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Drones Are Being Used For More Than Just Aerial Photography

The commercial real estate industry has become increasingly dependent on drones, with the construction and infrastructure sectors accounting for more than $45B of drones' total $127B market value, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers research.


This technology is frequently used to assist with tasks on construction sites and to survey large structures for maintenance issues, spanning the buildings while gathering photos and videos of the property to determine if any maintenance is required. 

Andy Osantowske, the senior unmanned aerial systems analyst at Evans Inc., a Falls Church, Va.-based consulting solutions firm, said people tend to immediately think of pictures with drones, but the use of this technology far exceeds aerial shots. Drones also are used to collect data for intelligence, analytics and surveillance.

“There’s a lot more analytics that can be done by an array of sensors that are being miniaturized for UAS (unmanned aircraft systems) platforms,” Osantowske said. “[These drones] can collect a massive amount of data in a period of time; what could take weeks can take hours.”

Data Collection

Drones follow the basic three “Ds” of robotics and are often used to handle tasks that are considered dull, dangerous or dirty, Osantowske said. As unmanned aerial vehicles continue to pick up momentum in a variety of industries, drone providers are creating efficient and manageable ways for them to collect large amounts of data and analytics. Some can carry dozens of terabytes worth of recorded video in one flight.


Osantowske said there are many platforms popping up that are using mapping software with built-in analytics for agriculture and construction purposes. These drones are designed with sensors and are being used to collect data that spans massive terrains of land, reaching cracks and crevices that are not normally accessible. This information can provide historical context and offer data to help the industry prepare for any future challenges

With all this drone adoption there are bound to be some hiccups along the way. Drone providers are working to overcome the challenge of storing all this data by creating an infrastructure for the cloud-based service necessary to process, store and transfer drone-collected big data.

FAA Regulations And Other Challenges

Though drone adoption in the CRE industry has been rapid, the challenge of adhering to the many regulations handed down by the Federal Aviation Administration has proved cumbersome.

JLL’s Gina Kacamburas, technology marketer senior vice president and director of marketing, said most CRE firms are more likely to rent equipment from a third-party drone provider than they are to purchase their own.

“So many UAS platforms are cheap with low barriers of entry, and are easy to fly,” Kacamburas said. “What’s challenging is navigating regulatory training.”

FAA rules include many flight restrictions, such as not flying near airports or within any controlled air space. Plus receiving approval to handle these drones can be a taxing process that varies from state to state.

“Third-party providers are getting smart about having a multitude of products,” Kacamburas said. “Drone vendors are providing us with pretty easy-to-order services where they have FAA-approved pilots in different cities and regions … Each city, county and state has different laws that shift and change and it’s on that vendor to be up on those laws.”