Drones Take Off in All Directions

These days, news about drones seems to be buzzing around everywhere. Even while businesses await final Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) guidelines and rules about how and where drones can be used, some companies are pushing forward with the technology—and providing a glimpse into how it will impact business and life in the years ahead.

One company flying into the future is Erie Insurance, which offers auto, home, commercial and life insurance in 12 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. The company has received an FAA exemption that allows it to test drones.

Erie is now using the technology to assist with property damage claims, including roof inspections caused by damage from ice, fire or a falling tree. The drone captures detailed aerial images and transmits them to an adjustor’s tablet or other computing device.

Gary Sullivan, vice president of property and subrogation claims at Erie Insurance, calls it “a happy marriage between technology and the human touch. We can use drones to do what drones do best—getting clear and detailed images of property damage in difficult to access areas—and that, in turn, enables our claims people to do what they do best: taking great care of our customers.”

In fact, while Amazon grabs headlines about proposing drone fleets to deliver packages within minutes, others are actually putting the technology into play. For example, engineering firm Burns & McDonnell has received permission from U.S. and Canadian authorities to use drones. Recently, it turned to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to install more than 200 miles of transmission lines in rugged terrain.

The FAA has already approved 1,783 applications for commercial drone use, including for agriculture, real estate, cinematography, surveying and mapping, mining, travel and tourism, engineering, insurance and construction. Expect that number to skyrocket over the coming months. In fact, 57 of the FAA exemption requests have streamed in so far in October.

To be sure, business and IT leaders should have drones on their radar, and they should be thinking about how they fit into business processes and the IT infrastructure. The technology is about to revolutionize many fields and significantly remap and redraw the way many tasks get done—whether it’s a cell tower or bridge inspection or a look at vegetation health in wetlands or crops at a farm.

Although there are clear concerns about the technology—including collisions, crashes and rogue drones operated by hobbyists—it’s clear that UAVs will be buzzing into the airspace near you soon.