Here at Civil + Structural Engineer magazine, it has been amazing to witness how quickly UAV and drone applications have become integrated into the AEC industry, with many firms either hiring or partnering with FAA-certified pilots and video production teams to produce dynamic marketing materials, document project phases and create 3D models. The amount of interest and content related to UAV has grown so fast that we created a focused section of our website and print magazine on the topic (www.csengineermag.com/category/uav-surveying/).
A drone video contest was the perfect excuse for us to get a look at some of the work that our industry is doing. So we created the Engineering Drone Video of the Year Award (EDVY). The stakes were high with a $500.00 prize for the winner of the award. And it came as no surprise the level of quality of all the submissions.
Aerial Buzz, a division of Spiracle Media (www.spiraclebuzz.com) based out of Charlotte, N.C., claimed the award with their dynamically produced video packed with a variety of aerial angles overlooking the features of the Atherton Mill site. Aerial Buzz worked with Engineering Consulting Services (ECS) to document and produce the video.
“It is unique to work with a firm that is trying to maintain the character of the property while adding to a vibrant part of the city. I thoroughly enjoyed flying around the tall brick South End chimney and classic railroad line. My favorite part has been watching the property grow from the bare ground to columns and structures in place, to finally a completed six-level parking deck, completed stores, and living spaces,” said Thomas Wilson, director of Drone Operations and creative specialist for Aerial Buzz and the UAV pilot for the winning video.
The changes I’ve seen
We had a chance to ask Wilson and the other finalists how the industry has changed since they first became involved and where they think it will be in the next five years.
“I started in April 2012 with a Phantom 2 with a three-axis gimbal and a Go Pro camera. Fast forward eight versions later and I’m flying a Phantom 4 Pro. Since 2014, DJI has manufactured three types of Inspires, three types of Mavics, two types of Matrices, the Spark, and most recently, the Mavic Air. The drone field is certainly saturated when it comes to drones available for purchase,” said Wilson.
ERO Architects began using aerial drone videos over three years ago. “We bought the equipment to highlight the construction status of our buildings as they go through each phase of their progress until they are completed for the final owner to move in. We have seen more videos produced now with aerial drone shot perspectives. They are becoming as common as a shot with a camera on a tripod,” said Brian Godinez, principal and chief marketing officer for ERO Architects.
The next five years
There is agreement among the finalists that Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations will be changing. “There is a big push to get the FAA to be less strict on flights over people and to allow flights beyond visual line of sight (VLOS). You could accomplish so much from an inspection/mapping/search and rescue standpoint if VLOS was loosened. If future drones are built to be more efficient and the potential risk of injury from a crash is lessened, then I can see the FAA giving out more waivers to certified pilots. This would change the game when it comes to expansive capabilities,” said Wilson. He also sees the number of pilots decreasing over the coming years.
“I think you’ll see more and more drone pilots being downsized by two things.
“First, I think autonomous drones are the future. It might be two to three years from now or it could be 10 years from now. As drone technology evolves, the pilot is going to be minimized to just maintaining flight safety. You can already see it in some of our current applications. When I go to map a construction site, I build a flight path in an application such as DroneDeploy. Once I arrive on scene, I set up the drone, go through my pre-flight checklist and then hit one button. The drone flies the mission without me touching a single control. The key to being successful in the future comes down to experience and knowing how to capture the data using an array of tools.
“Secondly, the barrier to entry is low right now to fly legally. To get your drone license, you pay $150 for the test. If you pass, you have to purchase a drone and get basic liability insurance. All in all, that isn’t very much. If and when the FAA starts to enforce illegal drone flying, that will only benefit the people currently in the field doing it the right way. Fines are pretty hefty if you don’t follow the proper rules and laws. When the FAA starts to come down on people flying over 400 feet, or commercial operators posing as hobbyists, then you will see a number of people give up because it’s not worth the risk. A lot of people considering this field decide against it because of the complexities of drone technology, understanding the waiver/authorization process, the complicity of airspace knowledge, etc. The people who get in early and establish a reputation of operating properly will be standing in a great spot in the future.”
It is clear that this is a fast-moving industry and I think we can expect future submissions to the EDVY award contest to continue to become more and more impressive. Congratulations to Aerial Buzz, ERO Architects, and CCA Techos. Be on the lookout for information on next year’s contest.
Charlotte, North Carolina