Roof Inspection

There are a few ways you can carry out a roof inspection, using a drone is the obvious one but if you don’t like drones you could use a cherry picker to inspect your roof, chimneys and out of reach places. Cherry pickers are much cheaper than scaffolding.

Here’s a price list for your information. 

Unless you have an IPAF 1b (you would know if you did) then you’ll need to look at the operated prices. I’m not sure if the guys operating the machine will take pictures for you or if you will go up with them and take your own pictures.

You will have to make sure you have somewhere to park it beside the building and be prepared to move it along the building at regular intervals.

Alternatively, we could come along, fly a state of the art drone to do an inspection while you enjoy a coffee in the warm. When we’re done we will provide you with the high definition video and images of your building. 

If you need a bit more than just images and video and would like a full, qualified surveyor’s report we can arrange that too.

Should You Outsource Your Drone Needs

Should you outsource your drone needs?

You’re not sure whether you should buy a drone and do it in-house or whether you should outsource the work to a drone services company?

You know that you can work more safely and cost-effectively by using drones but don’t know how to go about it?

Drones aren’t just for Christmas, they are a seriously sophisticated tool for getting work done quickly and safely but you know that already.

Have a look at some of the other posts on this site if you aren’t already sure how drones can help make your business safer and more profitable.

This article will lay out the pros and cons of each approach to help you decide which is best for your situation.

This article is going to give you the information you need to be able to make an informed decision about how you go about introducing drones into your business.

We’re not going to talk here about which drones are best for you, we’ll do that in another post or you can get in touch to have a chat about what would suit your needs best. If after reading this you think buying your own drone is the right thing for your business we will give as much advice as you need. If you want to skip the reading you can go straight to the bottom of the post and have a look. at the table of costs. Remember though that your decision needs to take into account more than just financial costs. The best way forward may be to outsource until you get a feel for what would be required to run your own drone programme. 


The first thing most business owners think about is cost. Cost is, of course, an important driver in making business decisions. We’ll discuss costs first and then address some other things you need to consider.  

For illustration purposes, we will suppose that you want to use a drone to carry out building inspection work on a construction site. You want to be able to document the progress on a monthly basis to show to stakeholders and to monitor health and safety on the site.

You may well want to do it more often than that but I am using it for illustration purposes because the latest job we quoted for was for a monthly flight over a road construction site. 

Is it going to be more cost effective to do the drone work in-house or to outsource it?

To do it in-house you’re going to need a drone. We will assume that you just need a standard professional drone with a high definition camera. A DJI Phantom 4 Pro is probably going to do you.

The typical costs of a drone suitable for the purpose will be around £2000.

That will get you a Phantom 4 pro with a couple of extra batteries and a case to keep it in. If you want to do anything more specialised then you will start spending lots more. A 30 times zoom camera, for example, will cost £8000 and you’ll need a £8000 drone to hang it on!

Additional Equipment

You are also going to need some other kit some of which you may already have, things like cones to keep people out of the take-off and landing area, two-way radios for the pilot to be able to communicate with the observers (more about the observers later) and perhaps PPE.

If you budget another £200-300 for the extra stuff you should be about right.

drone warning sign

The drone, batteries and all the rest of the stuff will need looking after and won’t last forever so you will need to budget for replacing it at some point. 

You’re also going to need someone to operate it.

You may have read about autonomous drones but in the UK it’s going to be very difficult to get permission from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to fly one of those!  

You’ll need a pilot.

If you’re going to do an inspection once a month perhaps one of your team can do it as another part of their job.

The size of the site will dictate how much time a job will take so you’ll have to find the time in that person’s schedule.

No matter what size your site it’s going to take at least an hour to get the kit, set it up, do a quick flight and put the kit away again. You will also have to complete a dynamic site survey and risk assessment as well as the pre and post flight checks so an hour really is the minimum amount of time.


Someone will have to charge the batteries, complete the paperwork (more on that later) and look after the equipment. That’s probably another hour per flight. So a half-hour flight has now taken two hours or longer. Multiply that by an hourly rate and that will give you an idea of your manpower costs.

You may also need to allocate an observer to assist the pilot during the setup and conduct of the flight.

The observer’s job is to keep an eye out for hazards while the pilot is concentrating on flying the drone. Things like people coming close etc. Now you will have to train the pilot. That’s going to cost around £1000 for him or her to be certified competent. You will need to add to that the cost of releasing him or her for a 4 or 5-day course, accommodation and travel costs perhaps and any specialist training that may be required.

Let’s add it up.

So, to put a figure on it for you we are looking at the costs of equipment and for simplicities sake, we will say it lasts for 2 years before you need to replace it.  So the cost of equipment per flight will be something like £95 if flying monthly or about £22 if you fly weekly, though replacement costs may be higher if you fly weekly.

The cost per flight of the pilot will be whatever he or she gets paid. Taking an average of £37,000 for a construction site supervisor that would be around £40-50 per flight plus 3 days training per year divided by 12 to give you a monthly figure of £35.

Throw in an observer for the 30-minute flight and we have a grand total of around £175 per flight if flying monthly and £105 per flight if flying weekly. This difference is because the equipment costs remain much the same no matter how many times you fly. I won’t bother adding in battery replacement and charging costs or replacing propellors etc.

We also need to consider legislation and risk.  

If you are only flying the drone for your own business purposes and are not selling the data/footage/images then you are not required to have a Permission for Commercial Operations (PfCO) from the CAA.

However, in order to comply with regulations, you will have to operate the drone safely and best practice would be to compile an operations manual in exactly the same way as a PfCO holder would.

To make sure the manual is fit for purpose and will stand up to scrutiny should an accident occur it would be wise to submit it to the CAA as an application for a PfCO. 

Production of the manual will take some effort and time but the cost of the PfCO is only £173 in the first year and £130 for annual renewal, though these prices will change in April 2018. Just when you thought that was it covered, you are going to need some insurance.

Picture by ASM Ireland


You won’t be able to get insurance if you don’t have a PfCO and if you are going to get a PfCO you will need insurance. I know it sounds like a catch 22 situation but it works out OK. 

We already have plenty of insurance‘ I hear you cry but the problem is that for flying drones it must comply with EC Regulation EC 785/2004 and I am pretty sure that the insurance you have doesn’t.

Depending on which drone you fly and what equipment you have for it, insurance can cost anywhere from £400 and up. If you are just flying one drone and associated equipment £400 should cover it. Insurance and PfCO then will add around £50 to your monthly flight making it at least £225.  

So that just about covers the cost of doing-it-yourself with a standard professional drone. If you need to use specialist equipment it will be much more than that.

What about getting someone in to do it for you?

Costs will obviously vary between operators but so we are comparing like with like Bird’s Eye Drones would be able to do the same monthly flight and provide you with video and photographs for £165. So if you are flying weekly it would be cheaper to do it yourself but more cost effective to hire someone in to do it monthly.  Cost isn’t the only consideration though. 

Probably most importantly we will take away work and the risk associated with flying drones.

What else does contracting out give you?

  • It gives you a qualified, insured, licenced and experienced operator who is flying drones for a living and not just once in a while.

  • That means you have a much lower risk of an accident happening on your site and it if it does happen, the drone service provider is responsible.

  • We can use more expensive specialist equipment without you needing to make any investment in it. 

  • You won’t have to produce operations manuals, keep your PfCO up to date, provide insurance, look after the equipment or any of the things previously mentioned.

  • We can add value by providing you with data such as photogrammetry and 3d models etc, though this would cost more of course.

  • You hire a turnkey solution and get your data/images/footage provided in a format you can use to get on with your main job.


By now you should have an idea of whether you should outsource or keep your drone services in-house.

If you still need some more information to help you decide please get in touch with us. We will give you honest advice to help you decide.

We don’t sell drones, only drone services so we will give you impartial information to help you decide the best drone for your needs.

If you have decided that offsetting the risk to someone else is the way forward just get in touch and we can discuss your needs.

You will find other articles to help you understand just how much drones can do for your business in our blogs.

Drones and Historic Property Management

Drones and historic property managementThe following is an article from Historic England describing how they use drone technology to manage their buildings, archaeological sites and landscapes. The original can be found on their website.

If you are visiting England and are looking for inspiration for places to visit there is a fantastic resource here that is full of ideas.

Drones provide a useful low-level aerial platform for recording historic buildings, monuments, archaeological sites and landscapes. They can carry a wide variety of sensors including cameras, multi/hyperspectral imaging units, and even laser scanners. Drones can provide dramatic illustrative photographs of sites, but can also be used to create metrically accurate records for survey and conservation work. However, care needs to be taken to ensure drones are used in a way that is safe to both people and the historic fabric being recorded.

Although drone is the term most commonly used by the media and recognised by the public, other acronyms are these days used when referring to such low-level aerial platforms including:

  • UAV – Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (often referred to by academic researchers)
  • UAS – Unmanned Aircraft System (referred to within Civil Aviation Authority – CAA regulations)
  • SUA – Small Unmanned Aircraft, (the acronym currently preferred by CAA-UK, TSA & Historic England)
  • RPAS – Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (now promoted across Europe within the context of their civil use in the EU). This is how they are referred to in the House of Lords Select Committee report on the Civil use of remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) in the EU

Colour aerial photograph showing a partly ruined stone wall and grass lawn with the craft hovering in the sky
A rotary wing RPAS in use at Kenilworth Castle © Historic England
Types of aircraft

Two types of craft are typically used for heritage-related applications:

Rotary Wing


  • able to hover & operate in confined spaces
  • can carry heavier payloads
  • can carry a range of sensors including DSLR still & HD/4K video cameras, lidar and terrestrial laser scanners
  • gyro-stabilised mounts typically used
  • camera RAW output = better quality of imagery


  • shorter battery life & slower flight speed = shorter range of operation
  • pre-planning of flight route not universally supplied or used by operators
Colour aerial photograph showing a rotary wing aircraft with a camera mounted underneath
Quad-copter rotary wing aircraft © Historic England: Photograph by P Bryan

Fixed wing


  • longer battery life & faster flight speed = longer range of operation
  • can glide over long distances and survey larger areas in ‘strip’ form
  • pre-planning of flight route, image acquisition and overlap commonly supplied by manufacturers


  • design means smaller & lighter payloads
  • typically limited to compact digital cameras
  • lack of camera RAW output, commonly restricted to JPEG = lower quality of imagery
Colour aerial photograph showing a fixed wing aircraft on the ground
Fixed wing aircraft © Historic England: Photograph by J Bedford

UK use is typically restricted to a combined weight of less than 20kg for both drone and camera or other sensor. All aircraft, irrespective of their size, that are used within UK airspace for aerial work and for commercial gain (a valuable consideration) must comply with CAA regulations and permissions as outlined in CAP 722.

Further guidance on the survey application of drones is provided by The Survey Association (TSA) within their Client Guide on Small Unmanned Aircraft (SUA) surveys


Heritage use of drones

Historic England has used drone acquired imagery since 2008 and has built up long experience of using such platforms alongside other means of capturing low-level aerial imagery such as masts, kites, balloons, helicopters and planes. There is a growing use of these aircraft across the heritage sector .The imagery and data they capture can be used across multiple applications including monitoring, presentation, interpretative display, multimedia journalism, surveying, mapping and recording.

  • Monitoring of sites
    • detailed analysis of high level wall top and roof condition
    • archaeological recording of excavated features
    • capture of still and video imagery allows both real-time and off-site analysis of condition
    • typically captured by rotary platforms due to the need for high-resolution oblique imagery from specific viewpoints
Close up colour aerial photograph showing the top of the walls of a ruined tower
Close-up vertical view of the top of Etal Castle, captured by Horizon AP © Historic England
  • Presentation and interpretive display
    • On-site display using still, video and virtual images
    • Illustrations within guidebooks, journals, newsletters, research reports and websites
    • Typically captured by rotary platforms due to need for oblique imagery although some fixed wing platforms now offer an in-flight ‘tilting’ function
Colour aerial photograph of castle tower on a large artificial mound (left); image as used on guidebook
Clifford’s Tower, York as captured by UAV and subsequently used on the English Heritage guidebook to the site © Historic England
  • Surveying, mapping and recording – coupled with the growing use of Structure from Motion (SfM) drones offer the possibility to use the imagery in new ways.
    • Generation of 3D surface models for landscape and buildings
    • Overlapping still imagery (typically 80% forward & 60% side)  processed using Structure-from-Motion (SfM) software e.g. Pix4D & Agisoft Photoscan
    • Can be captured by rotary & fixed wing platforms
      • landscapes typically fixed-wing
      • buildings typically rotary-wing
    • Guidance is being prepared by Historic England
Colour screen shot showing virtual landscape with a number of blue rectangles floating in space above it
Processing imagery captured by SUA to create 3D surface model for archaeological analysis. The blue rectangles represent the camera position for each individual shot used to create the model © Historic England

The images used on this page are copyright Historic England unless specified otherwise. For further details of any photographs or other images and for copies of these, or the plans and reports related to our work please contact the Historic England Archive.

Using Drones to Survey Quarries

Using Drones to Survey Quarries

Originally Published in 1.02.2017

Aidan O’Connor, the managing director of ASM Ireland, is one of the country’s most knowledgeable commercial drone operators, with particularly extensive experience in the field of quarry surveying. Waypoint caught up with Aidan to blast through the benefits of using drones over terrestrial instruments and to drill down into the different ways drone data can benefit quarry operators.

Hi Aidan, and thanks for your time today. Can you maybe start us off with an overview of ASM Ireland, particularly your work with quarry clients?

Aidan O’Connor is the managing director of ASM Ireland and was Ireland’s first ever senseFly customer.

Sure. At ASM Ireland we specialise in aerial surveying with UAVs. In fact, we were the first Irish company to do so. We fly the senseFly eBee, and from its aerial images we produce georectified maps from which we can accurately measure distances, areas and volumes.

We’ve worked on all manner of large projects across the country, from road design and construction to landfills, coastal erosion protection projects, wind farms and golf courses to name just a few. We do however specialise in quarry mapping. Our civil engineering background gives us a big advantage when it comes to understanding exactly what a client needs from a survey and we can then add significant value to the raw survey product.

I would say we’re probably one of Ireland’s most experienced aerial quarry surveyors operating today. We’ve completed hundreds of flights with the eBee, from projects that are a few acres in size to large operations of 100 hectares and above, with the majority being quarries.

What are the benefits to quarry owners of employing a drone surveyor compared to a supplier who uses traditional instruments?

There are two main benefits. The first is pure efficiency.

If we take one independently-operated limestone quarry that we worked on in the South West of Ireland as an example, our survey was required for a planning application that the owner was undertaking. With the eBee, a full aerial survey of their 88-hectare site took us four to five hours. Around half of that time was spent placing our control points, which can take two to three hours, depending on the terrain.

For them to get even close to the same level of detail as the drone, using terrestrial methods, it would probably take that single surveyor upwards of two to three weeks

Traditionally, a surveyor using terrestrial equipment would likely use a combination of GPS (GNSS)—for quicker ground coverage of surfaces like floors and fields—and a reflector-less total station to get working faces, which are dangerous and inaccessible to terrestrial GNSS, all the while working around heavy machinery. For them to even get close to the same level of detail as the drone, it would take that single surveyor upwards of two to three weeks, although obviously, a small team would do it much quicker.

Explore a point cloud fly-through from Aidan’s example quarry survey:

How does the number of points compare?

The drone’s point cloud, for this particular site, contains 44 million points. At most, with terrestrial surveying, you’re looking at a few thousand. It could even be a few hundred, depending on the topography, and even with this figure you’ll be relying on a huge amount of interpolation between points to calculate large areas.

You mentioned two key drone benefits. What’s the second?

It’s safety. In my experience, surveyors often take precarious risks to get to edges and they have to work close to machines that sometimes weigh more than a hundred tons. With a drone you don’t need to get out to those edges, you can launch and land at the perimeter of the site or even outside it, and with the speed of a drone survey you limit the time the surveyor spends on site.

We typically have a virtual copy of the quarry ready less than 24 hours after being on site

How much time did you spend processing the drone’s images in order to create the 44-million-point point cloud you mentioned?

For this job, in fact, for most of our quarry surveys, the processing takes a few hours. We generally process our data overnight so that projects are ready when we return to the office the next day. We typically have a virtual copy of the quarry ready less than 24 hours after being on site.

A screenshot from one of Aidan’s quarry survey point clouds.

If we stick with this same quarry example, were your deliverables simply handed to the client and you moved on to your next project, or did some joint analysis also take place?

Once we had processed the data, we sat down with them on site for half a day. We discussed and virtually placed, in 3D, their new plant items in various parts of the site in order to check issues such as sight lines, excavation volumes, interruptions to existing workflows etc.

I believe they will also now carry out some noise modelling, using our survey to predict noise levels at the boundaries of the site.

In addition to the eBee outputs, we also generated a full traditional contour map for their planning process whereby we digitised everything on site into AutoCAD format.

What kind of detail did your final orthomosaic of their site show?

Incredible detail. The final orthomosaic’s GSD, or ground sampling distance, was three centimetres per pixel. To put this in context, it was over 30 times higher resolution than the next available option. The ortho, or photo map, on its own, is an incredibly valuable asset when it comes to planning operations, as it means the smallest detail can be taken into account.

And in terms of the absolute X, Y, Z accuracy of the data you supplied?

We generally quote that accuracy will be in the region of 50 to 100 millimetres, or two to three times the GSD of three centimetres, in this case, six to nine centimetres, which would be standard for the industry and processing software. Our checkpoints however usually confirm an accuracy in the region of sub-five centimetres.

“Wow” is generally their first reaction to the level of detail, but it’s when you explain what they can do with the data that they get most excited

You’ve carried out numerous aerial quarry surveys, for numerous clients, over the past few years. What is the typical feedback you receive from a new quarry client when they see the drone’s results for the first time?

“Wow” is generally their first reaction to the level of detail achieved. But it’s when you explain what they can do with the data that they get most excited. Using our engineering background, we squeeze the most out of every possible dataset. We always say that the flight and processing is just the beginning.

We often hear anecdotes from clients who wish they’d had the drone’s data, for a certain problem, going back years. They lament how much time it would have saved. We get that quite a lot actually. The advantage, when problem-solving, of having a virtual copy of your site to explore, can’t be underestimated.

We often hear anecdotes from clients who wish they’d had the drone’s data, for a certain problem, going back years

That’s the beauty of a UAV survey—all manner of detail is collected. It may not necessarily be required at the time but we’ll often get requests from clients months or even years later asking if we captured a particular detail, and almost always, if it’s visible from the sky, we’ve collected it.

Measuring a stockpile’s volume within Global Mapper software.

Lastly, could you talk us through the ways in which your drone’s data is used? How do your clients employ the deliverables that ASM Ireland supplies to guide and optimise their activities?

Often we go into a quarry to solve one particular problem, but our maps, particularly our digital elevation models, end up being used for a huge range of purposes. These include calculating stockpiles or reserve, and during planning exercises, we can create cross sections and we can digitise the orthophoto—meaning all the detail in the orthomosaic can be digitised into a CAD format.

We also use the drone data for environmental impact planning and reporting, managing property and boundary mapping, health and safety planning, and for blast planning, to name just a few.

With the drone and the Pix4D processing software, we effectively get the whole site, in 3D, on our desktops. You get an enormous amount of detail, so from different aspects, you can see all the stockpiles, all the buildings, everything is mapped.

An (anonymised) example of how one quarry’s drone-derived 2D orthomosaic is being put to use.

Beginner’s Guide to Using Drones for Construction Management

Beginner’s Guide to Using Drones for Construction Management

According to a 2016 McKinsey report, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), commonly referred to as drones, will dramatically improve the accuracy and speed at which construction projects are completed in the near future. Like flat screen TV’s, a dramatic decrease in the manufacturing cost of technology has dropped the prices of professional grade drones for construction, complete with mountable, lightweight HD cameras and other survey equipment to as little as $700. This technology investment alone can dramatically improve surveys, site visibility, progress reporting, and inspection processes.

Drones for Construction Management.png

If you’re thinking about adding the powerful capabilities of a drone to your job sites, you’re in luck! In this  article, we delve into the following key areas to help you get started: 

  • 10 Benefits of Drones for Construction
  • Uses of Drones Throughout the Job Cycle
  • Pros and Cons of Going In-House or Outsourcing the Drone Work
  • Types of Drones Available
  • Types of Drone Equipment Available
  • Relevant Drone Regulations

10 Benefits of Drones for Construction

They may have started out as fun toys used by hobbyists and photographers, but drones are now serious business. Here are ten ways drones can improve efficiencies and margins on your construction site:

Win more business. Drone photography can be an important sales tool. Your improved surveying and planning capabilities will also set you apart from the competition.

Improve owner’s visibility. Use drone photography to help owners visualize the final project, and see how the project is progressing while under construction.

Iterate faster during the bid phase. Drone surveys can help you put the virtual design in the context of real conditions and thus better engage the entire team.

Instill client confidence. All of the above benefits help you build client confidence.

Improve asset and material management. Drones equipped with streaming video capability can help you monitor the job site for suspicious activity, and identify theft as it’s happening. Plus, your teams can easily monitor locations and quantities of assets and materials at a glance, to ensure it will be there when you need it.

Improve invoicing accuracy. Drones enable you to monitor work completion more effectively, and bill accordingly.

Improve quality. Drones vastly increase your ability to complete quality inspections in large and hard to reach areas in an efficient manner.

Minimize rework. Increasing the number of inspections you make enables you to catch more mistakes before they become a bigger problem, thus reducing the amount of rework needed.

Improve safety. Perform inspections in dangerous areas without putting anyone at risk. Drones also allow you to identify and mitigate potential hazards before they cause harm.

Mitigate litigation. Drones can increase site documentation to reduce the likelihood of litigation and increase your defensibility. 

Uses of Drones Throughout the Construction Lifecycle

A drone program is a terrific investment for construction companies right now. They can be used through the entire construction lifecycle, from feasibility and bidding to handover and maintenance. Here’s how.

Feasibility and Bidding

Drones can be equipped with cameras, geo-location sensors, infrared sensors, and more. The data can then be imported into survey software to create 3D models of existing conditions. This helps with determining feasibility, understanding constructability, and helping owners visualize what the project will look like in the end. It can also be used to identify areas of risk.

Design and Pre-Construction

Drone surveys help inject real-world conditions into design and constructability conversations. The ability to easily capture site information also improves the rate at which the design can be iterated on.


During the construction phase, drones have many current and potential uses. They help to track and communicate progress, track and manage materials and assets, reduce theft, improve owner visibility, increase safety, and provide valuable information for improving design changes. They also create a valuable documentation trail in case of problems.

Handover and Maintenance

Drone imagery and video of the final product can create customer delight during handover. This data also has a practical value in property management and maintenance, providing owners and managers with visual data regarding the as-built condition of the building. Additionally, drones equipped with thermal imaging capability can detect heat leaks in a building envelope or along a long run of underground utility piping.

In-House Versus Outsourcing Your Drone Operation

While the immediate cost of owning a drone has decreased substantially, the cost does not end with the purchase. It’s important to also consider the costs of accessories, use, and maintenance. There is additional equipment to be purchased, planning and setup considerations, maintenance, liability, and regulations to consider. Additionally, the cost of operator headcount must be considered.

Some companies find that outsourcing their drone operation provides a better outcome. When making the decision, the three key considerations should be cost, liability, and resource capacity. Whichever you decide, it’s important to ensure that your team owns the process.


  In-House Drone Program Outsourced Drone Program
  • Lower long-term cost
  • Retain full control
  • Possible additional revenue stream
  • Flights and inspections can be performed on-demand
  • Lower upfront cost
  • Liability remains with the operator
  • No need to train or maintain personnel
  • Higher upfront cost
  • Liability remains with you
  • Higher long-term cost
  • Relinquish some control
  • Flights and inspections need to be planned and have a lead time

Choosing a Drone for Construction

If you’ve decided to proceed with purchasing your own drone and run the program in-house, the first thing you’ll want to think about is the type of drone and features that make sense for your application. Here are some of the options that will impact the drone’s usefulness: 

  • Fixed wing versus verticle-take-off-and-landing (VTOL)  verse tethered VTOL
  • Size and payload
  • Battery life and flight time
  • Range and manoeuvrability

 Types of Drones for Construction Management.png

 Fixed Wing versus VTOL (Vertical Takeoff and Landing) versus Tethered VTOL

These options have to do with how the drone itself gets and stays in the air. If it has fixed wings, it will operate much like an aeroplane, whereas a VTOL will operate more like a helicopter. In most cases, the power is provided by a battery, and flight time is limited by battery life. A tethered VTOL remains connected to a grounded power source via a “tether,” and thus provides unlimited flight time. Fixed wings are more expensive but provide faster and farther flight. However, they cannot hover, which can limit their inspection capabilities. VTOLs are better for detailed inspections, due to their ability to hover in place, but they will have a shorter range overall.

Size and Payload

Payload refers to what the drone can carry. Payload is critically important because it will determine the weight and size of equipment you can attach to your drone, which is why it’s a good idea to decide on your equipment before you purchase your drone.

Battery Life and Flight Time

Obviously, this feature will impact how you can use your drone on the job site. Longer battery life and flight time gives you greater flexibility, but will generally cost more on the front end. Balance your needs against your investment.

Range & Maneuverability

Range refers to the distance over which a drone can operate as measured from its operator. Maneuverability refers to its ability to move quickly in any direction. Both are impacted by the type of drone (fixed wing versus VTOL), as well as other factors. Maneuverability is important on small sites with hard to reach areas, while range is important for exploring large areas such as on an infrastructure project.

Types of Drone Equipment (Sensors)

While the drones get all the glory, it’s the equipment that makes them more than just a hobbyist’s entertainment. And there are so many choices!

  • Photos and video sensors (cameras)
  • Geo-location sensors (GPS, for example)
  • Thermal sensors for detecting heat

It pays to research your equipment option before purchasing your drone, to ensure the drone you choose is compatible with the equipment you need.

Drone Regulations

Regulations for commercial drone regulation are evolving quickly. In the US, the relevant authority is the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and in the UK, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). You can review the latest FAA rules here, and the CAA rules here. Other countries may have their own regulations.


Ready, Set, Go

If you’re seriously considering adding drone technology to your projects, there is a lot to learn. Our ConTech Academy drone course will give you everything you need to:

  • Decide whether to in-source or out-source your operation
  • Choose the right equipment or partner
  • Design a program that delivers the benefits you want
  • Execute effectively on your plan, including collecting data, processing data, and making use of the data
  • Get the most out of your reports
  • Continuously improve your drone program

From an article published in Connect and Construct.

You may also find these articles of interest:

10 Ways to Use Drones in Construction


Drones for Architectural Surveys

Intel Drones Inspect 15th Century German Cathedral and Artwork

Intel’s intelligent drone – the Intel® Falcon™ 8+  – has become part of a preservation team working on the 15th century Halberstadt Cathedral in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany.  “In collaboration with experts from Bauhaus University Weimar and the foundation for the preservation of cultural monuments, Kulturstiftung Sachsen-Anhalt, Intel is powering inspections and damage assessment of the cathedral with advanced, commercial drone technology,” says Intel. “Through a series of indoor and outdoor missions on both automated and manual flight paths, the Intel® Falcon™ 8+ drone helped capture data that will inform next steps for restoration planning, ensuring the cathedral and its artwork will flourish for centuries to come.”

Using drones for architectural inspections – usually for insurance – isn’t a new idea.  But when it comes to the work required to help with a preservation project like the Halberstadt Cathedral, drones provide even more value.  The steep spires and fragile condition of the structure make detailed surveys by traditional means of scaffolding “very costly and technically difficult,” says Intel.

“The Intel® Falcon™ 8+ drone is providing the conservation team with a new cost-effective way to carry out a visual inspection of fragile, hard-to-reach structures without disturbing their surroundings.”

The Gothic style church is in delicate condition.  Stone statues nearly 20 feet above the cathedral floor are fragile and damaged – and would suffer more damage from ladders or scaffolding.  Drones offer a unique, safer and less expensive way of performing a minute examination of the statues and other artwork without risk of damaging pigments or structures.

The Falcon 8+ created 3D structural models for analysis, capturing almost 1,000 images in less than an hour of flight time.  These detailed models and inspection images are required before restoration work on the structure can begin.

“Advanced technology, like the Intel® Falcon 8+ drone, provides enormous potential for structural monitoring,” said Norman Hallermann, Bauhaus University Weimar. “Working with Intel® drone technology has allowed us to reach previously inaccessible spaces, like the cathedral’s bell towers. While we are just in the beginning stages of this three-year project, the costs saved by carrying out these inspections via a drone are already being put towards further conservation efforts.”

“In this case, the Intel® Falcon™ 8+ drone is becoming an extension of the team,” said Anil Nanduri, vice president and general manager within Intel’s New Technology Group. “Intel is excited about the future of inspections being automated and analyzed using drones. We are thrilled to be part of this project to restore this iconic piece of history and to be able to contribute with our technology.”

Farm Drones

Four key questions about farm drones and UAVs

Published in Farmers Weekly in 2014 but most of it is still relevant today, except costs. Costs have come down. There is no need to buy your own drone and go through the training, insurance, exams and gaining CAA permission. We can offer you drones as a service at reasonable prices.  Have a look at our prices page to get a rough idea then give us a call to discuss your needs.

A conference on agricultural drones at Harper Adams University last week was certainly well-attended. But will these high-tech/high-price pieces of equipment prove to be the answer to arable farmers’ crop surveillance needs? Oliver Mark reports

Take a wander through the halls of any major farm machinery show and you’ll notice that newly-formed companies offering precision agriculture services are popping up like daffodils on a spring morning.

The most eye-catching are those offering unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to help fine-tune chemical and fertiliser application plans. The tumbling cost of components parts and the improvements in cameras and mapping systems have made these types of machines well-suited to agricultural life.

That’s mainly because they solve a perennial farming problem – how to get a good look at a field almost plant-by-plant. Traditionally, satellites have been used to provide images but these can sometimes be short of detail and may not be available at all when there’s thick cloud cover.


See also: Drones could bring benefits to arable farmers

GPS-guided UAVs, on the other hand, offer the flexibility of attaching multiple sensors – visible light, infrared or thermal – to determine different features of a crop. These can be used to recognise things like weed types, disease pressures, plant stress, crop damage, nitrogen requirements and yield potential. UAVs can also fly low enough to get a very detailed look at the crop.


Piloting a UAV

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) governs airspace, although its rules seem a little woolly.

In simple terms, if you’re flying your drone for your own use then there’s no need to have any qualifications (provided it weighs less than 20kg). The limitations are that you must fly within your visual line of sight – 400ft upwards and 500m across – and more than 50m from buildings and people.

However, if you’re planning to use your UAV to provide a service (and charge people money accordingly) then the rules are slightly different and you’ll need to apply to the CAA for permission to fly.

Individual farmers thinking of buying a drone will find the initial purchase cost difficult to stomach. It can be anything from £10,000 for the most basic up to £50,000 versions – so it’s better suited to farmer co-operatives that can get the most use out of them.

Prices generally vary according to the design you go for. Fixed wing, aeroplane-shaped UAVs can travel further, faster and for longer, but have limited sensor-carrying capabilities.

Alternatively, multi-rotor types are more power hungry and chew through the batteries more quickly, but have a decent undercarriage for mounting cameras and sensors.

You’ll also need to add the cost of servicing and maintenance to the initial outlay, not to mention that the whole unit might only have a three-year shelf life. It’s also worth bearing in mind that, at best, you’ll manage about 100 flying days per year in the UK given our unpredictable climate.

However, customer charges can reach more than £1,000 a day, so there’s still a very reasonable profit to be made.

Data collection

The challenge is to turn the pictures provided by the drone into something that can be used to bolster yields. So, rather than hanging a high-end digital camera from the undercarriage, drones can carry a mass of sensors to detect different things.

Agrovista is one company conducting trials into the accuracy and calibration of different sensors. It is working with Ursula’s Scout surveillance system to monitor crops at two UK test sites.


The first, at Maidwell along the blackgrass corridor of the A14, was surveyed three times by Ursula last year. Kitted out with the correct sensors it was able to count the number of blackgrass heads across the site after different chemical applications.

The second site focused on monitoring crop nutritional needs and disease pressures, and the company says that the information gathered could be used to create localised spraying plans and variable rate fertiliser maps for the future.

However, spraying technology isn’t quite keeping pace. The obvious answer looks to be direct injection systems – Berthoud launched one at the Sima show last year – to target particular areas of a field with a particular chemical product.

Is it realistic?

The short answer is yes. But only once it can be made financially viable for broad-acre combinable crops. That means companies need to it easier for farmers to make full use of the information provided by the surveillance system in a way that allows them to cut input costs or improve yields.

Drones for Surveying and Mapping

Using Drones for surveying and mapping.

This article was published on the RICS website on 21 Oct 2016.

It gives us a surveyor’s view of using drones in surveying and mapping.

Of course, surveyors can employ a company that will provide the drones as a service, meaning surveyors don’t have to worry about any of the regulations or risks involved as long as you are employing reputable, CAA licenced and adequately insured company. 

Here’s the article:
The use of drones and related technology is becoming commonplace among the surveying and mapping professions. However, even though the technology is becoming more adaptable and user friendly, the underlying legal framework for operation must still be taken into account if surveyors are to avoid breaking the law.

Drone inspection of damaged roof.
Drone inspection of damaged roof.

Surveyors have many potential uses for drones:
Surveying large-scale agricultural areas, individual properties or hard to locate areas.
Reducing health and safety risks.
Less disruption since pilots only require a clear line of sight for the drone’s destination.
Better images and improved environmental friendliness.

Unmanned aircraft (UAVs or drones)

Irrespective of their size, these are still classified as aircraft. The person in charge of operating the controls of an unmanned aircraft is referred to as the pilot. The UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) will not allow unmanned aircraft to present or create a greater hazard to anyone (or anything) than the equivalent operations of manned aviation. The CAA oversight of unmanned aircraft is based solely on safety considerations. It does not regulate any wider issues, such as privacy or nuisance.

Small unmanned aircraft (SUAs)

Aircraft of 20kg or less are classified as small unmanned aircraft. They do not require any specific CAA airworthiness certification but operators should remember that the pilot is at all times legally responsible for the safe operation of the aircraft. Anyone operating a small unmanned aircraft for commercial operation (i.e. for which he/she is receiving remuneration) requires permission to operate from the CAA.

Flying drones and related technology

Flying outside congested areas

Pilots must maintain direct unaided visual contact with the aircraft at all times; within the UK, such ‘visual line of sight’ operations are normally accepted to a maximum distance of 500m horizontally and 400ft vertically from the pilot. In this context, ‘unaided’ does permit the use of corrective spectacles. Flight beyond these distances can be permitted, but the operator is required to provide explicit proof that this can be conducted safely. Some unmanned aircraft have a facility to provide the user with a video stream of the flight from an attached camera, which gives an impression of the flight from ‘on board’ the aircraft. The video stream can be viewed on a handheld device such as a smartphone or special visors and goggles. It should be pointed out, however, that such ‘first person views’ are not considered suitable for collision avoidance purposes and hence the aircraft must still be visually observed by the pilot during its flight in order to comply with the law.

Flying in congested areas

Operators of small unmanned aircraft being used for surveillance or data acquisition which involves flying close to people or objects require permission from the CAA, whether or not they are undertaking commercial operation. Specifically, this means flight over or within 150 metres of any congested area, over or within 150 metres of an organised open-air assembly of more than 1,000 persons, or flight within 50 metres of any person, vessel, vehicle or structure that is not under the control of the pilot. ‘Congested Area’ means, in relation to a city, town or settlement, any area which is substantially used for residential, commercial, industrial or recreational purposes.

Flying in controlled airspace

If the flight is to be conducted within ‘Controlled’ Airspace, or within the Aerodrome Traffic Zone ATZ of an airfield (the dimensions of an airfield ATZs vary, but encompass the airspace within either a 2nm or a 2.5nm radius of the airfield) permission to fly an aircraft with a mass of more than 7kg must be obtained from the Air Traffic Control (ATC) unit/authority and the flight must be operated in accordance with that permission and any additional restrictions required by ATC. To obtain an operating permission, an operator has to prove a sufficient level of competence and an understanding of the safety implications – the CAA will ask to see an up-to-date operations manual for the requested activities and evidence that the pilot is sufficiently competent. A risk assessment / method statement will be required for the flight concerned. These requirements are aimed at the protection of people and property which are not involved in the activity and are considered proportionate to the scale of activity taking place.
With regard to pilot qualifications, in order to grant a permission, the CAA would need some proof of the pilot’s overall airmanship skills and awareness and his/her ability to operate the aircraft safely. This is not a ‘Civil Pilots Licence’, but it is an independent assessment of an individual’s knowledge and operating capabilities. Two companies currently perform this assessment on behalf of the CAA:
Resource UAS — their assessment is called the ‘Remote Pilot Qualification-Small (RPQ-S)
CAA permission is not necessarily required for each individual flight, but the details of what is and is not permitted will be listed on each individual operator’s permission.

UAs between 20kg and 150kg

Larger unmanned aircraft are required to comply with the full requirements of the Air Navigation Order under UK regulations in the same way as any other manned aircraft operation. This includes the requirement for a Certificate of Airworthiness, a properly licensed pilot, the ability to comply with the rules of the air etc. However, the CAA may be prepared to exempt an aircraft operation from some of these requirements if a suitable safety case can be offered in respect of the level of airworthiness assurance and the intended flights. The CAA may issue an exemption on the basis of its own investigations or by recommendation from an organisation approved under BCAR A8-22. Currently only one organisation has received such approval.

Larger aircraft

Larger unmanned aircraft which need to be flown at extended ranges from their pilot are currently being tested for military and civilian applications. The airworthiness requirements for these larger unmanned aircraft are equally as stringent as those required for the equivalent manned aircraft. To ensure safety, these tests are flown in ‘segregated’ airspace, which is essentially closed to other aircraft. If large unmanned aircraft are to be allowed to operate in ‘non-segregated’ airspace (in the presence of other aircraft), a ‘detect and avoid’ capability, which replicates a traditional pilot’s ability to look out of the aircraft, will be required. This technology will be necessary for unmanned aircraft to safely integrate in shared airspace with manned aircraft, such as light aircraft and fast military jets. Until unmanned aircraft have the ability to intuitively avoid other airspace users, in the same way as manned aircraft should, then they will not be allowed to operate outside of ‘segregated’ airspace.


The Regulations relating to all flying operations within the UK are contained within CAP393 Air Navigation: The Order and the Regulations (ANO 2016). Additional requirements for UAs are published in CAP722.

If you would like to find out what hiring a drone and pilot will cost pop over to our pricing page. That will give you an idea but every situation is different so please do get in touch with us to discuss your needs. 

Using Drones in Security Applications

This article from IFSEC Global reports on the use of drones in security applications.

Drone security deployments are increasingly common, as our new security drone report explains.

The global market for commercial applications was projected to be worth $127.3bn (£88bn) by 2020 – a staggering 6,000% jump in three years – by a PwC report published in May 2016. And security is set to account for $10bn (£7.8bn) worth of the market, behind only infrastructure, agriculture and transport.

Demand for drones in security applications

Drones are already more widely used in the security industry than many might have realised if our survey is any barometer. Sixteen percent of respondents – mostly comprising security professionals, heads of security and other senior executives – say they already deploy the technology. Three in five (60%) either already use drones or can foresee themselves doing so eventually, so it doesn’t seem hyperbolic to describe the growth trajectory for this market as heading sharply upwards.

Drones as a service

Replicating a model gaining ground in access control and long dominant in intruder alarms, the provision of drones as a service is likely to suit businesses that only need security drones periodically, want the flexibility to scale their operation up or down rapidly, or simply want to test the concept without making a big investment in hardware and training.

Unlike more established security technologies like CCTV, access control and intruder alarms, drone use does not benefit from the accumulation over several decades of guidance, operational methodologies and technical standards. They represent if not unchartered territory, then certainly lightly explored terrain.

Few organisations can draw on a wellspring of expertise within their organisation or readily find candidates with eclectic skillsets that happen to include expertise in this niche discipline. Within this context, this observation made by Adam Lisberg, DJI spokesman for North America, to Reuters in 2016, seem perceptive. “Four years ago, it was enough to take something out of a box, you push a button and it flies. The smart money is now in drone services.”

CCTV with rotors: Disrupting the security technology mix

The British Security Industry Association (BSIA) estimates that there are between 4-5.9 million network cameras in the UK – about one camera for every 11 people. With so much of our urban environment already under surveillance, might hard-nosed security professionals write surveillance drones off as an expensive gimmick?

Perhaps yes, and understandably so, in certain contexts – most obviously in the surveillance of building interiors. And yet, as well as being unmanned and equipped with on-board cameras, the other obvious facts about security drones are that they are mobile and airborne. This means they can do things that are impossible for regular fixed surveillance cameras – like birds-eye views over large areas or dispatching rapidly to areas of interest. Consider this in combination with the enormous size of the global surveillance market – worth more than $30bn (£23bn), according to MarketsandMarkets – and the enormous, disruptive potential of this technology becomes clear. It is understandable, then, that aerial overview surveillance should have the widest appeal among security applications, with 61% of respondents expressing an interest.

Tracking drones are hundreds of times cheaper to hire or run than a helicopter, not to mention infinitely more nimble and discrete in tracking suspects. Both short- and long-range tracking were popular functions among survey respondents, with 39% and 35% respectively keen.

Security guard tour applications are the second most sought after application, with just shy of one in two (49%) of those polled expressing an interest.

Licence plate identification was of interest to more than one in four respondents (27%). Security guard tours are capable of patrolling more rapidly and extensively than human guards, as well as being unimpeded by physical barriers on the ground, drones are an intriguing option for the 46% of respondents who have manned patrols. Of that segment, 64% said they would consider using security guard tour applications. Perhaps unexpectedly, one in two (50%) who don’t deploy manned patrols also expressed an interest in the same functionality – suggesting that drones make unmanned patrols a viable, desirable tool for organisations that eschew or cannot afford manned patrols.

Where sensors detect an intrusion at the perimeter, a security drone can be dispatched much faster than a person on foot. And once at a scene – perhaps deploying a thermal camera – they can more readily spot, track and report the movements of an intruder than a flashlight-wielding security guard. This also removes humans from harm’s way. Offering rapid situational awareness, drones can therefore be an invaluable aid to first responders in emergency situations involving casualties. Drones don’t get distracted and need neither sleep nor food. That said, they still need refuelling in a way that is much more limiting than a human guard’s need for food and water.

Battery life

The capacity of security drones to support and reduce numbers of fixed cameras and ‘boots on the ground’ is constrained more than any other factor by battery life – and drones are currently deficient in this regard. At present, commercial drones can typically fly continuously for only about 25 minutes. Surveillance monitoring is a 24-7 undertaking so it’s a major drawback – albeit one obviously solved by rotating multiple drones in shifts. Requiring a larger fleet, however, this obviously increases costs.

Download the full report here.

10 Ways to Use Drones in Construction

1. Building Surveys

Building surveyors will know that most building surveys require visibility of the buildings roof to identify its condition and assess any defects.

In most instances getting access to a roof can be tricky and often involves the erection of a scaffold, use of a cherry picker or ladders.

Using a small drone to perform the survey can save time, money and reduce health and safety risks involved with surveying a roof and other tricky areas.

2. Construction Site Inspections 

Carrying out site inspections on a busy construction site can dangerous and complicated at times.

The ability for a drone to carry out a visual inspection of high-risk areas can save time and reduce H&S risks. Drone footage can be recorded from the safety of the site cabin and then sent to project stakeholders in HD.

3. Health and Safety Inductions

Site inductions can often be a tedious exercise. Often involving a premeditated talk in the site cabin or a pre-recorded induction video…

Using a drone to fly over a site can show new site operatives H&S risks in real-time. Enabling site managers to demonstrate moving vehicles, moving cranes, or active excavation areas etc.

4. Maintenance Inspections

Carrying out planned or reactive maintenance inspections of high-up structures such as bridges, towers, roofs and scaffolding, can often involve costly access arrangements, and site personnel working at height.

Drones can provide a quicker and easier way of carrying out the inspections, feeding back HD real-time footage to the engineer or surveyor from the ground.

5. Project Progress Reports

Construction progress reports are often prepared monthly to record site progress against the project programme. These reports include the surveyor or CA taking multiple photographs of various parts of the site.

A regular drone flight can be a speedy way to record and visualise project progress. Through a series of aerial shots and HD video project stake holders can gain a better insight into the progress that has been made without actually being on-site.

6. Promotional Photography

Impressive photography is becoming more and more important in the way construction organisations promote their business, especially as the use of social media is becoming more important as a work tool.

The ability to capture impressive 4K HD video and photos from unique angles can provide an interesting insight into a project or building, making it great for marketing material.

In particular, this could be a great tool for estate agents looking to demonstrate impressive shots of a property or building they are looking to sell!

7. Live feed/ virtual walk around

When carrying out high risk work on-site it may be necessary for certain professionals to gain real-time updates on what is happening.

Utilising First Person View (FPV) technology, a drone camera can stream HD footage to the project team or project stakeholders in real-time. This experience could also be enhanced by the use of VR glasses.

8. Site logistics

Construction sites are ever evolving and the movements on-site don’t always stick to programme.

Drones can provide a real-time update of what is going on around the site. Carrying out a speedy flight around the site can give a good overview of potential issues to be aware of. For instance moving vehicles, machinery or cranes etc.

9. Point cloud/ laser scanning

Often for a surveyor it can be hard to gain access to a suitable location to laser scan high up areas of a building, meaning the point cloud is returned missing vital information.

Laser scanning from drones has become a recognised method of capturing the exact detail of topography, buildings and cityscapes and can provide the missing piece to point cloud scan for input into Building Information Models (BIM).

10. Thermal Imaging recording

Similar to laser scanning, drones can be used to take aerial thermal imaging recordings which can be used to assess potential cold spots in buildings or even heat spots in areas holding electrical components.

This can give engineers and surveyors essential information when trying to identify and rectify building defects.

Originaly posted in Construct Digital and written by Martin Watson