote, difficult or dangerous to access.