6/8/2015

Fixed Wings, Quadcopters, and More

The cases made for fixed-wing UAVs and quadcopter UAVs are very different.

By Duane Battcher

As one of two forensic engineering investigation firms authorized by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to commercially operate unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), Donan believes this technology will allow claims professionals and others in the property insurance industry to do their jobs with increased accuracy, efficiency, and safety.

In addition, the technology will allow claims professionals to gather data from new, advanced perspectives and use that data in ways that have never been possible. The vantage point allowed by UAVs gives a claims investigator the ability to see patterns and other details that wouldn’t be noticed at ground level.

Fixed Wing Versus Quadcopter

The cases made for fixed-wing UAVs and quadcopter UAVs are very different and can range in magnitude from a single property roof investigation to large-scale catastrophe damage assessments.

The fixed-wing eBee UAV, which Donan is authorized by the FAA to deploy, is useful for commercial and agricultural applications, such as capturing aerial images of commercial roofs or crop damage, and also can be used in residential applications, such as inspecting residential areas with low property density. The eBee has a longer flight time (about 45 minutes) and fully autonomous flight capability, making it ideal for gathering data over large areas. With advanced camera and sensor technology, it can be used for origin-and-cause investigations for fires and explosions, and it can provide aerial photos that can be stitched together into an orthomosaic and create a 3D model that allows for a variety of measurements including distance and debris field.

Quadcopter drones can be used for single-property inspections to capture aerial images after a fire or to provide highly detailed images of hail damage to a roof. Quadcopter drones are more maneuverable and can get closer to surfaces where they can hover in place. They also don’t need a large area to land, which makes them better suited than fixed-wing models for single-property inspections. Donan has a pending FAA request for this type of UAV.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Donan was granted a second exemption from the FAA for use of its fleet of multirotor drones, which includes the DJI Phantom 2, DJI Phantom 2 Vision+, and DJI Phantom 3, in mid-June 2015. 

“Various UAVs are specialized for certain applications, whether it is inspecting damage to a roof or gathering thermal imaging to study a building’s envelope,” says Matthew Kenney, P.E., CFEI, who serves as Donan’s technical program manager. “Choosing the UAV that is best suited for the task is essential to not only making the investigation safer and more efficient, but also for ensuring the most superior data. We are currently working with several additional UAV manufacturers to evaluate the continuously advancing UAV technology, and we anticipate submitting additional exemption requests for UAVs with specialized capabilities.”

Who Can Fly?

The FAA has allowed limited exemptions until they have released final regulations for commercial drone use. Without FAA authorization, UAVs currently are not permitted to be used for commercial purposes. While current exemptions are more limiting than the final rules are expected to be, they do outline safety and protocols that approved companies are required to follow. These include mandating that a licensed pilot operate the UAV; registering the UAV with the FAA; and filing an FAA notice to airmen to provide advance notice of any flights.

For more information on Donan's UAV program, click here.



Duane Battcher is managing director at Donan. He can be reached at dbattcher@donan.com.

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