New FAA Rules Level the Playing Field for High-Accuracy Drone Use

ThinkstockPhotos 515812817By Christian Sanz 

New Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules will take effect later this month, forever changing the landscape of construction surveying. Announced June 21, new Part 107 regulations no longer require drone operators to possess an aircraft pilot’s license. The updated restrictions call for a knowledge test and remote pilot certification for drone operators. Industry experts estimate the rule change could generate more than $82 billion for the United States economy and create at least 100,000 jobs in the coming decade.

In short, the FAA has leveled the playing field. With one of the biggest regulatory barriers removed, the advantages of drone data technology are no longer limited to large companies with professional pilots and Section 333 exemptions.

Next-Generation Surveying Skills

The rule change comes at an opportune time. Companies that embrace drone data under the new Part 107 regulations can use next-generation drones to survey without first deploying ground control points (GCPs). While select consumer drones and data-processing software can create relatively accurate 3-D point clouds, they require prior establishment of GCPs to generate globally accurate data. 

In mere minutes, however, a late-model commercial drone can zip 50 meters above the earth to create a precisely georeferenced 3-D model of your site. With these drones, it’s no longer necessary to spend thousands hiring a survey crew each time you need to check the grade of a slope or the depth of a ditch.

What Can Drone Data Do for You?

For firms of all shapes and sizes, there are plenty of reasons to use next-generation drone technology:

1. Save money: High-accuracy drones can pay for themselves with just one survey. A construction firm we work with recently used drone data to check a manual survey. Fortunately, it discovered that the original survey was off by eight inches before pouring a $200,000 concrete slab.

2. Improve accuracy: Today’s commercial drones can create 3-D data with three-centimeter horizontal and five-centimeter vertical accuracy — all while eliminating the potential for human mistakes. Komatsu, for instance, operates autonomous dozers and haulers that require this level of accuracy to avoid disastrous collisions.

3. Shorten timelines: With next-generation drones, survey time drops tremendously. What once took 1,000 hours to do using conventional ground surveys now takes just 200 hours with high-accuracy drones.

This year, 600,000 commercial drones are set to hit the horizon. By 2020, that figure will quadruple to more than 2.7 million. As drones become widespread, functionality upgrades, operational improvements and cost efficiencies will follow. With new FAA rules and improved georeferencing technology, there’s never been a better time to take to the skies.

Christian Sanz is the founder and CEO of Skycatch, a drone data company based in San Francisco that provides end-to-end technology solutions for a wide range of industries. He is a U.S. Navy veteran with more than 20 years of experience in software and technical leadership.

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