Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Problems with Drones for Home Inspections

There are many articles about drones transforming the way home inspectors conduct roof top inspections. Inspecting roofs that under ordinary circumstances would be impossible for an inspector to view seems promising with this new technology. But every tool has its uses and issues. 

As a home inspection company that uses a DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ Drone as a tool for commercial and residential inspections in and around Ventura County, we can assert that in fact, there are problems with the use of drones for inspections. 

Drones can cause Injury or Property Damage

While the DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ can be used with Ground Station that allows it to fly itself so the inspector can focus on the camera, it is still missing one thing: autonomy. 

No matter how advanced they are - drones don't have brains. They are unable to sense when they are coming in contact with people, buildings, trees, power lines or something other. It relies on the accuracy of the inspector to fly it properly or set its GPS traveling points. An inexperienced pilot can easily crash a drone causing injury to people or property damage.

Even experienced inspectors can have trouble piloting a drone...

Drones become Unstable with Wind

The atmosphere can be unstable. Windy conditions, including updrafts, are common in areas like Ventura County and drones can become difficult to navigate if caught in one. Unstable winds can pull a drone up and out of sight quickly making it difficult to steer before it crashes on the roof or elsewhere. We've experienced safe flights in wind speeds 9mph and under. After that point, drones become a little more difficult to maneuver and control. We deem wind speeds (or current gusts) above 17mph unfitting conditions for flying a drone.

Invasion of Privacy Issue

Although an invasion of privacy complaint is unlikely - it's possible. Therefore it should be a reason to think twice when close to other buildings or people. In California it's prohibited (and expensive) to capture images of property or people without permission with any device, including drones. You may have permission to inspect a particular roof top, however, what about their neighbors? If the property is in close proximity to another, you run the risk of capturing unauthorized video or images of something or someone which can cost you a minimum of $5,000 in fines. 

A way to steer clear of this liability is to fly the drone very low and close to the roof being inspected to avoid capturing anything else. This poses a problem with homes in heavy populated cities, including Oxnard, where some homes are less than 10 feet apart in certain areas. Use of drones is ideal for remote areas, such as a Simi Valley or Moorpark ranch.

As such, our inspectors do not use their drone in heavily populated areas or under an unfitting wind condition in an effort to avoid injury, damage or privacy issues. 

While still under review, the use drones for commercial gain is currently illegal because of safety concerns, including those mentioned in this post. You can check out InterNachi's FAA concerns to learn more.

The DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ drone is a great tool that helps inspectors when a roof is really inaccessible by ladder. We use a drone as an added tool for our inspectors and do not charge extra. We will continue to use it only under proper conditions or until use is banned altogether. Every tool has its uses and issues, and it's an inspector's duty to know when it is safe or hazardous to operate a drone.

As new technology emerges, we will be some of the first to try it, because we're always looking for ways to provide more efficient services. Stay tuned for our update on the Eye-Stick, a new innovative way to inspect roof tops and crawlspaces from the convenience of standing on the ground.